Ilse Schwidetzky

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Ilse Schwidetzky (married name Rösing; 6 September 1907 – 18 March 1997 in Mainz) was a German anthropologist, racial hygienist, and university lecturer.


Ilse Schwidetzky was born in Lissa, the daughter of the second mayor of Lissa, a private scholar and chairman of the Society for Animal and Original Language Research, Georg Schwidetzky (1875-1952). She attended the municipal lyceum in Bromberg until the cession of large parts of the province of Posen to the Polish Republic in 1920. When her family moved to Leipzig in 1920, she continued her school career there at the Städtische Höhere Mädchenschule. In 1924 she transferred to the Städtische Studienanstalt, where she finished her school career with the Abitur in 1927. She then began studying physics, mathematics and biology at the University of Leipzig, which she continued briefly at the University of Gdansk. She later switched to anthropology, history, geography and biology and finished her studies at the University of Wroclaw. In Breslau, she became a research assistant at the Ethnological Institute in early January 1933. In 1934, she received her doctorate in Wroclaw under Manfred Laubert with the historical topic "The Polish Electoral Movement in Upper Silesia."

From the beginning of April 1935, she was an assistant in Breslau to the anthropologist Egon von Eickstedt, one of the leading racial anthropologists of National Socialism. This was followed by collaboration on the anthropological survey of Silesia. In 1937 she habilitated in anthropology with a thesis on the racial studies of the Old Slavs. She represented the latter during its second expedition to India. From 1939, she worked at the University of Breslau as a lecturer and conducted lectures at the so-called "Oststudium." She was co-editor of the Zeitschrift für Rassenkunde und die gesamte Forschung am Menschen and Rasse, Volk und Erbgut in Schlesien, founded by Eickstedt.

In 1940 Ilse Schwidetzky married the merchant Bernhard Rösing. The marriage produced three children, including the ethnologist Ina Rösing (formerly Spiegel-Rösing) and the anthropologist Friedrich W. Rösing. Her husband was killed in action in 1944 after a heavy bombing raid on Nuremberg.

After fleeing from Breslau and a stopover in Leipzig, Schwidetzky moved to Mainz and became a lecturer with Eickstedt, who had headed the newly founded Anthropological Institute since 1946. She received an associate professorship in Mainz in 1947. At the instigation of the acting chairman, Leopold von Wiese, she was accepted into the German Sociological Society.

From 1949 she worked on the Institute's journal, newly founded under the name Homo, of which she later became the main editor for many years. After Eickstedt's retirement in 1961, she was appointed to his chair and became director of the Anthropological Institute in Mainz. She became emeritus professor in 1975, but continued to be scientifically active thereafter into old age.


Schwidetzky's research focused on the population biology of living and historical populations. She was a leader in several large-scale regional anthropological data collections: in Silesia in the 1930s and in Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, the Canary Islands, and Sardinia from the 1950s to the 1970s. In 1966, she organized a landmark international symposium on Neolithic anthropology. As a result, she founded the Mainz Database of Metric Data of Prehistoric Populations of Europe and the Near East. She analyzed and published its datasets together with Friedrich W. Rösing in several papers on the different epochs of Europe from the Neolithic to modern times in the journal Homo (organ of the German Society for Anthropology).

After the death of Karl Saller, she took over the editing of "Rassengeschichte der Menschheit" (Racial History of Mankind), for which she wrote the article on Germany and contributed to numerous others.

After German anthropology and many leading anthropologists, especially of the Berlin school around Eugen Fischer, were heavily burdened by their involvement in National Socialism, Schwidetzky, together with von Eickstedt, played a major role in the resurgence of German anthropology after the war and its reintegration into international science, helped by her language skills and contacts with many foreign colleagues. Schwidetzky had many domestic and foreign students. Of these, Rainer Knußmann became chairholder in Hamburg and Wolfram Bernhard her successor in Mainz.

Awards and recognition

Ilse Schwidetzky was member or honorary member in numerous academic associations:

  • Permanent Council der International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (1974 vice president)
  • Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz
  • Société d’Anthropologie de Paris
  • Anthropologische Gesellschaft, Vienna
  • Société Royale Belge d’Anthropologie
  • Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa
  • Sociedad Española de Antropologia Biologica
  • Akademie für Bevölkerungswissenschaft Hamburg
  • Herder-Forschungsrat, Marburg
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Anthropologie und Humangenetik (chair 1968–1970)
  • honorary doctorate of the University of Crete (1990)


  • Rassenkunde der Altslawen. Stuttgart 1938
  • Grundzüge der Völkerbiologie. Stuttgart 1950
  • Das Problem des Völkertodes. Eine Studie zur historischen Bevölkerungsbiologie. Enke, Stuttgart 1954
  • Das Menschenbild der Biologie Ergebnisse und Probleme der naturwissenschaftlichen Anthropologie. G. Fischer, Stuttgart 1959 (2nd ed. 1970)
  • Die vorspanische Bevölkerung der Kanarischen Inseln. Göttingen 1963
  • with Hubert Walter: Untersuchungen zur anthropologischen Gliederung Westfalens. Münster 1967
  • Hauptprobleme der Anthropologie. Bevölkerungsbiologie und Evolution des Menschen. Rombach, Freiburg i.Br. 1971
  • Grundlagen der Rassensystematik. BI, Mannheim 1974
  • Rassen und Rassenbildung beim Menschen. Fischer, Stuttgart 1979
  • with I. Spiegel-Rösing: Maus und Schlange. Untersuchungen zur Lage der deutschen Anthropologie. Oldenbourg, München 1992



  • Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann: Ilse Schwidetzky zum 65. Geburtstag. In: Homo. 23, 1972, 298–303.
  • Wolfram Bernhard, Rainer Knußmann, Friedrich W. Rösing: Ilse Schwidetzky 6.9.1907–18.3.1997. In: Homo. 48, 1997, S. 205–212.
  • Wolfram Bernhard: Nachruf auf Ilse Schwidetzky-Rösing (1907–1997). In: Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien. 128, 1998, 179–181.
  • AG gegen Rassekunde (Hrsg.): Deine Knochen – deine Wirklichkeit. Texte gegen rassistische und sexistische Kontinuität in der Humanbiologie. Hamburg, Münster 1998.
  • Veronika Lipphardt: Das „schwarze Schaf“ der Biowissenschaften. Marginalisierungen und Rehabilitierungen der Rassenbiologie im 20. Jahrhundert. In: Dirk Rupnow (Hrsg.): Pseudowissenschaft. Konzeptionen von Nichtwissenschaftlichkeit in der Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-518-29497-0.

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