11. Eugenics in America and in National Socialistic Germany
In America, in 1890, Charles Davenport founded the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories on Lond Island, where he also established the Eugenics Record Office, which was mainly run by his wife Gertrude Davenport, an embryologist. The Eugenics Record Office was mainly carried by the Carnegie foundation and the Rockefeller clan, two of the most powerful foundations still today. Indeed, one may regard the work of the Eugenics Record Office as scientific racism. From here, in the first half of the 20th century, eugenic measures were propagated and controlled, most of them negative eugenic measures that aimed to prevent the reproduction of individuals, who were regarded as genetically inferior. Negative eugenics was implemented through selective immigration restrictions, forced sterilisations and incarceration in closed establishments.
(In-)famous became the case of the 20-year old heiress of a fortune Ann Cooper Hewitt, whose ovaries were removed without her knowledge during an appendectomy. This forced sterilization was arranged by her mother as Ann was born out of wedlock and Ann’s heritage was made dependant on her also getting children, which would have taken it away from her mother. Ann Hewitt sued the surgeons and her mother. The case was settled extrajudicial.
The year 1933 is regarded as the year of the power grip through the National Socialists with their Führer (leader) Adolf Hitler. The power grip was not by force or a putsch. The victory of Hitler’s party in the 1932 elections to the Reichstag was declared on the 30th January 1933 by Paul Hindenburg, the 85-year-old president of the Reich and Hitler was officially designated Reichskanzler (chancellor of the Reich). During the following months the National Scoialists consolidated their power governing by emergency decrees by the old Reichspräsident Hindenburg. This way, on the 1st February 1933, the Reichstag (parliament) was dissolved. The Reichstag Fire decree on the 28th February suspended the civil rights of the Weimar-constitution and the empowerment act on the 24th of March repealed the separation of power giving all legislative power to Hitler. Within a few weeks the National Socialists had managed to turn a parliamentary democracy into an authoritarian dictatorship. The old Hindenburg became a tragic figure, who was instrumentalized by the National Socialists. In July, Hindenburg’s health deteriorated and on the 2nd of August he died on his land domicil “Gut Neudeck” in Eastern Prussia (nowadays Poland). Hitler organized a honourous funeral at the memorial for the Tannenberg battle, using Hindenburg once more for his propaganda and unifying the function of the Reichspräsident and the Reichskanzler in one person (himself). Long before his grip to power, Hitler had revealed his racist views in his book “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle). The distribution of this book was forbidden in post-war Germany. Until 2016 its reprint was forbidden “due to copyright issues”. In 2016 the Munich Institut for contemporal history issued a commented edition of Mein Kampf and by now one can freely find PDF-versions on the internet.
After a failed attempted putsch (“Münchner Bürgerbräu-Putsch“) in November 1923, Hitler was imprisoned for 9 months in Landsberg am Lech under privileged conditions (“Festungshaft”) as his intentions were seen as honorable. Hitler used the time for writing „Mein Kampf“ in two volumes. While the first volume is rather autobiographical, the second volume contains detailed programmatic announcements, with racism in favour of the “Arian-Germanic” race underlying. Hitler had announced his war intentions in “Mein Kampf”, in particular his intention to conquer space to live in the east (“Lebensraum im Osten“) for the Germanic people. He united with fascist Italy and, wanting to avoid war on two fronts, initially wanted to unite with England.
In his antisemitic ideologies, Hitler mixed racist motives with tirades against the, in his eyes, “jewish” ideologies Marxism and Social Democracy, but also against “jewish Bolshewism” and “jewish capital”. Content- and style wise Hitler’s writing is rather simplistic, sometimes confused and not only ethically and morally repulsive, but simply wrong. Nevertheless, one has to consider “Mein Kampf” as one of the most powerful books in human history as it set the frame for many bad events and crimes that cost millions of human lives and ruined millions of lives of survivors.
In September 1935, the Nuremberg Rally of the NSDAP (the party of the National Socialists) passed the Nuremberg laws that were the fundament for the following persecutions and killings of Jews (87). The Nuremberg Laws were the juridification of the racist ideology of the National Socialists. The active contribution of doctors and scientists is illustrated by the transfer of the Mendelian laws on the classification of humans along the National Socialist theory of races. According to this a “Full Jew” was somebody with at least 3 jewish grandparents; “first degree hybrids” were persons with one jewish parent or two jewish grandparents. Persons with one jewish grand-parent were classified as “second degree hybrids”.
The blood protection act prohibited the marriage and the concubinate between Germas and Jews with only the male part of this “illegal constellation” having to fear punishment (non-regarding if man or women were classified as jewish). Jewish “first degree hybrids”, when wanting to marry Germans or “second degree hybrids”, had to apply for a special permit (which was usually denied).
When the infamous Wannsee conference took place in January 1942, the Holocaust with the declared objective of killing all European Jews had already started. Maybe the importance of this conference is exaggerated in the popular perception, keeping in mind that the genocidal programmes with killings of Jews in Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union were already broadly under way and already 1 million Jews had been killed before the Wannsee conference.
In Berlin, close to Potsdamer Platz next to the Berlin Philharmony building from the 1960s, is a memorial with information boards about “Aktion T4”. T4 is an acronym derived from the adress “Tiergartenstrasse 4“, where until the end of the war a villa was located, which hosted the planning and administration agency for the coordination of euthanasia murders of humans, who were considered “unworthy” by the Nazi ideology. From here the cover-actions for murdering disabled humans and humans with psychological conditions were planned. Inhabitants of psychiatric institutions and care facilities were registered using report sheets for doctors. These report sheets were evaluated regarding racial affiliation and working abilities. Reported persons, who were not exploitable for work were murdered in six killing centres closeby. The programme T4 was stopped in 1941 due to public protests. The murders in concentration camps, especially in eastern European countries that were occupied by Nazi-Germany, continued until the end of the war.
Lebensborn e.V. (eingetragener Verein- registered union) sounds like an initiative of dedicated citicens, who unified for biological farming or small animal breeding. The word “born” by itself is an old poetic word for well or fountain. Unfortunately the word is nowadays besmirched by its (ab)use between 1933-45 by the National Socialists. Carrier of the Lebensborn e.V. was the SS (Schutzstaffel – protection squadron) and the objective of the Lebensborn was to support the Germanic-aric race in reproducing. According to the racist ideology of the Nazis and their SS, the Nordic-germanic race, which was (mis)labelled “arians”, was superior to all other races and should be upbred for their role as the elite of mankind. Germans with distinct Nordic-germanic traits should serve as breeding material for breeding arians. The objectives of Lebensborn were the preservation and expansion oft he Germanic-arian race.
The driving force behind the efforts to realize this racist ideology was Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer of the SS. Soldiers of the SS were chosen according to racial criteria (tall, blond and blue eyed) to fullfil Himmler ideals. As many Germans did not resemble this ideal (they may have been small and dark haired such as the Führer himself for example), Himmler wanted not only to preserve the German race, but propagate it and therefore supported the reproduction of individuals with Germanic-Arian traits. In 1935, the Lebensvorn e.V. was founded and established breeding facilities in the whole Reich and also in occupied Nordic regions, such as Norway. The Lebensborn facilities hat maternity wards and upbringing facilities and facilitated the reproduction of selected Germanic-Arian women with burly SS-men.
During the Third Reich around 11,000 Lebensborn-children were born in the German Reich. Sometimes these chosen children were given into external (non-parental) care to Germanic-Arian families, who adopted them. In conquered regions of Eastern Europe, Germanic-Arian children were sought and taken away from their families and brought up in Lebensborn facilities, where they grew up under a German name and had to learn and speak German instead of their mother-tongue. Documents that proved the original identity of the child were destroyed and replaced by a new Germanic-Arian identity. Ideologically tightened national socialist couples gladly went to Lebensborn facilities to pick a child for adoption. The abducted children were not only small children, for example there are reports of 6-12 year old slowenian children, who were abducted into German families of Lebensborn functionaries (88). The list of the slowenian children also contained a short note indicating that the parents had been killed. Children, who passed an examination along racial criteria and failed to fulfill the Germanic-Arian race standards were brough to concentration camps, where many of them were killed or died. Children of single-mothers who had been inseminated by an SS-man and for whom no adoption family could be found, were raised in Lebensborn facilities under medical supervision by ideological hard liners. The medical head of of all Lebensborn facilities was Gregor Ebner, the personal doctor of Heinrich Himmler. At the end of the 2nd world war the number of children abducted to the Lebensborn programme was higher than the number of children born into the programme. Overall, there were around 200,000 Lebensborn children.
During my medical studies and trainings, many patients in German hospitals were of my grand-parents’ generation (a 20-year-old person in 1940 would have been 80 in the year 2000). Most people of this generation I met were normal human beings with strengths and weaknesses in their character, most friendly with good manners and decency, not much different from old people I came accross in my foreign-country-years in Gabon, England and France. Nevertheless, one has to assume that many of these humans did things during the Nazi era, that could be considered crimes, when looking back. There aren’t good and bad human beings, only good and bad human doings, and even here the classification in good and bad depends on categories, that do not arise from natural laws, but that have to be defined by human thinking. People are simply children of their time and society and develop behavioural patterns that are enhanced by recognition, position and wealth. Other behaviours and ideas are being selected for, be it diffamation, character assassination or even real assassination of humans, who speak out ideas that are not-conform to the zeitgeist of the system of power. The assassination of person or ideas is usually not carried out by responsible leaders, but rather by henchman-bullies, who “only follow orders”. But why are these henchmen so obedient?
Noam Chomsky again and again pointed out that authoritarian power systems appear stronger and mightier than they actually are. The de-facto power potentially lies in the hands of the “Many”, who are subjugated under the power of “Few”. Chomsky named this phenomenon „Hume’s Paradoxon“ after the Scotish philosopher of enlightenment David Hume (1711-1776). Especially, in state and power systems, that pretend to allow freedom of speech, the media and opionion industry is of extraordinary importance: If you allow the subjugated to freely express their opinion, you have to make sure that the spectrum of opinions among the many people is in line with the interests of the few in power (89). The media’s job lies in controling the public oppinion, so that the majority oppionion automatically confers mechanisms to disciplinate those who deviate. In this way it is usually common people, who punish deviators with defamation and social ostracism, even if they have no advantage from doing so (or even suffer disadvantages themselves).
This “Public-Relations (or propaganda) -oriented” explanation for the fact that humans subjugate to power may well be applicable, especially in western democracies of the 20th century. However, I assume that the tendency of humans to subordinate (especially in groups) is also a heritage of human evolution. No other animal has such a long phase of total dependancy of fellow humans as Homo sapiens. During these years of natural dependancy, the childhood, obedient behaviour is being incentivized. An obedient child is being rewarded by parents through love and attention. The power to which we were subjugated over years of our childhood (our parents) is usually a good power and the subjugation under it is pleasant and beneficial for the child. To this behaviouristic explanation for the human obedience-tendency, we can add an evolutionary explanation: The probability as a human to reacht the reproductive age is higher, if a child is somewhat willingly subjugating to the usually positive and well-meaning power of the parents or other caretakers or supervisors (the term supervisor even indicates the power structure of the relation). A child in a distant past, who followed parental instructions, to stay with the group and keep away from lions, surely had higher probabilities to reach reproductive age.
Unfortunately, the character traits that makes humans become parents are not the same traits that pave the way into powerful positions in our modern society. Nevertheless, politicians are often compared to caretakers (Father of the people, big brother, mother of the Nation or simply “Mutti”). A societal infantilization also serves the conservation of power.
When talking about eugenics nowadays, we automatically think of ugly racism and the mass murders that were done with eugenic motivation. One tends to overlook the idealistic and well-meaning objectives that were part of the eugenics movement in the first 1/3 of the 20th century, namely the aim to improve society, but also to help human individuals themselves. Humans with congenital conditions received more medical attention, also with the intention to improve their life. When eugenics emerged in the United States, in parallel emerged facilities for mentally retarded people, schools for blind people and in general facilities for supporting disabled humans. However, some feeling of helplessness overcame some of the helpers with the realization of the limited therapy and cure perspective. A logical conclusion was, that suffering from congenital diseases could best be prevented by preventing that disabled children get born; or to phrase it positively, by trying to make sure that children coming into the world were healthy.
On a society level the eugenicists wanted to reduce the number of humans with disabilities; on one hand to reduce suffering, but also to increase the productivity for society. These targets were pursued by positive and negative measures of eugenics. Positive eugenics implies measures to encourage couples with traits that are regarded as positive to reproduce and then support the childrens’ upbringing in order to increase the number of healthy children. The most brutal excesses were consequences of negative eugenics, which triggered cruel measures of selection, such as mass murder.