The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft was an early private sexology research institute in Germany from 1919 to 1933. The name is variously translated as Institute of Sex Research, Institute for Sexology or Institute for the Science of Sexuality. The Nazi book burnings in Berlin included the archives of the Institute.

The Institute was a non-profit foundation situated in Berlin's Tiergarten. It was headed by Magnus Hirschfeld, a doctor of Jewish ancestry. Since 1897 he had run the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee ("Scientific-Humanitarian Committee"), which campaigned on conservative and rational grounds for gay rights and tolerance. The Committee published the long-running journal Jahrbuch fur sexuelle Zwischenstufen. Hirschfeld was also a researcher; he collected questionnaires from 10,000 people, informing his book Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes ("The Homosexuality of Man and Woman", 1914). He built a unique library on same-sex love and eroticism.[1]

After the Nazis gained control of Germany in the 1930s, the institute and its libraries were destroyed as part of a government censorship program.

File:Berlin hirschfeld gedenktafel.jpg

Origins and purposeEdit

The Institute of Sex Research was opened in 1919 by Hirschfeld and his collaborator Arthur Kronfeld,[2] a once famous psychotherapist and later professor at the Charité. As well as being a research library and housing a large archive, the Institute also included medical, psychological, and ethnological divisions, and a marriage and sex counseling office. The Institute was visited by around 20,000 people each year, and conducted around 1,800 consultations. Poorer visitors were treated for free. In addition, the institute advocated sex education, contraception, the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and women's emancipation, and was a pioneer worldwide in the call for civil rights and social acceptance for homosexual and transgender people.

Transgender pioneersEdit

Magnus Hirschfeld coined the term transsexualism,[3] identifying the clinical category which his colleague Harry Benjamin would later develop in the United States. Transgender people were on the staff of the Institute, as well as being among the clients there. Various endocrinologic and surgical services were offered, including the first modern "sex-change" operations in the 1930s. Hirschfeld also worked with Berlin's police department to curtail the arrest of cross-dressed individuals on suspicion of prostitution.

Nazi eraEdit

In late February 1933, as the moderating influence of Ernst Röhm weakened, the Nazi Party launched its purge of homosexual (gay, lesbian, and bisexual; then known as "homophile") clubs in Berlin, outlawed sex publications, and banned organised gay groups. As a consequence, many fled Germany (including, for instance, Erika Mann). In March 1933 the Institute's main administrator, Kurt Hiller, was sent to a concentration camp.

On 6 May 1933, while Hirschfeld was on a lecture-tour of the U.S., the Deutsche Studentenschaft made an organised attack on the Institute of Sex Research. A few days later, the Institute's library and archives were publicly hauled out and burned in the streets of the Opernplatz. Around 20,000 books and journals, and 5,000 images, were destroyed. Also seized were the Institute's extensive lists of names and addresses. In the midst of the burning, Joseph Goebbels gave a political speech to a crowd of around 40,000 people. The leaders of the Deutsche Studentenschaft also proclaimed their own Feuersprüche, "fire decrees (against the un-German spirit)." Books by Jewish writers, and pacifists such as Erich Maria Remarque, were removed from local public libraries and the Humboldt University, and were burned.

There were many other small book-burnings organised around Germany on the same night, including at Munich's Konigplatz. By 22 May, book-burnings had occurred in Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Göttingen, Cologne, Hamburg, Dortmund, Halle, Nuremberg, Würzburg, Hannover, Münster, Königsberg, Koblenz, and Salzburg. The Gestapo was also confiscating public and private libraries to be destroyed in paper mills.[4]

The buildings were later taken over by the Nazis for their own purposes. They were a bombed-out ruin by 1944, and were demolished sometime in the mid 1950s. Hirschfeld tried, in vain, to re-establish his Institute in Paris, but he died in France in 1935.

While many fled into exile, the radical activist Adolf Brand made a brave stand in Germany for five months after the book burnings. Finally the persecution became too much, and in November 1933 he was forced to announce the formal end of the organised homosexual emancipation movement in Germany. On June 28, 1934 Hitler conducted a murderous purge of gay men in the ranks of the S.A. wing of the Nazis, and this was followed by stricter laws on homosexuality and the round-up of homosexuals. The address lists seized from the Institute are believed to have aided Hitler in these actions. Many tens of thousands of arrestees found themselves, ultimately, in slave-labour or death camps. Others, such as John Henry Mackay, committed suicide.

Among the books burned at Bebelplatz was Heinrich Heine's Almansor, in which he suggests, "Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people."

After World War IIEdit

The charter of the institute had specified that in the event of dissolution, any assets of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation (which had sponsored the Institute since 1924) are to be donated to the Humboldt University of Berlin. Hirschfeld also wrote a personal will while in exile in Paris, leaving any remaining assets to his students and heirs Karl Giese and Li Shiu Tong (Tao Li) for the continuation of his work. However, neither stipulation was carried out. The West German courts found that the foundation's dissolution and the seizure of property by the Nazis in 1934 was legal. The West German legislature also retained the Nazi amendments to anti-homosexual law §175a, making it impossible for surviving homosexuals to claim restitution for the destroyed cultural center.[5]

Karl Giese committed suicide in 1938 when the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia and his heir, lawyer Karl Fein, was murdered in 1942 during deportation. Li Shiu Tong lived in Switzerland and the United States until 1956, but as far as is known, he did not attempt to continue Hirschfeld's work. Some remaining fragments of data from the library were later collected by W. Dorr Legg and ONE, Inc. in the U.S. in the 1950s.

Later developments Edit

In 1996 a new Institut für Sexualwissenschaft was opened at the Humboldt University of Berlin.


  1. Harry Oosterhuis. (Ed.) Homosexuality and Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany: The Youth Movement, the Gay Movement, and Male Bonding Before Hitler's Rise: Original Transcripts from Der Eigene, the First Gay Journal in the World. (1991).
  2. In Memory of Arthur Kronfeld () - see also here or the entry about Arthur Kronfeld in the german Wikipedia.
  3. Ekins R., King D. (2001) Pioneers of Transgendering: The Popular Sexology of David O. Cauldwell. IJT 5,2 (text online)
  4. Leonidas Hill (2001). "The Nazi Attack on 'Un-German' Literature, 1933-1945" IN: The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation.
  5. James D. Steakley. The Early Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany. (1975).

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • John Lauritsen and David Thorstad. The Early Homosexual Rights Movement, 1864-1935. (Second Edition revised)
  • Günter Grau (ed.). Hidden Holocaust? Gay and lesbian persecution in Germany 1933-45. (1995).
  • Charlotte Wolff. Magnus Hirschfeld: A Portrait of a Pioneer in Sexology. (1986).
  • James D. Steakley. "Anniversary of a Book Burning". The Advocate (Los Angeles), 9 June 1983. Pages 18-19, 57.
  • Mark Blasius & Shane Phelan. (Eds.) We Are Everywhere: A Historical Source Book of Gay and Lesbian Politics (See the chapter: "The Emergence of a Gay and Lesbian Political Culture in Germany" by James D. Steakley).


External linksEdit

es:Institut für Sexualwissenschaft it:Institut für Sexualwissenschaft pt:Institut für Sexualwissenschaft