The founding of this institute in 1927 was a response to the relentless efforts of physicians and geneticists to establish anthropology, human genetics and "racial purity" firmly in the scientific landscape.
The institute quickly became the leading center for human genetics in Germany and gained recognition for, among other things, its empirically-based research. Yet, by the summer of 1933, its founding director, Eugen Fischer, was already making it clear that his establishment was "utterly and entirely at the disposal of the current State for its requirements." The institute's staff worked accordingly, serving the purposes of Nazi racial and population policy as experts, assessors and consultants. Otmar von Verschuer, appointed director in 1942, benefited in his research on twins from the activities of his pupil Josef Mengele, who, as a doctor at Auschwitz death camp, would have twins murdered and send their organs to Dahlem for further analysis.
The Otto Suhr Institute of Freie Universität, part of which is housed in the building of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, erected a plaque next to its entrance in 1988 in memory of the shameful role played by this institute under National Socialism.