Nazi eugenics (German: Nationalsozialistische Rassenhygiene, "National Socialist racial hygiene") were Nazi Germany's racially based social policies that placed the biological improvement of the Aryan race or Germanic "Übermenschen" master race through eugenics at the center of Nazi ideology. In Germany, eugenics were mostly known under the synonymous term racial hygiene. Following the Second World War, both terms effectively vanished and were replaced by Humangenetik (human genetics).
Eugenics research in Germany before and during the Nazi period was similar to that in the United States (particularly California), by which it had been partly inspired. However, its prominence rose sharply under Adolf Hitler's leadership when wealthy Nazi supporters started heavily investing in it. The programs were subsequently shaped to complement Nazi racial policies.
Those humans targeted for destruction under Nazi eugenics policies were largely living in private and state-operated institutions, identified as "life unworthy of life" (German: Lebensunwertes Leben), including prisoners, "degenerates", dissidents, people with congenital cognitive and physical disabilities (including people who were "feeble-minded", epileptic, schizophrenic, manic-depressive, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, deaf, blind) (German: erbkranken), homosexual, idle, insane, and the weak, for elimination from the chain of heredity. More than 400,000 people were sterilized against their will, while up to 300,000 were killed under Action T4, a euthanasia program. In June 1935, Hitler and his cabinet made a list of seven new decrees, number 5 was to speed up the investigations of sterilization.
The early German eugenics movement was led by Wilhelm Schallmayer and Alfred Ploetz. Henry Friedlander wrote that although the German and American eugenics movements were similar, the German movement was more centralized and did not contain as many diverse ideas as the American movement. Unlike the American movement, one publication and one society, the German Society for Racial Hygiene, represented all eugenicists.
Edwin Black wrote that after the eugenics movement was well established in the United States, it was spread to Germany. California eugenicists began producing literature promoting eugenics and sterilization and sending it overseas to German scientists and medical professionals. By 1933, California had subjected more people to forceful sterilization than all other U.S. states combined. The forced sterilization program engineered by the Nazis was partly inspired by California's.
In 1927, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology (KWIA), an organization which concentrated on physical and social anthropology as well as human genetics, was founded in Berlin with significant financial support from the American philanthropic group, the Rockefeller Foundation. German professor of medicine, anthropology and eugenics Eugen Fischer was the director of this organization, a man whose work helped provide the scientific basis for the Nazis' eugenics policies. The Rockefeller Foundation even funded some of the research conducted by Josef Mengele before he went to Auschwitz.
Upon returning from Germany in 1934, where more than 5,000 people per month were being forcibly sterilized, the California eugenics leader C. M. Goethe bragged to a 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.
Eugenics researcher Harry H. Laughlin often bragged that his Model Eugenic Sterilization laws had been implemented in the 1935 Nuremberg racial hygiene laws. In 1936, Laughlin was invited to an award ceremony at Heidelberg University in Germany (scheduled on the anniversary of Hitler's 1934 purge of Jews from the Heidelberg faculty), to receive an honorary doctorate for his work on the "science of racial cleansing". Due to financial limitations, Laughlin was unable to attend the ceremony and had to pick it up from the Rockefeller Institute. Afterwards, he proudly shared the award with his colleagues, remarking that he felt that it symbolized the "common understanding of German and American scientists of the nature of eugenics."
The racialism and idea of competition, termed social Darwinism in 1944, were discussed by European scientists and also in the Vienna press during the 1920s. Where Hitler picked up the ideas is uncertain. The theory of evolution had been generally accepted in Germany at the time, but this sort of extremism was rare.
In his Second Book, which was unpublished during the Nazi era, Hitler praised Sparta, (using ideas perhaps borrowed from Ernst Haeckel), adding that he considered Sparta to be the first "Völkisch State". He endorsed what he perceived to be an early eugenics treatment of deformed children:
Sparta must be regarded as the first Völkisch State. The exposure of the sick, weak, deformed children, in short, their destruction, was more decent and in truth a thousand times more humane than the wretched insanity of our day which preserves the most pathological subject, and indeed at any price, and yet takes the life of a hundred thousand healthy children in consequence of birth control or through abortions, in order subsequently to breed a race of degenerates burdened with illnesses.
The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, enacted on July 14, 1933, allowed the compulsory sterilisation of any citizen who according to the opinion of a "Genetic Health Court" suffered from a list of alleged genetic disorders and required physicians to register every case of hereditary illness known to them, except in women over 45 years of age. Physicians could be fined for failing to comply.
In 1934, the first year of the Law's operation, nearly 4,000 people appealed against the decisions of sterilization authorities. A total of 3,559 of the appeals failed. By the end of the Nazi regime, over 200 Hereditary Health Courts (Erbgesundheitsgerichte) were created, and under their rulings over 400,000 persons were sterilized against their will.
The Hadamar Clinic was a mental hospital in the German town of Hadamar used by the Nazi-controlled German government as the site of Action T4. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics was founded in 1927. Hartheim Euthanasia Centre was also part of the euthanasia programme where the Nazis killed individuals they deemed disabled. The first method used involved transporting patients by buses in which the engine exhaust gases were passed into the interior of the buses, and so killed the passengers. Gas chambers were developed later and used pure carbon monoxide gas to kill the patients. In its early years, and during the Nazi era, the Clinic was strongly associated with theories of eugenics and racial hygiene advocated by its leading theorists Fritz Lenz and Eugen Fischer, and by its director Otmar von Verschuer. Under Fischer, the sterilization of so-called Rhineland Bastards was undertaken. Grafeneck Castle was one of Nazi Germany's killing centers, and today it is a memorial place dedicated to the victims of the Action T4.
The Law for Simplification of the Health System of July 1934 created Information Centers for Genetic and Racial Hygiene, as well as Health Offices. The law also described procedures for 'denunciation' and 'evaluation' of persons, who were then sent to a Genetic Health Court where sterilization was decided.
Information to determine who was considered 'genetically sick' was gathered from routine information supplied by people to doctor's offices and welfare departments. Standardized questionnaires had been designed by Nazi officials with the help of Dehomag (a subsidiary of IBM in the 1930s), so that the information could be encoded easily onto Hollerith punch cards for fast sorting and counting.
In Hamburg, doctors gave information into a Central Health Passport Archive (circa 1934), under something called the 'Health-Related Total Observation of Life'. This file was to contain reports from doctors, but also courts, insurance companies, sports clubs, the Hitler Youth, the military, the labor service, colleges, etc. Any institution that gave information would get information back in return. In 1940, the Reich Interior Ministry tried to impose a Hamburg-style system on the whole Reich.
After the Nazis passed the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, it became compulsory for both marriage partners to be tested for hereditary diseases in order to preserve the perceived racial purity of the Aryan race. Everyone was encouraged to carefully evaluate his or her prospective marriage partner eugenically during courtship. Members of the SS were cautioned to carefully interview prospective marriage partners to make sure they had no family history of hereditary disease or insanity, but to do this carefully so as not to hurt the feelings of the prospective fiancee and, if it became necessary to reject her for eugenic reasons, to do it tactfully and not cause her any offense.
Wilhelm Schallmayer (1857-1919) who, along with Alfred Ploetz (1860-1940), founded German eugenics.
Although the German eugenics movement, led until the Weimar years by Alfred Ploetz and Wilhelm Schallmayer, did not differ radically from the American movement, it was more centralized. Unlike in the United States, where federalism and political heterogeneity encouraged diversity even with a single movement, in Germany one society, the German Society for Race Hygiene (Deutsche Gesellschaft fue Rassenhygiene), eventually represented all eugenicists, while one journal, the Archiv fur Rassen- und Gsellschafts Biologie, founded by Ploetz in 1904, remained the primary scientific publication of German Eugenics.
Among the Spartans all newly born children were subject to a careful examination or selection. All those that were weak, sickly, or affected with any bodily infirmity, were killed. Only the perfectly healthy and strong children were allowed to live, and they alone afterwards propagated the race.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
In Nazi Germany, the Aryan certificate (German: Ariernachweis) was a document which certified that a person was a member of the Aryan race. Beginning in April 1933 it was required from all employees and officials in the public sector, including education, according to the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. It was also a primary requirement to become a Reich citizen, for those who were of German or related blood (Aryan) and wanted to become Reich citizens after the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935. A "Swede or an Englishman, a Frenchman or Czech, a Pole or Italian" was considered to be related, that is, "Aryan".There were two main types:
Kleiner Ariernachweis (Lesser Aryan certificate) was one of:
Seven birth or baptism certificates (or a combination of both) (the person, his parents and grandparents) and three marriage certificates (parents and grandparents) or certified proofs thereof:
Ahnenpass (literally ancestor's passport)
Ahnentafel, a certified genealogy table
Großer Ariernachweis (Greater Aryan certificate) was required for compliance with the requirements of the Reichserbhofgesetz (land heritage law) and membership in the Nazi party. This certificate had to trace the family pedigree down to 1800 (and to 1750 for SS officers). According to the especially strict regulation of this law which included the goal of Preserving the Purity of German Blood only those were eligible who could prove (reaching back to January 1, 1800) that "none of their paternal nor their maternal ancestors had Jewish or colored blood".Doctors' trial
The Doctors' trial (officially United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al.) was the first of 12 trials for war crimes of German doctors that the United States authorities held in their occupation zone in Nuremberg, Germany, after the end of World War II. These trials were held before US military courts, not before the International Military Tribunal, but took place in the same rooms at the Palace of Justice. The trials are collectively known as the "Subsequent Nuremberg Trials", formally the "Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals" (NMT).Twenty of the twenty-three defendants were medical doctors (Viktor Brack, Rudolf Brandt, and Wolfram Sievers were Nazi officials), and were accused of having been involved in Nazi human experimentation and mass murder under the guise of euthanasia. Josef Mengele, one of the leading Nazi doctors, had evaded capture.
The judges, heard before Military Tribunal I, were Walter B. Beals (presiding judge) from Washington, Harold L. Sebring from Florida, and Johnson T. Crawford from Oklahoma, with Victor C. Swearingen, a former special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States, as an alternate judge. The Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution was Telford Taylor and the chief prosecutor was James M. McHaney. The indictment was filed on 25 October 1946; the trial lasted from 9 December that year until 20 August 1947. Of the 23 defendants, 7 were acquitted and 7 received death sentences; the remainder received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.E. S. Gosney
Ezra Seymour Gosney (November 6, 1855 – September 14, 1942) was an American philanthropist and eugenicist. In 1928 he founded the Human Betterment Foundation (HBF) in Pasadena, California, with the stated aim "to foster and aid constructive and educational forces for the protection and betterment of the human family in body, mind, character, and citizenship," primarily through the advocacy of compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill and mentally retarded.Eugen Fischer
Eugen Fischer (5 July 1874 – 9 July 1967) was a German professor of medicine, anthropology, and eugenics, and a member of the Nazi Party. He served as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics, and also served as rector of the Frederick William University of Berlin.
Fischer's ideas informed the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 which served to justify the Nazi Party's belief in German racial superiority. Adolf Hitler read Fischer's work while he was imprisoned in 1923 and he used Fischer's eugenical notions to support the ideal of a pure Aryan society in his manifesto, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy
The Expert Committee on Questions of Population and Racial Policy (German: Sachverständigen-Beirat für Bevölkerungsfragen und Rassenpolitik) was a Nazi Germany committee formed on 2 June 1933 that planned Nazi racial policy. On July 14, 1933, the committee's recommendations were made law as the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring, or the "Sterilization Law".The committee was organized by Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, and brought together many important Nazi figures on racial theory, including Ernst Rudin, Alfred Ploetz, Arthur Gutt, Heinrich Himmler, Fritz Thyssen, Fritz Lenz, Friedrich Burgdorfer, Walther Darre, Hans F. K. Günther, Charlotte von Hadeln, Bodo Spiethoff, Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Gerhard Wagner, and Baldur von Schirach.Gemeinnützige Krankentransport GmbH
The Gemeinnützige Krankentransport GmbH listen (known as "Gekrat" or "GeKraT", commonly translated as "Charitable Ambulance") was a National Socialist subdivision of the Action T4 organization. The euphemistically named company transported sick and disabled people to the Nazi killing centers to be murdered under the Nazi eugenics program and was known for the gray buses it used.Gerhard Kretschmar
Gerhard Herbert Kretschmar (20 February 1939 – 25 July 1939), was a German child born with severe disabilities. After receiving a petition from the child's parents, the German Führer Adolf Hitler authorized one of his personal physicians, Karl Brandt, to have the child killed. This marked the beginning of the program in Nazi Germany known as a "euthanasia program" – Aktion T4 – which ultimately resulted in the deliberate killing of about 200,000 people with mental and/or physical disabilities.German Society for Racial Hygiene
The German Society for Racial Hygiene (German: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene) was a German eugenic organization founded on 22 June 1905 by the physician Alfred Ploetz in Berlin. Its goal was "for society to return to a healthy and blooming, strong and beautiful life" as Ploetz put it. The Nordic race was supposed to regain its "purity" through selective reproduction and sterilization. The society became defunct after World War II.Hans Asperger
Johann "Hans" Friedrich Karl Asperger (, German: [hans ˈaspɛɐ̯ɡɐ]; 18 February 1906 – 21 October 1980) was an Austrian pediatrician, eugenicist, medical theorist, and medical professor. He is best known for his early studies on mental disorders, specifically in children. His work was largely unnoticed during his lifetime except for a few accolades in Vienna, and his studies on psychological disorders acquired world renown only posthumously. He wrote over 300 publications, mostly concerning a condition he termed autistic psychopathy (AP).
There was a resurgence of interest in his work beginning in the 1980s, and due to his earlier work on autism spectrum disorders, Asperger syndrome (AS), was named after him. Both Asperger's original pediatric diagnosis of AP and the eponymous diagnosis of AS that was named after him several decades later have been controversial. This has especially been the case since it was announced that, during the Nazi years, Asperger sent disabled children to be "euthanized" (killed) at the Am Spiegelgrund clinic.Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics
The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics was founded in 1927 in Berlin, Germany. When confronted with financial demands, the Rockefeller Foundation supported both the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Psychiatry and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. The Rockefeller Foundation partially funded the actual building of the Institute and helped keep the Institute afloat during the Great Depression.Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring
Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring (Ger. Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses) or "Sterilisation Law" was a statute in Nazi Germany enacted on July 14, 1933, (and made active in January 1934) which allowed the compulsory sterilisation of any citizen who in the opinion of a "Genetic Health Court" (Gr. Erbgesundheitsgericht) suffered from a list of alleged genetic disorders – many of which were not, in fact, genetic. The elaborate interpretive commentary on the law was written by three dominant figures in the racial hygiene movement: Ernst Rüdin, Arthur Gütt and the lawyer Falk Ruttke. The law itself was based on a 'model' American law developed by Harry H. Laughlin.Life unworthy of life
The phrase "life unworthy of life" (in German: "Lebensunwertes Leben") was a Nazi designation for the segments of the populace which, according to the Nazi regime of the time, had no right to live. Those individuals were targeted to be euthanized by the state, usually through the compulsion or deception of their caretakers. The term included people with serious medical problems and those considered grossly inferior according to the racial policy of Nazi Germany. This concept formed an important component of the ideology of Nazism and eventually helped lead to the Holocaust. It is similar to but more restrictive than the concept of "Untermensch", subhumans, as not all "subhumans" were considered unworthy of life (Slavs, for instance, were deemed useful for slave labor).
The euthanasia program was officially adopted in 1939 and came through the personal decision of Adolf Hitler. It grew in extent and scope from Aktion T4 ending officially in 1941 when public protests stopped the program, through the Action 14f13 against concentration camp inmates. The euthanasia of people with disabilities continued more discreetly until the end of World War II. The methods used initially at German hospitals such as lethal injections and bottled gas poisoning were expanded to form the basis for the creation of extermination camps where the gas chambers were built from scratch to conduct the extermination of the Jews, Poles, and Romani.Mischling Test
Mischling Test refers to the legal test under Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws that was applied to determine whether a person was considered a "Jew" or a "Mischling" (mixed-blood).Nur für Deutsche
The slogan Nur für Deutsche (English: "Only for Germans") was during World War II, in many German-occupied countries, a racialist slogan indicating that certain establishments and transportation were reserved for Germans. Signs bearing the slogan were posted at entrances to parks, cafes, cinemas, theaters and other facilities.Racial hygiene
The term racial hygiene was used to describe an approach to eugenics in the early 20th century, which found its most extensive implementation in Nazi Germany (Nazi eugenics). It was marked by efforts to avoid miscegenation, analogous to an animal breeder seeking purebred animals. This was often motivated by belief in a racial hierarchy and the related fear that lower races would "contaminate" a higher one. As with most eugenicists at the time, racial hygienists believed that lack of eugenics would lead to rapid social degeneration, the decline of civilisation by the spread of inferior characteristics.Reinrassig
Reinrassig is a German zoological term meaning "of pure breed". In Nazi Germany, the term was applied to human races.
By the racial policy of Nazi Germany, persons who could not trace Aryan ancestry back at least four generations could be considered nicht reinrassig or impure. Depending on one's ethnicity, this status could be anything from a very minor inconvenience to life-threatening.Rhineland Bastard
Rhineland Bastard (German: Rheinlandbastard) was a derogatory term used in Nazi Germany to describe Afro-Germans, believed fathered by French Army personnel of African descent who were stationed in the Rhineland during its occupation by France after World War I. There is evidence that other Afro-Germans, born from unions between German men and African women in former German colonies in Africa, were also referred to as Rheinlandbastarde.
After 1933, under racist Nazi policies, Afro-Germans deemed to be Rheinlandbastarde were persecuted. They were rounded up in a campaign of compulsory sterilization.Untermensch
Untermensch (German pronunciation: [ˈʔʊntɐˌmɛnʃ], underman, sub-man, subhuman; plural: Untermenschen) is a term that became infamous when the Nazis used it to describe non-Aryan "inferior people" often referred to as "the masses from the East", that is Jews, Roma, and Slavs – mainly ethnic Poles, Serbs, and later also Russians. The term was also applied to Blacks, and persons of color. Jewish people were to be exterminated in the Holocaust, along with Romani people, and the physically and mentally disabled. According to the Generalplan Ost, the Slavic population of East-Central Europe was to be reduced in part through mass murder in the Holocaust, with a majority expelled to Asia and used as slave labor in the Reich. These concepts were an important part of the Nazi racial policy.Wilhelm Rediess
Friedrich Wilhelm Rediess (10 October 1900 – 8 May 1945) was the SS and Police Leader during the German occupation of Norway in the Second World War. He was also the commander of all SS troops stationed in occupied Norway, assuming command on 22 June 1940 until his death in 1945.