Foundations of Holocaust: American Eugenics and the Nazi Connection
“… Most of all, American raceologists were proud to have inspired the strictly eugenic state the Nazis were constructing. … Stanford President David Starr Jordan originated the notion of ‘race and blood’ in his 1902 racial epistle ‘Blood of a Nation,’ in which the university scholar declared that human qualities and conditions such as talent and poverty were passed through the blood. …”
Jerusalem Post, December 30, 2012
Introduction: If America’s response to the unfolding Holocaust is characterized as passive, its role in promoting the science behind Nazi racism, justification for the Holocaust, was active, even aggressive. American participation in the evolution of Germany’s rassenhygiene took place on many levels from biologists to physicians, from academicians to philanthropists. Two presidents supported the goal of a pure American race, and the US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in a majority decision wrote, “`It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”
Returning to Edwin Black’s observation,
“[T]he concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn’t originate with Hitler. The idea was created in the United States.”
As I allowed Black to introduce last weeks discussion so will I do in the present:
“Germany’s budding eugenicists became desirable allies for the Americans. A clear partnership emerged in the years before World War I. In this relationship however, America was far away the senior partner. In eugenics, the United States led and Germany followed.
“This relationship continued during the Third Reich. During the 1920s, the politically neutral Rockefeller Foundation played a major role in establishing and sponsoring major eugenic institutions in Germany, and during the Hitler years it funded Nazi-controlled institutions both in Germany and Austria until 1939. The Carnegie Foundation continued to fund the [Long Island, New York-based] Eugenic Records Office until 1939, despite the office’s support for the Nazi persecution of the Jews. In 1935, Hitler thanked Leon Whitney of the American Eugenics Society for sending him a copy of “The Case for Sterilization,” a 1934 book that promoted the idea of using sterilization to protect the racial health of Anglo-Saxon America.”
We discussed the evolution of American eugenics last week. This week we turn to America’s role in what may be described as the use of Germany as a real-time laboratory for testing eugenics as applied social engineering on a nation-wide scale.
“We do not stand alone”: Nazi poster from 1936 introducing compulsory sterilization legislation. First flag on the poster is that of the United States, Germany’s teacher and sponsor, and world leader of Eugenics. (Wikipedia)
American support for German “race science” began long before Hitler a debt Hitler would gratefully acknowledge:
“‘Now that we know the laws of heredity,’ he told a fellow Nazi, ‘it is possible to a large extent to prevent unhealthy and severely handicapped beings from coming into the world. I have studied with interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.”
Even the epithets applied by Hitler to the Jews, “bacteria,” vermin,” etc., were first introduced by American eugenicists decades earlier in referring to their own “unfit.”
“To American utopians Hitler was a pioneering hero. And Hitler in turn acknowledged his debt to them: “Hitler studied American eugenics laws… the intellectual outlines of the eugenics [he] adopted in 1924 were “made in America.” The law against sex relations between Jews and Aryans followed American laws against sex relations between blacks and whites; American laws promoting involuntary sterilization found themselves adopted whole by the Nazi state. Even the Reich’s furtive attempt to rid itself of its Unfit by poison gas was an adaptation of an American model, the “lethal chamber (later adopted as the death row gas chamber).” In the end American eugenicists chose to murder the Unfit indirectly, by “some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency.”
It was the model of eugenics introduced into American law that provided Germany the rationale for state controlled social engineering geared to the creation of its own Aryan Master Race.
“Beginning in 1940, thousands of Germans taken from old age homes, mental institutions and other custodial facilities were systematically gassed. Between 50,000 and 100,000 were eventually killed… Leon Whitney, executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society, declared of Nazism, “While we were pussy-footing around … the Germans were calling a spade a spade.””
Eugenics provided the “scientific” veneer justifying future atrocities which, following Israel’s capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann, would come to be termed, “the Holocaust.”
America funds Rassenhygiene: We have already seen that the Carnegie Institute was supporting German eugenics as early as the 1920’s. But Carnegie was not alone. “The Rockefeller Foundation also supported German eugenics, even funded the “program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.” The Foundation funded both eugenic research and building the laboratories to house the researchers. First among these was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin.
One important project of the Institute involved distinguishing “racial variation” by blood groups. Another was twin studies:
“At the time of Rockefeller’s endowment, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a hero in American eugenics circles, functioned as a head of the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Rockefeller funding of that Institute continued both directly and through various research conduits during Verschuer’s early tenure. In 1935… Verschuer wrote… that Germany’s war would yield a “total solution to the Jewish problem.”
Verschuer’s research assistant was a young doctor, Josef Mengele who, as camp physician at Auschwitz Mengele found himself in the perfect environment to pursue his
“twins experiments.” Every transport provided new specimens for his “researches.” Vershuer, under whose supervision Mengele conducted his “experiments,” wrote that his protégé was conducting, “Anthropological testing of the most diverse racial [populations]… being carried out with permission of the SS Reichsführer [Himmler].”
Propaganda for Nazi Germany’s T-4 Euthanasia Program: “This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow German, that is your money, too.” from the Office of Racial Policy’s”Neues Volk.(Wikipedia)
America teaches Germany eugenics: In 1928 Harry Laughlin, assistant director at the Carnegie-funded Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, the main eugenics research center in the United States, delivered a speech in Munich followed by a paper the following year. In it he claimed that,
“It has been proven that sterilization is necessary to the well-being of the state… Most importantly, the ‘prohibition of procreation for certain members of degenerate tribes’ needed to be accompanied by special support for marriages hereditarily valuable,” (The Nazi Connection).
As early as 1928, five years before Hitler, American eugenics was enthusiastically providing the Reich America’s Aryan Master Race goal, and the means by which Germany too could achieve it.
“American raceologists were proud to have inspired the strictly eugenic state the Nazis were constructing… Nazi doctors, and even Hitler himself, regularly communicated with American eugenicists from New York to California, ensuring that Germany would scrupulously follow the path blazed by the US.”
Just how envious the Americans were of their German disciples and the emerging Nazi state is expressed by the executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society:
“While we were pussy-footing around…the Germans were calling a spade a spade.” And in 1934 the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine [!] raved, “Germany is perhaps the most progressive nation in restricting fecundity among the Unfit.”
This was one year after Hitler was elected chancellor and began Germany’s rigorous application of American eugenics in pursuit of its own “blond hair, blue-eyed Master Race;” one year before the Reichstag passed the Nuremberg Laws removing citizenship from German Jewry; and ten years after the United States Congress overwhelmingly passed its antisemitic legislation slamming shut the doors of refuge to Europe’s Jews. Harry Laughlin, a leading light of America’s eugenics movement, “often bragged that his Model Eugenic Sterilization laws had been implemented in the1933 Nuremberg racial hygiene laws.
American support of Nazi eugenics did not end with Auschwitz (although most eugenicists hid their enthusiasm between 1941 and 1945). Nor did their loyalty and support for their Nazi disciples end with reports of the horrific crimes they committed. With American assistance accused Nazi war criminals not only escaped judgment at Nuremberg but were assisted to return to prominent teaching and research careers. Mengele’s boss, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, for one example,
“became a corresponding member of the newly formed American Society of Human Genetics, organized by American eugenicists and geneticists… In the fall of 1950, the University of Münster offered Verschuer a position at its new Institute of Human Genetics, where he later became a dean.”
Afterword: After the Holocaust American eugenics generally adopted new titles, cosmetic changes disguising their continuing racist agenda. The American Society of Human Genetics for example annually celebrates the success of the Human Genome Project, conducts an aggressive educational outreach to students K through twelve and beyond.
One present day non-profit organization, the Pioneer Fund, created in 1937, remains openly dedicated to the goal of American race betterment, aspires to an eventual American Aryan state.
“Most birth defects are not discovered until birth. If a child were not declared alive until three days after birth, the doctor could allow the child to die if the parents so chose and save a lot of misery and suffering. I believe this view is the only rational, compassionate attitude to have.” (American Nobel laureate James Watson, 1973)
Recent writings in this Series: