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Böses Blut. Die Blutgruppenforschung und der Serologe Ludwik Hirszfeld in Deutschland und in Polen

Katrin Steffen, Maciej Górny

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Bad blood. Blood-group research and the serologist Ludwik Hirszfeld in Germany and Poland


In May 2013, the German magazine Der Spiegel published the article Blood Purity. How a Bizarre Obsession Advanced Science, based on a recently published book on the cultural history of blood-group research by the Swiss historian Myriam Sporri. The Spiegel publication was followed by sharp protests mainly in the scientific circles in Poland. The controversy centred upon one of the main protagonists of the article, Polish serologist and microbiologist of Jewish descent Ludwik Hirszfeld, world-renowned for his discoveries in the field of blood-group research and immunology. Hirszfeld had also been one of the first scientists to link serology with racial anthropology, thereby establishing the new research field of sero-anthropology. According to the Polish protesters, both the article and the book by Ms. Sporri present a false picture of Hirszfeld, who had studied and worked in Germany and Switzerland before World War One, as a ‘German physician’ obsessed by the idea of blood purity and, consequently, a contributor to radical German anti-Semitism. Instead of supporting such a far-reaching assumption, the present article places the complex problems of scientific racism, sero-anthropology and eugenics in a wider European context and seeks to define the role Hirszfeld – and his wife Hanna, herself a scientist – played within those fields. It is evident that Hirszfeld, just like many of his fellow scientists all over Europe, did think in categories of race and eugenics, since this was the accepted style of thought of the time. This fact neither makes him a racist nor shows his research as completely ‘innocent’ in terms of spreading thoughts within the logics of scientific racism. Thus both Der Spiegel and its Polish opponents ignore facts, doing injustice to both Ludwik Hirszfeld and Myriam Sporri.


Bibliographie: Steffen, Katrin/Górny, Maciej: Böses Blut. Die Blutgruppenforschung und der Serologe Ludwik Hirszfeld in Deutschland und in Polen, JB historie, 1-2014, S. 97-119.