"They measured us. They asked about illnesses. They examined everything"

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Scientists from the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of the Jagiellonian University are analyzing unique, archived documentation related to the Podhale region. The documents originate from the collection of the Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit (IDO – Institute for German Works in the East), which was established in April 1940 and located in the Jagiellonian University buildings.

Documents concerning the Podhale region, which had been moved to Bavaria by the end of World War II, were initially taken over by the US army. Then they were placed in the National Anthropological Archives in Washington DC, where they were discovered after several decades by the American scientist Gretchen E. Schafft. A majority of this previously unknown, rich documentary material was developed by the Sektion Rassen- und Volkstumsforchung (the Section for Racial and National Traditions Research of the IDO). In 2008, the collection was transferred to the Archives of the Jagiellonian University.

"The right to live"

The archives concerning the Podhale region consist of more than 22,000 pages of written documentation and photographs from the years 1940-1942. These are mainly surveys containing anthropological measurements and medical data, with enclosed photographs of the examined persons and materials of an ethnographic nature: detailed descriptions of families and households, as well as an extremely valuable collection of hundreds of photographs depicting the everyday life of residents of Podhale. The pictures show the clothes, houses and household items, tools, everyday objects, and household chores.

As a whole, the tests conducted by IDO constituted a part of Nazi plans of population selection in the occupied regions of Poland, aimed at selecting individuals and larger groups whom the Germans defined as "valuable," both in the racial and cultural aspects. In the future these groups were to be granted "the right to live." At first, highlanders from Podhale and Lemkos were considered inhabitants of villages near Kraków along with the Polish population and German colonists from the neighborhood of Mielec and Nowy Sącz. The Jewish community from the ghetto in Tarnow was one of the first groups examined. What is important is the fact that tests took place shortly before the extermination..

Inventory card from the photography archive of the IDO. German ethnographer taking photos of the inhabitants of Maruszyna in front of the parsonage in Szaflary


In search for German traits

"The first stage of our research focused on the arrangement and creation of a detailed inventory of all materials collected by Nazi anthropologists and ethnologists. The second stage consisted in studies on documents and looking for people who were subjected to anthropological measurements as children," explain Małgorzata Maj, PhD, and Stanisława Trebunia-Staszel, PhD, who coordinated the studies. Basing on these relations, they filled the gaps in our knowledge about the action carried out by Nazi anthropologists and ethnologists. Previously unknown materials and oral testimonies enabled the reconstruction of numerous facts that had been nearly unknown before.

The materials found in German archives included, among others, full lists of individuals selected for measurement in each location, which enabled us to determine the exact chronology and scale of racial tests. On the other hand, inhabitants of Podhale remember plenty of details, for example those related to the place and method of taking measurements. The obligation to appear at a designated place was particularly emphasized, along with the necessity to undress completely and the fear that accompanied the tests, which were associated with selecting children for germanization. This is how one of the inhabitants describes the tests: "I remember the tests well. I think they lasted for a whole month in 1942. There were a few stands. We passed from one stand to another. There was a team of several doctors, about ten people. The tests were taken at the parsonage. They measured us. They asked about illnesses. They examined everything. Eyes, throat, even hair. We had to leave fingerprints, too. (….) It was a racial issue. They classified us as racially German. We, here in Podhale, were supposed to be of German descent."

Field studies conducted in the villages presented in the photographic documentation allowed us to identify a majority of the people, places, and situations depicted in the photos, mostly not previously described by the Germans. This significantly increased the value of the archives as source material.

Perpetuated memory

"When we addressed the issue of Nazi racial tests, we did not intend to enter into the competences of physical anthropologists or to examine the contents of the anthropological and medical documentation. Neither did we refer to theories developed by the Nazis, which were based on data connected to the course of the study, which were presented in reports and publications of the Sektion Rassen- und Volkstumsforchung," scientists from Kraków explain. The objective of the works became first to inventory and prepare a draft elaboration of the documentation, as well as to reconstruct the facts related to the organization and course of German tests based on previously undisclosed documents and testimonies of witnesses. Detailed studies on the IDO archive continue within other research projects of the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of the Jagiellonian University.

In the scientists' opinion, the German collection of materials documenting the application of Nazi methods towards conquered nations is not only an important source of knowledge about the past, but also enlightening proof of the entanglement of science in politics. At the same time, as the former Director of the Archives of the Jagiellonian University, Professor Krzysztof Stopka, accurately remarked, "Contrary to Nazi assumptions, the materials which were supposed to justify the extermination of the examined ethnic groups may become important source material for the perpetuation of their history and culture."

Research team: Małgorzata Maj, PhD – Project Manager; Stanisława Trebunia-Staszel, PhD; Elżbieta Duszeńko-Król, MA; Artur Sekunda, MA