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 of Sexology, 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. 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.
After the Nazis gained control of Germany in the 1930s, the institute and its libraries were destroyed as part of a Nazi government censorship program by youth brigades, who burned its books and documents in the street.
The Institute of Sex Research was opened in 1919 by Hirschfeld and his collaborator Arthur Kronfeld, 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.
In 1929 Hirschfeld presided over the third international congress of the World League for Sexual Reform at Wigmore Hall.
Magnus Hirschfeld coined the term transsexualism, 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.
In late February 1933, as the influence of Ernst Röhm weakened, the Nazi Party launched its purge of LGBT (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 US, 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). Also books by Jewish writers, and pacifists such as Erich Maria Remarque, were removed from local public libraries and the Humboldt University, and were burned.
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 purge of gay men in the ranks of the SA wing of the Nazis, which involved murdering them in the Night of the Long Knives. This was then followed by stricter laws on homosexuality and the round-up of gay men. 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.
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) were 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 Paragraph 175, making it impossible for surviving gay men to claim restitution for the destroyed cultural center.
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 US in the 1950s.
In 1973 a new Institut für Sexualwissenschaft was opened at the University of Frankfurt am Main (director: Volkmar Sigusch), and 1996 at the Humboldt University of Berlin.