The eugenic movement in Germany was in the beginning, prior to World War I, relatively moderate. It emphasized "positive" eugenics and did not adopt the anti-Semitism popular on the German right. World War I radicalized the German eugenic movement. Not only did eugenicists begin to advocate "negative" eugenics, particularly sterilization, but many also adopted a racist viewpoint. German eugenicists agreed on "negative" eugenics but divided into a Nordic and anti-Nordic wing on the question of race. The proponents of the Nordic orientation subscribed to the belief in the superior qualities of the Nordic or Germanic peoples; moreover, the Nordic wing, centered in the Munich chapter of the eugenic movement, did not reject racial anti-Semitism and embraced this form of racism completely after the Nazis assumed power.
The Munich chapter was led by Fritz Lenz, who occupied the first chair in eugenics at the University of Munich; Eugen Fischer, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology and professor of anthropology at the University of Berlin; Ernst Rüdin, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry; Hans F. K. Günther, who occupied the chair in racial anthropology at Jena University and later at Freiburg; and Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, later director of the Frankfurt Institute for Hereditary Biology and Race Hygiene and thereafter Fischer's successor in Berlin. The opposition to the Nordic faction was centered in the Berlin chapter of the eugenic movement, led by the Social Democrat Alfred Grotjahn, who occupied the chair for social hygiene at the University of Berlin. The first battle involved the name of the movement. The anti-Nordic wing wanted to retain "eugenics," while the Nordic wing opted for "race hygiene." After Adolf Hitler's appointment as chancellor on January 30, 1933, race hygiene became the official designation for German eugenics. The assumption of power by the Nazis assured the victory of the Nordic wing; the anti- Nordic wing disappeared. The new regime provided unlimited opportunities for the practitioners of race hygiene to implement their program. In turn, the race scientists provided the legitimacy the regime needed for its policies. Already in 1931, two years before Hitler's assumption of power, Lenz provided the Nazi leader with the following testimonial: "Hitler is the first politician with truly wide influence who has recognized that the central mission of all politics is race hygiene and who will actively support this mission."
As soon as the Nazis had assumed power, they moved with alacrity to implement their racial and eugenic program. The disabled were among the first victims targeted by exclusionary legislation. On July 14, 1933, just four and a half months after assuming power, Hitler and his cabinet promulgated a sterilization law for persons suffering from a variety of mental and physical disabilities, and in the process defined the groups to