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  • Masters of Sex?Nazism, Bigamy, and a University Professor's Fight with Society and the State (1930–1970)
  • Elissa Mailänder

For Alf Lüdtke


Scholars of genocide and mass violence passionately debate whether a "Nazi morality" exists or the concept simply conflates moral codes with a self-deceptive ideology.1 However illogical and delusional Nazism might seem from a humanistic standpoint, as a lived experience and professional practice it was grounded in what we commonly value in our scientific and political practice: seriousness, perseverance, and resourcefulness. This article draws upon the trajectory and career of Kiel-based university professor Otto M, born shortly after the turn of the century and deceased in the mid-1980s, to investigate how Nazism translated into the personal life of an academic.

Specialized in the fields of phytopathology and pharmacognosy, M climbed the academic ladder at Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel (henceforth Kiel University) during the Third Reich. While his research on [End Page 109] pharmaceuticals derived from plants or other natural sources earned him scholarly recognition in Nazi Germany and beyond, M's openly bigamous lifestyle polarized social and legal opinion within his private and professional communities.2 A rich archive including his personal files and postwar press reports documents his case from the Weimar Republic, throughout Nazi Germany, to the Federal Republic. Although the Landesarchiv Schleswig granted the right to consult the professor's Personalakte for research purposes, German data privacy law requires the protection of his identity, hence this article does not use his full name. By closely examining the professor's professional trajectory and family structure, this article sheds light on how Nazi ideas on sexual politics applied to private lives and intellectual practices, adding layers to an overlooked component of Nazism. So far, historians have concentrated on the intellectual socialization and political radicalization of the front-row "managers of genocide,"3 paying little attention to ordinary academics and their back-row contributions.4 Broadening the context, M's case invites us to consider what his actions tell us about Nazism and post-Nazi society.

The fact that the academic was in tune with Third Reich policy might come as little surprise. Like the vast majority of teachers in Germany, M became a member of the National Socialist Teachers League (Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund, NSLB).5 He never was an official member of the Nazi party, but he did join the stormtroopers (Strumabteilung, SA) in 1933. In his private, everyday family life, the bigamous professor appropriated the regime's pronatalist principles quite stubbornly, well beyond 1945.

During the Third Reich, different interpretations and ideas about the Nazi Weltanschauung coexisted. Individuals integrated ideology into their daily lives and social practices alongside their own desires, needs, plans, and ideals. Nazi thought thus cannot be reduced to texts and language alone; it is essential to study the way Nazism was lived, worn, and performed in everyday life. [End Page 110]


Born in 1904, M grew up in a petit bourgeois Protestant family in Schleswig-Holstein, a small town twenty-two kilometers from Hamburg in Northern Germany. His father was a gardener, perhaps provoking M's own interests in plant science. After high school, M completed a pharmacist's apprenticeship but then decided, at the beginning of the 1920s, to enroll at Kiel University, choosing botany, chemistry, and physiology as his main disciplines. Excellent grades enabled him to win a place at the Bergmann student residence and the Christian-Albrecht-House. Later, he earned a scholarship from the Biological State Institute for Agriculture and Forestry in Kiel-Kitzeberg.6 Highly motivated, single-minded, and independent, the young man seemed made for science.

M's particular interest in serological kinship, phytopathology, and technical microbiology proved to be trendsetting. In the Weimar Republic, phytopharmacology and homeopathy, so-called alternative medicine or Naturheilkunde, were fast-developing fields at the fringes of medicine.7 Specializing in drugs derived from plants, M earned his PhD in biology in February 1929 and completed his academic education with a Habilitation in applied botany in July 1931.8 The 1930s proved to be very productive for M's scientific career: in 1930 he left Germany for a research...