This entry is a part of a series.
To clearly understand the material below in context,
you may wish to begin at the beginning with
the introduction to the series.
“Eugenical truth,” declared [Madison] Grant’s disciple Albert E. Wiggam [author of The New Decalogue of Science], “is the highest truth men will ever know.” He explicitly referred to the genetics laboratory as “the new Mount Sinai” and announced that the findings of eugenics were the Ten Commandments [meaning of the word “Decalogue”] of science. The Elect were the genetically fit—the Nordics—who were hereditarily predestined to rule the earth. And the damned were the feebleminded, condemned by their defective protoplasm to lives of pauperism, criminality, and insanity…To the eugenicists, the unfit were tainted, and no amount of environmental reform could overcome the original sin of a dysgenic mating. Atonement could come only through the cleansing sacrifice of castration. These are just some of the ways that eugenics served the function of a religion for Madison Grant and his colleagues. If religion was the opium of the people, eugenics was the religion of the aristocrats. [Black, War Against the Weak]
And what’s a religion without hymns? In 1910 at the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor NY, the staff evidently would literally gather and belt out this little ditty together to start their day.
(To the tune of “Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay”)
We are Eu-ge-nists so gay,
And we have no time for play,
Serious we have to be
Working for posterity.
We’re so happy, we’re so gay,
We’ve been working all the day,
That’s the way Eu-gen-ists play
Trips we have in plenty too,
Where no merriment is due.
We inspect with might and main,
Habitats of the insane.
Statisticians too are we,
In the house of Carnegie.
If to future good you list,
You must be a Eu-ge-nist.
And of course, once you have created a religion, one of the prime directives is to engage in evangelism, spreading your belief system far and wide. For the American eugenicists, far and wide mostly meant “to Germany.” For Germany, by nature, was viewed as the most fertile ground for the precepts of preserving the Great Race/Master Race.
Naturally, the work of eugenics was devoted to ethnic cleansing in the United States. But waves of immigration made the genetically impure world beyond America’s shore just as important. Preventing the inferior overseas from reaching America would be the first line of defense. Understandably, Germany, rich in blond, blue-eyed citizens, constituted a treasured region for American eugenicists. Germany was the country to both emulate and help purify. [Black, Nazi Nexus]
Thus American eugenics literature was regularly funneled to Germany, and the growing German eugenics movement (eugenics was dubbed “racial hygiene”…rassenhygiene…in Germany) reciprocated with a constant flow of its own literature to the US. The American movement also regularly hosted German rassenhygiene scientists in person, and sent American eugenic ambassadors to visit German institutions.
Soon, articles from the German journal Archiv für Rassen- und Gesellschaftsbiologie (Archives of Race Science and Social Biology) were highlighted and summarized almost quarterly in Eugenical News. In fact, no longer did such reviews bear specific headlines about interesting articles. Rather, the summaries appeared as though they were regular columns, often just headlined “Archiv für Rassen- und Gesellschaftsbiologie,” as the contents of the German journal’s latest issue were explored. Articles by German raceologists Erwin Baur, Eugen Fischer and Fritz Lenz were among those most frequently featured. While all three espoused anti-Jewish biological views, the latter two became among the most notorious lab-coated commandants of Hitler’s murderous science. [ibid]
This is Eugen Fischer.
In 1927, the Rockefeller Foundation provided funds to construct the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin, which came under the directorship of the appropriately named Eugen Fischer. Adolf Hitler read Fischer’s textbook Principles of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene while in prison at Landsberg and used eugenical notions to support the ideal of a pure “Aryan” society in his manifesto, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). [Source]
This is Fritz Lenz.
Lenz specialised in the field of the transmission of hereditary human diseases and “racial health”. The results of his research were published in 1921 and 1932 in collaboration with Erwin Baur and Eugen Fischer in two volumes that were later combined under the title Human Heredity Theory and Racial Hygiene (1936).
This work and his theory of “race as a value principle” placed Lenz and his two colleagues in the position of Germany’s leading racial theorists. Their ideas provided scientific justification for Nazi ideology, in particular its emphasis on the superiority of the “Nordic race” and the desirability of eliminating allegedly inferior strains of humanity – or “life unworthy of life” (Lebensunwertes Leben).
For Lenz, human genetics established that the connection between racial identity and human nature was actually physical in character. This extended to political affiliations. Lenz even claimed that the revolutionary agitation in Germany after 1918 was caused by inferior racial elements, warning that the nation’s racial superiority was threatened. He stated that “The German nation is the last refuge of the Nordic race…before us lies the greatest task of world history”. For Lenz, this validated the racialised politics of the Nazis.
He justified the Nuremberg laws of 1935 in this way:
As important as the external features for their evaluation is the lineage of individuals, a blond Jew is also a Jew. Yes, there are Jews who have most of the external features of the Nordic race, but who nevertheless display Jewish mental tendencies. The legislation of the National Socialist state therefore properly defines a Jew not by external race characteristics, but by descent. [Source]
Fischer, Lenz, and other German scientists became celebrities in American eugenics circles.
… As their names appeared more frequently in American publications, the German influence over American eugenic circles only increased. For instance, in May of 1924, Lenz authored a long article for the Journal of Heredity simply titled “Eugenics in Germany,” with the latest news and historical reminiscences. California eugenicist Popenoe, who also headed up the rabidly eugenic Human Betterment Foundation, functioned as Lenz’s principal translator in the United States.
Similar articles were published from time to time as updates, thus keeping the American movement’s attention riveted on the vicissitudes of the German school. A typically enthralled review of the latest German booklet on race hygiene ran in the October 1924 Eugenical News with the lead sentence: “It was a happy thought that led Dr. Lewellys F. Barker, a leading eugenicist as well as a physician, to translate the little book of Dr. H.W. Siemens, of Munich, into English.” Such fawning editorial treatment for German race hygiene appeared in virtually every edition of American eugenic journals. [Nazi Nexus]
The Americans were particularly interested in how the Germans looked at eugenics issues related to the U.S.
German race analyses of American society were always well received. In May of 1927, Eugenical News reported the introduction of a German “race biological index,” to eugenically rate different ethnic groups for value to mankind. The article repeated German warnings “of the danger of an eruption of colored races over Europe, through the French colonies [in Africa] and colonial troops.” In the article, German researchers urged “further studies in America, both of Indians and American negroes, as compared with those still living in Africa.”
A December 1927 summary of a German article reported, “The social biology and social hygiene of the Jew is treated by the distinguished anthropologist, Wissenberg of Ukrania. This has largely to do with the vital statistics of the Jews in Odessa and Elizabethgrad, with special relation of the Jews to acute infection.” [Nexus]
And the cult of celebrity that enshrined German eugenic scientists reached beyond strictly eugenic circles in the US.
Nor was coverage of German race hygienists and their work limited to the eugenic press. Developments were reported as legitimate medical news in almost every issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, chiefly by the journal’s German correspondent.
For example, in May of 1924, Baur’s latest lecture to Berlin’s local eugenics society was covered in great detail in a two-column story. JAMA repeated, without comment or qualification, Baur’s blatant race politics. “A person of moderate gifts may be educated to be very efficient,” the article read, “but he will never transmit other than moderate gifts to his own offspring. The attempts to elevate the negroes of the United States by giving them the same educational advantages the white population receives have necessarily failed.” [Nexus]
And there was the whirl of cross-cultural visits, such as this gala event honoring the German eugenic institution primarily paid for by Rockefeller “philanthropic” money.
The grand opening of the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics took place in September of 1927 as an official function of the Fifth International Congress on Genetics in Berlin. [American Charles] Davenport [founder of the Eugenics Record Office]was chairman of the human eugenics program and an honorary president of the congress.
The congress was the first major international scientific event to be held in Germany since the Great War. America’s contingent had pushed for the German venue.
On September 11, 1927, the Fifth International Congress on Genetics began with approximately one thousand delegates from all over the world gathered in a gala Berlin setting. Registrants were first greeted with a Sunday dinner at the Berlin Zoo, then a barrage of sumptuous banquets staged by the Berlin Municipality and formal dinner events enlivened by divertimenti, followed by the finest liquors and cigars. Museum tours were scheduled for the ladies, and everyone was invited to a special performance at the Opera House. Germany was unfurling the red carpet to celebrate its regained scientific leadership, a niche restored thanks to the protracted assist by American corporate philanthropies.
…On the afternoon of September 27, 1927, Davenport and his colleagues traveled to Berlin-Dahlem for the much-anticipated grand opening of the new Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Situated on about an acre of land , with a museum in the basement and a complex of lecture rooms, measurement labs and libraries on most other floors, the institute was the new centerpiece of eugenic research in Germany . From the moment he had learned about Fischer’s appointment almost a year earlier, Davenport had been eager to congratulate his friend in person.
As the leader of American eugenics, Davenport proudly delivered one of the commemorating addresses at the grand opening. [Nexus]
And just five years later, Davenport and his American associates decided that it was time for the torch of the leadership of the eugenics movement to be passed to their growing Heir Apparent, Germany. Davenport had been president of the International Federation of Eugenics Organizations. In 1932, he stepped down from that position to make way for Ernst Rüdin, one of the primary architects of the Nazis’ racial policies, to take his place.
Davenport’s assistant, Laughlin, of the Eugenic Record Office was proud to offer the nomination. The vote was unanimous. German race hygiene was now primed to seize the reins of the international movement and become senior in its partnership with the American branch.
Indeed, during the Reich’s first decade of power, dazzled American eugenicists welcomed Hitler’s plans as the logical fulfillment of their own decades of research and effort.
Ten years after Virginia passed its 1924 sterilization act, Joseph DeJarnette, superintendent of Virginia’s Western State Hospital, complained in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The Germans are beating us at our own game.” In 1934, sterilizations in Germany were accelerating beyond 5,000 per month, dwarfing America’s program. [Nexus]
And it all went downhill from that point. The anti-Jewish “Nuremberg Laws” went into effect in 1935, stripping Jews of citizenship and most rights of any kind, and making intermarriage (or extra-marital intercourse) with “Aryans” a legal offense punishable by hard labor, imprisonment, and, eventually, execution.
Mass “euthanasia” of institutionalized aged, disabled, or mentally ill persons (especially non-Aryan ones) officially began in 1939 with the “Action T4” program organized by Hitler’s personal physician Karl Brandt.
Patients were transferred from their institutions to the killing centres in buses, called the Community Patients Transports Service, operated by teams of SS men wearing white coats, to give an air of medical care.
Most of these patients were killed within 24 hours of arriving at the centres, and their bodies cremated. For every person killed, a death certificate was prepared, giving a false but plausible cause of death. This was sent to the family along with an urn of ashes (random ashes, since the victims were cremated en masse). The preparation of thousands of falsified death certificates took up most of the working day of the doctors who operated the centres. [Source]
At the end of the T4 project in 1941, the “showers” were made available for killing nearby concentration camp inmates. And the methods and technology, and many of those on the staffs, of the T4 facilities were transferred to the larger genocidal program.
You’d think that the rapid developments occurring in Germany, and the international “bad press” that the Reich’s obviously evil and inhumane policies and practices were getting, would make it obvious that something was drastically wrong with the underlying premises of eugenics. Not to the True Believers who had been to the New Mount Sinai and received the precepts of the One True Religion.
Shortly after the Nuremberg Laws were promulgated in September 1935, and in view of the negative publicity such race laws were receiving, Nazi eugenicist Ernst Rodenwaldt thought it might be helpful to give Laughlin special recognition for his contribution to Reich policy. Rodenwaldt suggested an honorary degree for Laughlin .
In a December 1935 letter to Carl Schneider, dean of the University of Heidelberg’s medical school, Rodenwaldt wrote, “Every race hygienist knows Laughlin as a champion of eugenic sterilization. Thanks to his indefatigable studies and his indefatigable propaganda activity in America, there exist, since the end of the twenties, in several states of America, sterilization laws and we can report about 15,000 sterilizations until 1930, mainly in California.
Professor Laughlin is one of the most important pioneers on the field of racial hygiene. I got to know him in 1927 in Cold Spring Harbor … Heidelberg University honoring professor Laughlin’s pioneer work would, in my opinion, make a very good and compensating impression in America, where racial hygienic questions are propagated in the same way as here, but where many questions of the German racial hygienic laws are mistrusted.”
…Laughlin expressed his gratitude in a letter to Schneider. “I was greatly honored,” Laughlin wrote, “to accept this degree from the University of Heidelberg which stands for the highest ideals of scholarship and research achieved by those racial stocks which have contributed so much to the foundation blood of the American people… I consider the conferring of this high degree upon me not only as a personal honor, but also as evidence of a common understanding of German and American scientists of the nature of eugenics as research in and the practical application of those fundamental biological and social principles.” [Nexus]
The American eugenicists were not “deceived” about the nature of the Nazi programs. They had eyes wide open…and receptive hearts.
Despite Nazi Germany’s descent into pariah status , core eugenic leaders were steadfast in their defense of, fascination with , and general admiration for Hitler’s program. In late 1935, Eugenics Research Association president Clarence Campbell traveled to Berlin for the World Population Congress, an event staged under the patronage of Nazi Interior Minister Frick. Fischer was president of the congress.
Campbell created a scandal back home when he loudly and passionately proclaimed his admiration for Hitler’s policy. “The leader of the German nation, Adolf Hitler,” declared Campbell, “ably supported by Frick and guided by this nation’s anthropologists, eugenists and social philosophers, has been able to construct a comprehensive racial policy of population development and improvement that promises to be epochal in racial history. It sets a pattern which other nations and other racial groups must follow if they do not wish to fall behind in their racial quality, in their racial accomplishments and in their prospects for survival.”
Campbell’s speech made headlines in the next morning’s New York Times: “US EUGENIST HAILS NAZI RACIAL POLICY.” When Campbell returned to America, he struck back at his critics in the lead article of the March– April 1936 issue of Eugenical News. “It is unfortunate that the anti-Nazi propaganda with which all countries have been flooded has gone far to obscure the correct understanding and the great importance of the German racial policy.” [Nexus]
Was the average “man on the street” in America aware of what was going on in Germany? It would have been hard for him not to be, with headlines like these (about the 1938 German Kristallnacht pogrom) in papers all across the land.
Did the average American understand the implications of what he may have known about through occasional news stories like these in the popular press? He would have to be blind if he didn’t. But frankly many “average Americans” were so ridden with rabid prejudices themselves that the American eugenicists had had little popular resistance to the promulgation of their theories for years, and to the official governmental policies that were adopted regarding immigration limits, forced sterilizations, and anti-miscegenation laws in the US. Americans read reports about their own congressman making statements such as this…
“…the issue, stripped of its frills and furbelows and without any varnish or veneer, is simply this: Shall we preserve this country, handed down to us by a noble and illustrious ancestry, for Americans, and transmit it to our posterity as our forefathers intended; or shall we permit it to be overrun and submerged by a heterogeneous, hodgepodge, polyglot aggregation of aliens, most of whom are the scum, the offal [guts/leftovers of animals from the slaughtering process], and the excrescence [repulsive growth such as skin cancer] of the earth?”
(Congressman J. Will Taylor, R—Tennessee, member of the House Immigration Committee, testifying before congress in 1921 on behalf of a bill to severely limit immigration from “non-Nordic” countries.)
…and no doubt many cheered rather than were appalled.
If many Americans of that era could believe that immigrants among them were no better than the guts of slaughtered animals, or repulsive cancerous growths, then why would they be shocked if another nation eventually chose to actually treat some peoples within its borders as if they were indeed that sub-human and not “life worthy of life”?
Oh, I don’t doubt that by the late 1930s the average person—maybe even Will Taylor of Tennessee—didn’t think through exactly what might be going on in Germany. They likely didn’t envision the hellish depths of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the experiments of Mengele. They may have just focused on the blurry newspaper photos of the smashed windows of Kristallnacht, and downplayed in their own mind just HOW bad a “pogrom” could be…beyond broken glass.
I’ll remind you again (as covered in an earlier entry in this blog series) that when, in 1939 (just a few months after Kristallnacht), the steamer St. Louis with over 900 desperate refugee Jews from Germany approached our shores, they were turned away from asylum because of the anti-immigrant passions of Americans. Not just of American government officials, but of the American man on the street.
People read about the story in the news…
…but there was no pressure from the citizenry on the government to bend the rules…or change the rules…to let those poor people in. As a matter of fact, a poll in Fortune magazine that year indicated 83% of Americans were against any relaxation of immigration restrictions. Yes, even “temporarily” for “humanitarian purposes” to rescue those fleeing certain death. And the members of the US Congress certainly weren’t going to risk the wrath of their constituents by doing anything so foolish as agreeing to let in…some homeless, tempest-tossed wretched refuse.
Three months before the St. Louis sailed, Congressional leaders in both US houses allowed to die in committee a bill sponsored by Senator Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Representative Edith Rogers (R-Mass.). This bill would have admitted 20,000 Jewish children from Germany above the existing quota.
I saw some protestors on TV the other day screaming about the illegal child immigrant problem in the southwest US in 2014. They were chanting “Not our kids, Not our problem!!” I guess it wouldn’t have been any more difficult for people 75 years ago to look at those faces of families in the porthole of that steamship above and scream, “Not our families, not our problem!!”
Nobody did scream, though. They didn’t need to. The ship never got close enough to the US shore to bring out crowds to yell. I assume the captain just got an impersonal telegram from some functionary in the State Department telling him to “move along” and head back to Europe. I wonder what Aaron Pozner thought that day?
One passenger, Aaron Pozner, had just been released from Dachau. On the night of Kristallnacht, Pozner along with 26,000 other Jews had been arrested and deported to concentration camps. While interned at Dachau, Pozner witnessed brutal murders by hanging, drowning, and crucifixion as well as torture by flogging and castrations by a bayonet. Surprisingly, one day Pozner was released from Dachau on the condition that he leave Germany within fourteen days. Though his family had very little money, they were able to pool enough money to buy a ticket for him to board the S.S. St. Louis. Pozner said goodbye to his wife and two children, knowing that they would never be able to raise enough money to buy another ticket to freedom. Beaten and forced to sleep amongst bloody animal hides on his journey to reach the ship, Pozner boarded with the knowledge that it was up to him to earn the money to bring his family to freedom. [Source]
Sorry, Mr. Pozner… “Not MY family, not MY problem” would have no doubt been the chant of many—if not most—Americans at the time.
But admittedly, this attitude coming from many Americans wouldn’t have been specifically because of eugenic sentiments. Even though the strict immigration limitation laws had been ushered into place in the US governmental system in large part by the lobbying efforts of men with eugenic plans for America. Which brings us back to those men…
No matter how dismal the plight of the Jews in Germany, no matter how horrifying the headlines, no matter how close Europe came to all-out war, no matter how often German troops poured across yet another border, American eugenicists stood fast by their eugenic hero, Adolf Hitler.
…Throughout 1936, the American eugenic leadership continued its praise for Hitler’s anti-Jewish and racial policies. “The last twenty years witnessed two stupendous forward movements, one in our United States, the other in Germany,” declared California raceologist C. M. Goethe in his presidential address to the Eugenics Research Association. He added with a degree of satisfaction, “California had led all the world in sterilization operations. Today, even California’s quarter century record has, in two years, been outdistanced by Germany.” [Nexus]
And they didn’t just keep the information coming from Germany to themselves. They attempted to spread some out to the general public.
In 1937, Laughlin and his Cold Spring Harbor office became the U.S. distributor of a two-reel Nazi eugenic propaganda film entitled Erbkrank (The Hereditarily Diseased). Erbkrank began with scenes of squalid German slums where superior Nordic families were forced to live because so much public money was spent on bright, well-constructed institutions to house the feebleminded. Laughlin loaned the film to high schools in New York and New Jersey, to welfare workers in Connecticut, and to the Society for the Prevention of Blindness.
Although he acquired the film from the Race Policy Office of the Nazi Party (Rassenpolitisches Amt der NSDAP), Laughlin assured, “There is no racial propaganda of any sort in the picture; it is [simply] recognized that every race has its own superior family-stocks and its own degenerate strains.” Yet in fact, the Nazi film declared, “Jewish liberal thinking forced millions of healthy volk-nationals into need and squalor— while the unfit were overly coddled.” In another frame the movie explained, “The Jewish people has a particularly high percentage of mentally ill.” [Nexus]
Eugenics had started slowly in Europe, picked up speed in America once it was infused with the power of the Almighty dollar, and spread back to Europe…where it picked up even more speed once infused with the power of the Almighty dollar in Germany. Rather than being disappointed that they couldn’t nurture the movement to full flowering in the US, American eugenicists seemed to be satisfied to have the honor of providing the “good seed” to plant in German soil. Where it flourished beyond their wildest dreams.
Returning from a 1935 visit to Germany, the California eugenic leader C. M. Goethe bragged to a key colleague, “You will be interested to know, that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought… I want you, my dear friend, to carry this thought with you for the rest of your life, that you have really jolted into action a great government of 60 million people.”
Jolted into action, indeed.
Unfortunately for the American eugenicists, the rise of Nazi Germany led to unexpected results for the American eugenics movement. More on that in the next entry in this blog series: