Adolf Koch (9 April 1896 – 2 July 1970) was a German school teacher and leader of the Freikörperkultur (naked culture) movement in German in the 1920s and 1930s, which in turn was part of the larger Lebensreform movement.(Williams 2007, p. 1)
Koch studied psychology and medicine at the Friedrich William Institut. He also studied with Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. Subsequently, he trained to be a school gymnastics teacher, finding in nude physical exercise the symbol of 'a new beginning for a new society'. Finding difficulty in putting his radical body culture ideas into practice at two mainstream schools in Moabit in the early 1920s, with the support of the Prussian government he created its own Institute for nudist education, which by 1929 had 3,000 pupils.
The poet Stephen Spender remarked after visiting Germany (in World within World) on the extent to which the Freikörperkultur was visible in the Germany of the late 1920s:
The sun – symbol of the great wealth of nature within the poverty of man, was a primary social force in this Germany. Thousands of people went to the open-air swimming baths or lay down on the shores of the rivers and lakes, almost nude, and sometimes quite nude, and the boys who had turned the deepest mahogany walked amongst those people with paler skins like kings among their courtiers.
Koch went on to develop thirteen schools in Germany. His was a primarily working-class movement, and although opposed to racial prejudice did however advocate eugenics and contributed to the mood of the times in relation to the need to physically regenerate the German people. German nudists generally were mildly harassed by the Nazis during 1933/4, but by 1933 the Kampfring für völkische Freikörperkultur (Militant Circle for Ethnic Naked Culture) had been established, which acted as a pro-Nazi umbrella body for German nudist groups – and which excluded Jews and most communist nudist groups.
The working-class socialist-leaning Adolf Koch schools were banned, but the "Adolf Koch League for Social Hygiene, Body Culture and Gymnastics" (Institut fur Eubiotik und Lebensregelung), was still operating towards the end of 1934. In 1934 Koch published an article that stated... "We have pointed out often enough that racial biology and racial hygiene are crucial to this struggle for public health." and which praised the Sturmabteilung leader Ernst Röhm. This was not, however enough to prevent his organisation being closed down again by the Nazis. Koch even paid eighteen months of subscriptions as a "Supportive Member" of the SS to try to curry favour with the regime – but a de-nazification committee of 1947 found him not guilty of supporting the Nazi Party.