“Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, hero in American eugenics circles… wrote… that Germany’s war would yield a ‘total solution to the Jewish problem.’”
“Eugenics is the self-direction of human evolution.”
Logo from the Second International Eugenics Conference, 1921 depicting Eugenics as a tree which unites a variety of different fields. (Wikipedia)
Introduction: With war’s-end American eugenicists publicly distanced themselves from their assistance, even participation in the development of Nazi eugenics (Rassenhygiene), while behind the scenes they intervened where possible to assist Nazi protégé war criminals to evade punishment for war crimes. They quietly provided letters asserting their protégés “rehabilitated” and recommending them for employment. With American assistance Nazi eugenicists were able to return to pre-war positions in universities, were even able to serve in the new German government.
“After 1945 American eugenicists tried to portray their relationship to Nazi Germany as distant and critical. The leadership of the American Eugenics Society falsely asserted that the Society had opposed Nazi race policies.” (Stefan Kuhl, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism, p. xiv)
Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer and American eugenics: As one of two principle eugenicists in Nazi Germany’s extermination program, von Verschuer provides an excellent example of the intimate relationship between American eugenicists and their Nazi sister-scientists, the race hygienists. As the Russians closed in on Auschwitz the eugenicist Dr. Josef Mengele, known as the “angel of death,” hurriedly packed his “research” files relating to his grisly twins experiments. He made his way to Czechoslovakia, his first stop en route to Argentina via the Rat Lines.
Mengele’s boss von Verschuer was also packing, hiding and destroying incriminating files. Fearing the Russians he then fled to the Allied occupation sector of Germany
Von Verschuer was not just another war criminal. As Germany’s leading eugenicist before the war he was the father of Nazi “applied biology.” Von Verschuer provided the “scientific” gloss to Hitler’s murder campaign against the Jews. Yet, as did many Nazi eugenicists, he escaped punishment due, at least in part, to friends in the American Eugenics Society.
Von Verschuer, head of the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute attracted Rockefeller funding in 1932 for his twins studies. “Rockefeller funding of that Institute continued both directly and through other research conduits during Verschuer''s early tenure.” (Muller-Hill, Benno, Human Genetics and the Mass Murder of Jews, Gypsies and Others, in Berenbaum, M. and Peck, A., editors, The Holocaust and History, p. 108) In 1935 he left Kaiser Wilhelm to become “professor of human genetics (racial hygiene) at Frankfurt University in 1935 were Josef Mengele would become his assistant.
An exchange of letters in 1946 between von Verschuer and the early American advocate of killing the “unfit,” Paul Popenoe, is instructive. Popenoe to Vershuer:
"It was indeed a pleasure to hear from you again. I have been very anxious about my colleagues in Germany . . . I suppose sterilization has been discontinued in Germany [sic]?"
To which von Verschuer responded,
“Your very friendly letter of 7/25 gave me a great deal of pleasure and you have my heartfelt thanks for it. The letter builds another bridge between your and my scientific work; I hope that this bridge will never again collapse but rather make possible valuable mutual enrichment and stimulation.”
In fact not only was von Vershuer returned to respectability as a German scientist, in 1949, with the war fading in memory, with eugenics now considered anathema, he was accepted into the newly organized American Society of Human Genetics.
Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, hero in American eugenics circles before, during and after the war, had written “in Der Erbarzt, a eugenics doctor’s journal that he edited, that Germany’s war would yield a ‘total solution to the Jewish problem’.
A eugenics future in America? In its heyday Eugenics was dedicated to the improvement of American racial stock, to create a blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan-American superman. Of course the Holocaust has made so public an agenda problematic. Eugenicists themselves recognized the problem and re-named themselves “geneticists” with their newly renamed “society (above). As “geneticists” the quest for human perfection continues:
“According to Report from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace, in August 1963 a Special Study Group was appointed by high ranking government officials to study how to deal with future problems. Among the considerations proposed by the group as a substitute for the “war system” was “a comprehensive program of applied eugenics.”
In 1977 an article appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “To Sterilize Millions.” In it Reimert Ravenholt, head of Nixon’s Office of Population is quoted, “as many as 100 million women around the world might be sterilized if U.S. goals are met.”
Although discredited in the aftermath of the Holocaust eugenics, the science of “race improvement,” still held its glitter for many scientists. Included in their number was Nobel Prize winner William Shockley and others such as Julian Huxley and Richard Lynn.
“In the 1990s, Dr. James D. Watson… worked on the Human Genome Project.” In a 1973 article, Children of the Laboratory, the Nobel laureate wrote, “I think we must re-evaluate our basic assumptions about the meaning of life. Perhaps… no one should be thought of as alive until about three days after birth, then… the doctor would allow the child to die if the parents so chose.”
The human genome: harbinger of a brave, new, eugenics-inspired future?
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