“the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn''t originate with Hitler. The idea was created in the United States… decades before Hitler came to power.”
“I have studied with great 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.” (Adolph Hitler)
"Eugenics is the self-direction of human evolution." (Wikipedia)
Eugenics, an American obsession
In recent years attention has returned to American eugenics, and its role in promoting and advancing Germany’s Rassenhygiene, its race policy that would justify the Holocaust. Edwin Black has been particularly prominent in describing America’s national effort in the early 20th Century to achieve racial purity, to develop its own Aryan super race. Black also described America’s fascination, support and contributions to Nazi Germany and Hitler’s “social laboratory of the future:”
“Eugenics was the racist pseudoscience determined to wipe away all human beings deemed "unfit," preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype. Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in twenty-seven states. In 1909, California became the third state to adopt such laws [the first was Indiana, 1907]. Ultimately, eugenics practitioners coercively sterilized some 60,000 Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in "colonies” [concentration camps] and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning.”
Eugenics was not an American “invention” but it was enthusiastically embraced and great efforts were made to apply its “principles” to creating a “pure” Aryan American country. It was promoter and teacher to the world, and its most promising student was Germany between the wars, most enthusiastically under Hitler’s National Socialism. Stefan Kühl, German professor of Sociology and author of The Nazi Connection quotes Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural address:
“[T]he whole nation has awakened to and recognizes the extraordinary importance of the science of human heredity [eugenics], as well as its application to the ennoblement of the human family… Theodore Roosevelt expressed the fear that “inferior” segments of the population were gaining power.”
Kühl describes some steps undertaken to ensure that the “inferior” would not “gain power” in laws passed to legalize the involuntary sterilization of the “unfit” and,
“that prohibited marriage and sexual intercourse between blacks and whites... The Commission of the American Genetic Association… proposed that the lowest 10% of the population be sterilized. [It] was intended to “eradicate” the “inferior” members of the society over a time period spanning two generations.”
Without American leadership, training and support, German National Socialism would likely have still pursued the Final Solution, but the effort would have lacked the credibility of a “scientific” justification; the moral support of American eugenics leadership and support; and the financial and educational backing of America’s industrial and education elites.
“The Rockefeller Foundation helped found the German eugenics program and even funded the [twins] program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.”
Although “eugenic ideas” were “in the air” in the 19th century, America’s movement to engineer its national racial stock only gained general popularity in the early 20th century:
“The Immigration Restriction League (founded in 1894) was the first American entity associated officially with eugenics. The League sought to bar what it considered dysgenic members of certain races from entering America and diluting what it saw as the superior American racial stock through procreation.”
Contestants get ready for the Better Baby Contest at the 1931 Indiana State Fair, (Wikipedia)
Many in the United States were obsessed with the need to remove the “unfit” from the nation’s “gene pool.” Alexander Graham Bell proposed sterilization for, among other “defects,” deafness. He was married to a deaf woman.
“Eugenics” captured the imagination of would-be American “social engineers” from nursing home to university, from corporate board room to Congress and the White House. Among the founders of the American Eugenics Society (established in 1922) were: J. P. Morgan, Jr. of U. S. Steel; Miss E. B. Scripps of Scripps-Howard and United Press International; John H. Kellogg of cereal fame; and Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood.
Prominent politicians and other notables caught up in the movement included: Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson; Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell; the industrial dynasties of the Rockefellers, Harrimans, and Carnegies.
Nearly all educational institutions from Ivy League to local collages promoted eugenics as the model to improve the national gene pool. Positive change as promoted would result from encouraging “the higher classes of society to reproduce offspring.” Those outside that group, called the “unfit,” would be eliminated “humanely” by involuntary sterilization.
In 1904 the Carnegie Institution created a laboratory complex on Long Island dedicated to eugenics research. Carnegie generosity in its support was soon matched by other “far-sighted” philanthropies such as the Harriman railroad fortune. Nor was their generosity limited to the United States:
Eugenics and the law
Eugenics reduced people to two groups, the “fit” and the “unfit.” The “fit” basically encompassed middle- and upper-class whites and these groups were encouraged to produce offspring. Social inducements to reproduce are call “positive eugenics,” and the model was later adopted by Nazi Germany in pursuit of its “Master Race.” The “unfit” included the poor, non-whites and eastern and southern European immigrants. Among the “genetic traits” to be eliminated from America’s national gene pool were deafness, blindness, insanity, criminal tendencies and laziness; schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, depression and virtually all “mental illness.” Some “races” would be allowed to survive in segregated reservations, but sexual intercourse or intermarriage was prohibited by law.
“In 1907 Indiana became the first of more than thirty states to adopt legislation aimed at compulsory sterilization of certain individuals. Although the law was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court in 1921, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Virginia law allowing for the compulsory sterilization of patients of state mental institutions in 1927.”
Thirty-three states would adopt laws backed by the Supreme Court decision and, by mid-century, at least 60,000 of America’s “unfit” were subjected to forced sterilization.
Miscegenation, sexual relations between whites and non-whites, carried severe penalties in courts when “justice” wasn’t already delivered at the end of a rope. Intended to protect the “white race,” such laws forbade any sexual contact, including marriage, between whites and non-whites. At mid-20th century approximately 30 states still had miscegenation laws. The Virginia Integrity Act of 1924, for example, prohibited marriage between a white person and anyone with a trace of blood other than “white.” Only in 1967, when President Obama was a child of six, did the Supreme Court rule anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. Alabama held out the longest, only deciding to comply with the law in November, 2000.
The “first method” for cleaning the gene pool according to Army physician and co-author of the popular 1918 text, Applied Eugenics, is lethal selection defined as,
“[the] destruction of the individual by some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency [starvation].”
Although euthanasia never achieved the popularity of forced sterilization in America’s march towards racial purity, it did find favor by some physicians and medical administrators of hospitals and nursing homes:
“many mental institutions and doctors practiced improvised medical lethality and passive euthanasia on their own. One institution in Lincoln, Illinois fed its incoming patients milk from tubercular cows believing a eugenically strong individual would be immune. Thirty to forty percent annual death rates resulted at Lincoln. Some doctors practiced passive eugenicide one newborn infant at a time. Other doctors at mental institutions engaged in lethal neglect.“ (Black, War Against the Weak).
America’s desire for a “racially pure” gene pool would eventually translate into immigration law. In 1924, in a near unanimous vote, Congress adopted legislation slamming shut the gates of refuge to Jewish immigrants. The “Johnson-Reed bill passed with only six dissenting votes.” And three years later Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered a Supreme Court ruling that might have been come out of a Genetic Health Court of Nazi Germany:
“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.''''
The Supreme Court’s legal ruling justifying the prevention of, “those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind'' would become German law one decade later. As Hitler noted,
“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." (A. E. Samaan, From a Race of Masters to a Master Race: 1948 To 1848, p. 609)
A decade before Hitler became chancellor, the highest court in the United States had already decided for racial purity. America provided both legal and “scientific” framework for Hitler’s Master Race: miscegenation, sterilization and, in the end, eugenicide would, with the rise of National Socialism, provide the foundation for the extermination of the Jews and others deemed “unfit:”
“[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.”
A decade before the 1935 racial Nuremberg Laws the Aryan ideal was a legal and operating model in the United States. Fifteen years before the Final Solution eugenicide was precedent for Germany murdering its “unfit.” America had provided the precedent for Hitler’s Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.
American Eugenics and Hitler
As hesitant as was America’s response to the unfolding Holocaust, there was only enthusiasm for the emerging Nazi state. American participation in the evolution of Germany’s rassenhygiene took place on many levels. From biologists to physicians, from academicians to philanthropists: to many Americans Hitler’s application of eugenics to the creation of the Nazi state a project to be supported and funded. Germany was doing what American eugenics only dreamed of:
“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… [the] 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 Eugenic Records Office until 1939, despite the office’s support for the Nazi persecution of the Jews.”
"We do not stand alone": Nazi poster from 1936 introducing compulsory sterilization legislation. First flag, upper left is that of the United States. (Wikipedia)
American support for Hitler preceded his rise to the chancellorship, supported Hitler and German “race science” decades before the he came to power. Even the terms used to describe “the Jews” such as “bacteria,” vermin,” etc, had earlier been used to describe America’s “unfit:”
“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...”
When Germany collected tens of thousands from old-age homes and psychiatric hospitals to be gassed, the executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society, Leon Whitney, declared,
"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.”
America provided the “scientific” veneer justifying future atrocities which, following Israel’s 1960 capture of Adolf Eichmann, would come to be termed, “the Holocaust.”
“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.”
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 fleeing the Nazi onslaught. 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 philanthropists such as the Carnegie Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation were already funding German eugenic research and building the laboratories to house German researchers in the 1920’s. The Rockefeller Foundation concentrated its funds on promoting research: One such research project was “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 found himself in the perfect location to pursue twins experiments. Verschuer described his assistant’s “researches” as,
“Anthropological testing of the most diverse racial [populations]… being carried out with permission of the SS Reichsführer [Himmler].”
American support of Nazi eugenics did not end with Auschwitz (although most American 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. American assistance not only helped accused Nazi war criminals escape judgment at Nuremberg, they were also helped to find prominent positions to continue their teaching and research careers. Mengele’s boss, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, for 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.”
A Eugenics Epilogue
After the Holocaust American eugenics generally adopted new titles, cosmetic changes disguising their continuing racist agenda. The American Society of Human Genetics annually celebrates the success of the Human Genome Project, conducts an aggressive educational outreach to students K through twelve and beyond. And the non-profit Pioneer Fund, created in 1937, remains dedicated to the goal of an American Aryan state.
In 1973 American Nobel laureate James Watson was unrepentant in his support of eugenicide to eliminate the Unfit:
"Most birth defects are not discovered until birth. If [he suggests] 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."