The portrait bust created in 1960 by Gerhard Thieme (1928 – 2018) shows the German pathologist Robert Rössle (1879 – 1956) – a pioneer of National Socialist eugenics. He contributed to the spread of the ideology of “racial hygiene” through racist and ableist writings and conducted numerous inhumane experiments under National Socialism.

Robert Rössle studied medicine in Munich, Kiel and Strasbourg. After his habilitation, he worked in Jena and Basel until 1929, when he was appointed to the chair of pathology at the Charité in Berlin, which he held until 1948.  Even before Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945) came to power, Rössle was an advocate of eugenics, which served as a justification for the murder of people with physical and mental disabilities under National Socialism.

In the 1930s, for research purposes, he had prisoners from the Moabit  prison castrated for “crimes of morality,” such as homosexuality, and dissected their testicles. At the same time, he contributed to the eugenic “Zeitschrift für menschliche Vererbungs- und Konstitutionslehre” (Journal for Human Heredity and Constitutional Theory) published by Günther Just (1892 – 1950) and Karl Heinrich Bauer (1890 – 1978) from 1935. In 1936 he was admitted to the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina on the basis of his research.

According to research by biochemist Ute Linz, Rössle also received brains from Julius Hallervorden (1882 – 1968). The deputy director at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research (KWI) examined around 700 brains of children and adolescents from Brandenburg who were murdered during “Aktion T4”. On August 18, 1942, Adolf Hitler appointed him to the scientific senate of the army medical service.

In 1944, Rössle was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Board of Dr. Karl Brandt’s “General Commissar for Sanitary and Health Services.” The so called “Aktion Brandt” involved the murder of disabled people from sanatoriums and nursing homes to  vacate  hospital beds for war victims.

Career after National Socialism

Since Rössle had not been a member of the NSDAP, he continued to teach at the Humboldt University in Berlin after the end of World War II. After retiring, he worked at the Wenckebach Municipal Hospital in Berlin until 1953 and then devoted himself to experimental studies at the Institute for Tissue Research.

Rössle was awarded the National Prize of the GDR in 1949, received several honorary doctorates, was an honorary member of eleven scientific societies and a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin. In 1952 he received the Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Robert Rössle died in Berlin in 1956.

Three years after his death, the Academy Institute for Medicine and Biology of the GDR – a former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute – founded in 1959 was renamed the Robert Rössle Clinic.

Between 1947 and 1991, a series of memorial busts were erected at the Berlin-Buch campus to commemorate scientists and physicians involved in the reconstruction after World War II. In 1960, a portrait bust created by Gerhard Thieme was erected in front of the Robert Rössle Clinic, and in 1974 the street leading to the campus was named after him. Since 2001, the clinic is no longer called Robert Rössle, as it was bought by the private Helios Group, but you can still find some signage or online entries on Google bearing the old name.

Status of the Renaming

The biochemist Ute Linz is committed to a new, historical reappraisal of Robert Rössle. In recent years, she has collected material about him that, in her opinion, makes a comprehensive historical reappraisal and renaming urgently necessary. In November 2015, she first wrote to the Pankow district office, which promised to investigate. When nothing happened as a result, Ute Linz submitted a petition to the district assembly (BVV) on February 4, 2017.

The deputy director of the Institute for the History of Medicine and Ethics in Medicine at the Charité Berlin Thomas Beddies was critical of the renaming initiative and pleaded for a critical contextualization of the name “in the sense of a living culture of remembrance and commemoration” (taz). Ute Linz disagrees with this idea as inappropriate and has suggested  giving the street its old name of “Pappelweg.”.

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