Rüdin was born in St. Gallen, Switzerland. He started his career as a psychiatrist.
Early research by Rüdin failed to find support for simple Mendelian inheritance of several mental disorders. Rüdin pioneered and refined complex techniques for conducting studies of inheritance, was widely cited in the international literature for decades, and is still regarded as "the father of psychiatric genetics".
Rüdin was the director (1917-1945) of the Genealogical-Demographic Department at the German Institute for Psychiatric Research in Munich. He directed one of the first eugenic research institutes, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Genealogy in Munich, Germany. He also headed the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt and the German Society for Racial Hygiene. He stated the value of the Nordic race as "culture creators". He was a president of the International Federation of Eugenic Organizations.
National Socialist Germany
- See also: Eugenics: National Socialist Germany
In 1933, Ernst Rüdin, Alfred Ploetz, and several others were brought together to form the Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy under Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick. He was involved in writing the 1933 "Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring".
Rüdin joined the NSDAP in 1937. In 1939, on his 65th birthday, he was awarded a 'Goethe medal for art and science' handed to him personally by Hitler, who honored him as the 'pioneer of the racial-hygienic measures of the Third Reich'. In 1944, he received a bronze Nazi eagle medal (Adlerschild des Deutschen Reiches), with Hitler calling him the 'pathfinder in the field of hereditary hygiene'.
There are various allegations involving Rüdin, eugenics, and National Socialist Germany, which may have various problems. See also Eugenics: National Socialist Germany.
After World War II
At the end of the war in 1945, Rüdin stated he had only ever engaged in academic science and had only ever heard rumors of killings at nearby insane asylums. Despite this, he was stripped of his Swiss citizenship, which he had held jointly with German, and two months later was placed under house arrest by the Munich Military Government. However, interned in the United States, he was released in 1947 after a 'denazification' trial; his only punishment was a 500-mark fine.
He repeatedly cited American eugenic sterilization initiatives to justify his own as legal (the Nuremberg trials carefully avoided highlighting such links in general).