Life and Career
Alfred Ploetz was born in Swinemünde, Germany (now Świnoujście, Poland) and he grew up and attended school in Breslau (now Wrocław). At this time he began his friendship with Carl Hauptmann, brother of the famous author Gerhart Hauptmann. In 1879 he founded a secret racist youth society. In Gerhart Hauptmann's Drama "Vor Sonnenaufgang" (Before Sunrise) which was first performed on October 20, 1889 in Berlin, the key figure of the journalist Loth is based on Ploetz.
After school Ploetz at first studied political economy in Breslau. There he joined the "Freie wissenschaftliche Vereinigung" (free scientific union). Among his friends were – besides his brother – his former school friend Ferdinand Simon (later son-in-law of August Bebel), the brothers Carl and Gerhart Hauptmann, Heinrich Laux, and Charles Proteus Steinmetz.
This circle enthusiastically read the works of Ernst Haeckel and Charles Darwin. Carl Hauptmann was a student of Ernst Haeckel, and Gerhart Hauptmann and Ploetz attended some of his lectures. The group expanded and developed a plan of founding a colony in one of the pacific states and established itself as the "Pacific association". They planned a "community on friendly, socialist and maybe also pan-Germanic basis". In consequence of the prosecution of socialistically minded persons in application of Otto von Bismarck's anti-socialist laws (1878–1890), in 1883 Ploetz fled to Zurich, where he continued to study political economy with Julius Platter (1844–1923). In his memoirs Ploetz states as an important reason for his choice of Zurich that in his studies in Breslau socialist theories were only incidentally mentioned.
After living for a half a year in the United States, Ploetz returned to Zurich and began to study medicine. In 1890 he became medical doctor and married Ernst Rüdin's sister Pauline, though the two never had children. Ploetz and his wife lived in the US for four years, and divorced in 1898. Ploetz later married Anita Nordenholz. This marriage produced three children: Ulrich (called Uli), Cordelia (called Deda) and Wilfrid (called Fridl, born 1912 and still alive as of 2007).
Ploetz first proposed the theory of racial hygiene (race-based eugenics) in his "Racial Hygiene Basics" (Grundlinien einer Rassenhygiene) in 1895. In 1904 Ploetz founded the periodical "Archiv für Rassen-und Gesellschaftsbiologie" with Fritz Lenz as chief editor, and in 1905 the "Deutsche Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene" (German association of eugenics). In 1930 he became an honorary doctor of the University of Munich.
Ploetz was a supporter of the Nazi Party, which took power in 1933. Ploetz wrote in April 1933 that he believed Hitler would bring racial hygiene from its previous marginality into the mainstream.
In 1933 Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick established an "expert advisory committee for population and racial policy," which included Ploetz, Fritz Lenz, Ernst Rüdin and Hans F.K. Günther. This expert advisory committee had the task of advising the Nazis on the implementation and enforcement of legislation regarding racial and eugenic issues. In 1936, Hitler appointed Ploetz to a professorship.
Ploetz was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936 for his warning against the biological effects of war on human reproduction. In 1937 he joined the Nazi party.
He died at the age of 79 and is buried at his home in Herrsching on the Ammersee in Bavaria. After his death, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer praised his "inner sympathy and enthusiasm the National Socialist Movement". Ernst Rüdin, also a committed National Socialist, praised Ploetz two years before as a man "by his meritorious services has helped to set up our Nazi ideology."
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