The Nazis and American eugenics

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Sep 18 06:51:55 MDT 2002

Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 382-383 ( 17 September )
URL of this document

Book Review
The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism
by Stefan Kühl

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002

Reviewed by Nigel Hunt, Senior Lecturer, Psychology Division, Nottingham 
Trent University, Burton Street, Nottingham, NG1 4BU, United Kingdom.

This book is concerned with exploring the relationship between the eugenics 
movement in pre-war USA and the German National Socialist policies and 
experiments between 1933-1945. It has been widely known that the USA, 
particularly some states, had racist policies in place long before the 
Nazis came to power in Germany. The Nazi policy of mass sterilisation of 
mentally handicapped people followed very similar policies that were 
applied across the USA from the early years of the Twentieth Century. 
Bodies such as the International Eugenics Movement had a great influence in 
the USA and also on the policies of the Nazis that eventually led to the 
extermination programme carried out in Germany.

The book is a detailed study of the relationship between the USA and German 
scientists during the first half of the Twentieth Century. It considers 
German-American relations within the International Eugenics movement before 
1933, the support of Nazi race policy through the International Eugenics 
Movement, sterilisation in Germany and the USA, American Eugenicists in 
Nazi Germany, concepts of race and science, the influence of Nazi race 
policies on Eugenics in the USA, American support in Nazi Germany, and the 
temporary end of relations between German and American Eugenicists with the 
advent of the Second World War.

The book is well-researched and contains extensive references and notes, 
which occupy around 50 pages - about one third of the book. Kühl draws on 
material published in the USA and in Germany, and elsewhere as appropriate.

Kühl explores the international nature of the eugenics movement, beginning 
with the first international meeting organised by the International Society 
for Racial Hygiene in Dresden in 1911. The meeting drew people from all 
over Europe and the United States. A further meeting the following year 
included the son of Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill as representatives 
- the latter being the Home Secretary at the time. At this time the 
eugenics movement was respected in the scientific community. German 
eugenicists admired the success of people in the USA in obtaining eugenics 
legislation and receiving extensive financial support. The first major 
meeting after World War One excluded German delegates. Later, in 1923 the 
Germans would not take part in meetings with French and Belgian scientists 
because their countries still occupied parts of Germany. Instead, ties 
between Germany and the USA were strengthened; to the extent that the 
Rockefeller Foundation helped establish and support several German institutes.

Both German and US eugenicists supported the case for sterilising 
handicapped people, and were successful in obtaining legislation. In the 
USA there were both sterilisation and immigration policies. German 
supporters of legislation successfully put forward the USA as an example of 
good practice. When the Nazi party came to power in Germany there was no 
sudden change of policy, rather an evolution of the policies already 
developing in both Germany and the USA. Americans went to work in Germany, 
and in many cases took back to the USA very positive views about Nazi policies.

It was not until Hitler had been in power some time that American 
eugenicists expressed serious doubts about Nazi policies. In 1936 a group 
of American geneticists proposed a motion proclaiming their dismay and the 
way racial policies were developing in Germany. The Nazi government’s 
response was to boycott a planned eugenics congress in Moscow. That 
congress was itself postponed until 1939, when it was held in Edinburgh. At 
this meeting a group of leading eugenicists - mainly from the USA - 
successfully drafted a manifesto against Nazi race policy. US support for 
German policies had waned with the gradual realisation that the main thrust 
of the policy was anti-Semitic. Even though anti-Semitism was rife among US 
eugenicists, most considered the German policies went too far.

The Second World War intervened to stop all links between scientists of the 
two nations, but after the war Kühl makes it quite clear that the Eugenics 
movement continued - albeit under a different name, and many of the 
“scientists” associated with German policies continued to work in post-war 
Europe. They were supported in this by people in the USA. He is clear that 
the attempt to separate eugenics from the Nazi programme of race 
improvement were only partially successful. After the war eugenicists 
started to use different names because the term eugenics became 
unacceptable. Herman Muller started to use “genetic load” and “cost of 
selection”. The scientific journals also changed their names. The “Annals 
of Eugenics” became the “Annals of Human Genetics”, “Eugenics Quarterly” 
became the “Journal of Social Biology”. Eugenicists renamed themselves as 
population scientists, human geneticists, psychiatrists, anthropologists, 
and family politicians. The notion of ethnic racism was eliminated from 
research programmes in an attempt to separate scientists from the 
Holocaust. Kühl provides an excellent argument as to how combining eugenics 
and ethnic racism can lead to policies of extermination. He also shows 
quite clearly that American eugenicists had a major influence on the 
development of thought within Nazi Germany; yet no American eugenicist was 
ever brought before the Nuremberg court to stand trial for war crimes.

Kühl’s thesis is that the relationship between American and German 
Eugenicists had a major influence on German policies, including the policy 
of extermination of the handicapped. This is a clearly-argued book 
containing ample evidence for the thesis. It brings together a lot of 
research concerning the eugenics movements in the USA and Germany, and 
clearly demonstrates the strong influence American policies and practice 
had in Germany, before, during and after the Nazi period. Perhaps the main 
message is that the Nazis were not responsible for the introduction of 
eugenic ideas into Germany; the process was evolutionary, and stemmed in 
large part from the eugenic ideas and legislative policies in the USA 
during the first half of the Twentieth Century

Louis Proyect

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