One of these settings, hitherto unexplored in the scholarship, is the medical profession.
In order to probe the interaction of medical sciences, eugenics and politics in interwar racial anti-Semitism in Romania, I offer a brief survey of biological discourses on race and their impact on discussions of degeneration at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries.
This was sustained partly by proclaiming the biological superiority of the Nordic “races,” but it was also the result of the emergence of anti-Semitism as a modern phenomenon.Late-nineteenth century physical anthropology classified the Jews as a “race.” The racial classification differed, of course, from one anthropologist to another. Whether the differences between the Jews and the Gentiles were inherited or constructed constituted one of the focal points of the debate over Jewish racial identity and difference.As Arthur Ruppin (1876-1943), the “father of Jewish sociology,” wrote in 1906: “Almost all inquiries into the social, intellectual, and physical differences between Jews and Christians address the question whether these differences have their root in the particular racial makeup, or in the economic and political conditions of the Jews over the past two thousand years.” It was during this transfer from religious to physical signs that anti-Semitism replaced anti-Judaism. It is also within this transformation from anti-Judaism to anti-Semitism that the theme of degeneration – the idea that the Jews were condemned to physical deterioration – infiltrated the discourse of racial anti-Semitism. In this paper, I look at a case that is rarely explored by scholars working on racial anti-Semitism: interwar Romania.While there are many accounts of interwar anti-Semitism in Romania, systematic surveys of the theme of degeneration in anti-Semitic rhetoric are still lacking. Moreover, the existing accounts of extreme right movements do not reflect the particular conceptual framework I intend to adopt with respect to racial anti-Semitism in Romania. There are no consistent attempts to connect political anti-Semitism with scientific arguments about race.Racial anti-Semitism used generalised scientific explanations, which circulated freely between science, society and politics.
Moreover, these scientific explanations were not rigid structures; they were based on powerful metaphors.
Degeneration was one of these metaphors, or as Nancy Stepan suggested, it was “a compelling racial metaphor.” As a metaphor, degeneration transgressed national boundaries, but was then re-conceptualised, i.e.
used in local contexts, where it became entangled with a multiplicity of traditions and integrated into very different institutional settings.
Contemporary scholarship separates the idea of the nation from the biological concept of “race.” This line of reasoning, so popular in the literature on nationalism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, was explicated by such influential authors as Ernst Nolte, who argued that race doctrine was “an extreme manifestation which, despite some points of contact, stood outside the highly differentiated main strand of European thinking.” But such a precise demarcation cannot be made.
In his Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism, George L.
Mosse refuted the view that racial thinking should be treated as peripheral to the vital centres of European political history. “Race” was a vital part of the arguments of biological and medical sciences of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.