Robert Ritter

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Ritter (far right) in 1936, talking to a Romani woman Bundesarchiv R 165 Bild-244-71, Dr. Robert Ritter mit alter Frau und Polizist.jpg
Ritter (far right) in 1936, talking to a Romani woman

Robert Ritter (14 May 1901 15 April 1951) was a "racial scientist" doctor of psychology and medicine, with a background in child psychiatry and the biology of criminality. In Berlin in 1936, Ritter was appointed head of the Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit of Nazi Germany's Criminal Police, to establish the genealogical histories of the German "Gypsies", both Roma and Sinti. His work in classifying these populations of Germany aided the Nazi government in the systematic persecution of them, toward a goal of "racial purity".

Scientific racism use of scientific techniques and hypotheses to support or justify the belief in racism

Scientific racism, is the pseudoscientific belief that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism, racial inferiority, or racial superiority. Historically, scientific racist ideas received credence in the scientific community but are no longer considered scientific.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Romani people ethnic group living mostly in Europe and the Americas

The Romani, colloquially known as Gypsies or Roma, are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group, traditionally itinerant, living mostly in Europe and the Americas and originating from the northern Indian subcontinent, from the Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab regions of modern-day India.


Early life

Ritter was born in 1901 in Aachen, Germany. He attended an exclusive secondary school, as well as a Prussian military academy. After a stint in the German Freikorps , Ritter began his formal education studying at various universities.

Aachen Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Aachen, also known as Bad Aachen, and in French and traditional English as Aix-la-Chapelle, is a spa and border city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Aachen developed from a Roman settlement and spa, subsequently becoming the preferred medieval Imperial residence of Charlemagne, and, from 936 to 1531, the place where 31 Holy Roman Emperors were crowned Kings of the Germans.

Prussia state in Central Europe between 1525–1947

Prussia was a historically prominent German state that originated in 1525 with a duchy centred on the region of Prussia on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It was de facto dissolved by an emergency decree transferring powers of the Prussian government to German Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1932 and de jure by an Allied decree in 1947. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital in Königsberg and from 1701 in Berlin, decisively shaped the history of Germany.

<i>Freikorps</i> German volunteer military or anti-communist paramilitary units

Freikorps were German volunteer units that existed from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, which effectively fought as mercenary or private armies, regardless of their own nationality. In German-speaking countries, the first so-called Freikorps were formed in the 18th century from native volunteers, enemy renegades and deserters. These sometimes exotically equipped units served as infantry and cavalry, sometimes in just company strength, sometimes in formations up to several thousand strong; there were also various mixed formations or legions. The Prussian von Kleist Freikorps included infantry, jäger, dragoons and hussars. The French Volontaires de Saxe combined uhlans and dragoons.

In 1927, Ritter received his doctorate in educational psychology at the University of Munich. Post-doctorate, Ritter continued his education and received a medical degree from Heidelberg University in 1930, and was medically licensed the same year. In 1934, two years before being appointed as head of the German police's racial hygiene research unit, Ritter received his specialist certification in child psychology, studying the inheritability of criminality. He completed part of his residence in the University of Tübingen, where he would later be hired as a professor again, post-WWII.

Heidelberg University public research university in Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg University is a public research university in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Founded in 1386 on instruction of Pope Urban VI, Heidelberg is Germany's oldest university and one of the world's oldest surviving universities. It was the third university established in the Holy Roman Empire.

Psychology is the science of behavior and mind, including conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought. It is an academic discipline of immense scope and diverse interests that, when taken together, seek an understanding of the emergent properties of brains, and all the variety of epiphenomena they manifest. As a social science it aims to understand individuals and groups by establishing general principles and researching specific cases.

University of Tübingen public research university located in the city of Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

The University of Tübingen, officially the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, is a public research university located in the city of Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Ritter and the Sterilization Law of 1933

Nazi seizure of power in 1933 allowed the party to transform their ideology of racial purity into policy. The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring was put into effect New Year’s Day, 1934, and included compulsory sterilization of individuals who, according to medical knowledge, were likely to pass on to their offspring a serious physical or mental disorder. Besides a diagnosed medical disorder, citizens would also be sterilized for being classified as asocial. An asocial diagnosis was often associated with having “moral” or “disguised mental retardation”, despite showing no deficit in intelligence. Of the two terms, Ritter was responsible for the invention "disguised mental retardation" in which, according to Ritter, individuals, especially children, would display a certain independence and cunning and were quick talkers. The alleged disorder supposedly carried a mask of cleverness, which the pseudo-scientific medical specialists characterized as disguised mental retardation: if they couldn't actually observe and demonstrate a mental problem, they simply insisted it was present anyway, and that evidence of its opposite was some kind of trick. For the Roma and Sinti population, this meant that with the aid of Ritter, an estimated five hundred Roma and Sinti were sterilized from 1933 to 1939.

Compulsory sterilization, also known as forced or coerced sterilization, programs are government policies which force people to undergo surgical or other sterilization. The reasons governments implement sterilization programs vary in purpose and intent. In the first half of the 20th century, several such programs were instituted in countries around the world, usually as part of eugenics programs intended to prevent the reproduction of members of the population considered to be carriers of defective genetic traits.

Methods of research

The task of the Rassenhygienische und Bevolkerungsbiologische Forschungsstelle (English: Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit), a division of the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police), was to identify and categorize all Roma and Sinti people in Germany according to racial standards. Ritter, heading this organization, had a team of other racial scientists including Eva Justin, Adolf Wurth, Sophie Ehrhardt, and Ruth Kellermann.


Kriminalpolizei is the standard term for the criminal investigation agency within the police forces of Germany, Austria and the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland. In Nazi Germany, the Kripo was the criminal police department for the entire Reich. Today, in the Federal Republic of Germany, the state police (Landespolizei) perform the majority of investigations. Its Criminal Investigation Department is known as the Kriminalpolizei or more colloquially, the Kripo.

Sinti ethnic group

The Sinti are a Romani people of Central Europe. They were traditionally itinerant, but today only a small percentage of the group remains unsettled. In earlier times, they frequently lived on the outskirts of communities. The Sinti of Central Europe are closely related to the group known as Manouche in France. They speak the Sinti-Manouche variety of Romani, which exhibits strong German influence.

Eva Justin German psychologist

Eva Justin was a German anthropologist during the Nazi era. She specialised in so-called scientific racism. Her work contributed to the Nazi crimes against the Sinti and Roma peoples.

By 1937, the Research Unit was working with the Central Office of Reich Security, and the Reich Ministry of Interior, to travel the country in units to register "full-blooded" and "mixed-race" Roma or Sinti. The units referenced church records which contained centuries of baptisms, marriages, and deaths to track individuals' genealogies. As some of his assistants spoke Romani, Roma individuals who could not provide paper proof of their racial identity were interrogated under threat of being incarcerated. Along with tracking genealogies, the units photographed their subjects, took blood samples, and made anthropometric measurements, as data for the attempt to prove that the Roma and Sinti populations were genetically pre-disposed to crime as a "lesser race".

Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community Ministry of the Interior of Germany

The Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, abbreviated BMI, is cabinet-level ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its main office is in Berlin, with a secondary seat in Bonn. The current minister of the Interior, Building and Community is Horst Seehofer. It is comparable to the British Home Office or a combination of the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice, because both manage several law enforcement agencies.

White supremacy or white supremacism is the racist belief that white people are superior to people of other races and therefore should be dominant over them. White supremacy has roots in scientific racism, and it often relies on pseudoscientific arguments. Like most similar movements such as neo-Nazism, white supremacists typically oppose members of other races as well as Jews.

Ritter's racial hypotheses

Ritter desired to classify the Roma and Sinti populations for legislative precedent. In Germany, he considered there to be three groups: Jenische, part-Gypsies, and pure Gypsies.

Ritter felt the racially pure gypsies of Germany were not as large a threat to the German population as those of mixed-race identity. He argued that the best way to deal with them was to allow them to live a traditional life, sectioned off from the rest of the population. His study of criminality and "race-threat" focused on Jenische and mixed-race gypsies instead.

Ritter in post-Nazi Germany

Despite the de-Nazification of Germany after World War II, Ritter was not required to take responsibility for his actions towards the Roma and Sinti population during Nazi rule. Ritter was hired to teach criminal biology at the University of Tübingen from 1944 to 1946, and was later brought in by the Frankfurt Health Office as a pediatrician. He hired his old assistant, Eva Justin, to work as a psychologist alongside him. All investigations against Ritter were discontinued.

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