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The Nazi Connection

Eugen­ics, Amer­i­can Racism, and Ger­man Nation­al Social­ism

by Ste­fan Külh
1994, Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press
ISBN 0195149785
192 pages

From Kirkus Reviews
Nar­row­ly focused yet chill­ing­ly effec­tive indict­ment of the Amer­i­can sci­en­tists and social the­o­rists who inspired and applaud­ed Nazi racist ide­ol­o­gy. Eugenics–part sci­ence, part twist­ed Social Dar­win­ism, accord­ing to Ger­man soci­ol­o­gist Kühl—was first defined in 1883 by Fran­cis Gal­ton as the “sci­ence of improv­ing the stock”—a sci­ence that went on to give aca­d­e­m­ic respectabil­i­ty to the ear­li­est expres­sions of Nazi racism. Insist­ing that many of the assump­tions under­ly­ing Nazi thought were “by no means lim­it­ed to Ger­man sci­en­tists,” the author skill­ful­ly dis­man­tles post­war attempts to mar­gin­al­ize the activ­i­ties of the world­wide eugen­ics estab­lish­ment, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the US. With Euro­pean ties frayed post-WW I, Amer­i­ca became the main sci­en­tif­ic ref­er­ence point for Ger­man the­o­rists seek­ing inter­na­tion­al legit­i­ma­cy: it unfor­tu­nate­ly proved an influ­en­tial mod­el, not only intel­lec­tu­al­ly but polit­i­cal­ly. A 1907 Indi­ana law per­mit­ting the ster­il­iza­tion of the men­tal­ly hand­i­capped long pre­dat­ed Ger­many’s 1933 Law on Pre­vent­ing Hered­i­tar­i­ly Ill Prog­e­ny, and the 1924 Amer­i­can Immi­gra­tion Restric­tion Act was lat­er praised by the future Führer in Mein Kampf. Mean­while, US sponsors–including the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion and Jew­ish phil­an­thropist James Loeb–helped fund major eugen­ics insti­tutes in Ger­many. In turn, many of these sought greater recog­ni­tion by offer­ing hon­orary degrees to lead­ing US eugeni­cists- ‑two of whom, Leon Whit­ney and Madi­son Grant, are glimpsed here proud­ly com­par­ing appre­cia­tive let­ters from Hitler. A brief ref­er­ence to a resur­gence of sci­en­tif­ic racism in today’s acad­e­mia adds an espe­cial­ly per­ti­nent cau­tion­ary note. More a mono­graph than a ful­ly real­ized his­to­ry but, still, a well-doc­u­ment­ed revi­sion­ist rebuke to those who would iso­late Nazism as a unique phe­nom­e­non.

Book Descrip­tion
When Hitler pub­lished Mein Kampf in 1924, he held up a for­eign law as a mod­el for his pro­gram of racial purifi­ca­tion: The U.S. Immi­gra­tion Restric­tion Act of 1924, which pro­hib­it­ed the immi­gra­tion of those with hered­i­tary ill­ness­es and entire eth­nic groups. When the Nazis took pow­er in 1933, they installed a pro­gram of eugenics–the attempt­ed “improve­ment” of the pop­u­la­tion through forced ster­il­iza­tion and mar­riage controls–that con­scious­ly drew on the U.S. exam­ple. By then, many Amer­i­can states had long had com­pul­so­ry ster­il­iza­tion laws for “defec­tives,” upheld by the Supreme Court in 1927. Small won­der that the Nazi laws led one eugen­ics activist in Vir­ginia to com­plain, “The Ger­mans are beat­ing us at our own game.”

In The Nazi Con­nec­tion, Ste­fan Kühl uncov­ers the ties between the Amer­i­can eugen­ics move­ment and the Nazi pro­gram of racial hygiene, show­ing that many Amer­i­can sci­en­tists active­ly sup­port­ed Hitler’s poli­cies. After intro­duc­ing us to the recent­ly resur­gent prob­lem of sci­en­tif­ic racism, Kühl care­ful­ly recounts the his­to­ry of the eugen­ics move­ment, both in the Unit­ed States and inter­na­tion­al­ly, demon­strat­ing how wide­ly the idea of ster­il­iza­tion as a genet­ic con­trol had become accept­ed by the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. From the first, the Amer­i­can eugeni­cists led the way with rad­i­cal ideas. Their influ­ence led to ster­il­iza­tion laws in dozens of states—laws which were stud­ied, and praised, by the Ger­man racial hygien­ists. With the rise of Hitler, the Ger­mans enact­ed com­pul­so­ry ster­il­iza­tion laws part­ly based on the U.S. expe­ri­ence, and Amer­i­can eugenists took pride in their influ­ence on Nazi poli­cies. Kühl recre­ates aston­ish­ing scenes of Amer­i­can eugeni­cists trav­el­ling to Ger­many to study the new laws, pub­lish­ing schol­ar­ly arti­cles lion­iz­ing the Nazi eugen­ics pro­gram, and proud­ly com­par­ing per­son­al notes from Hitler thank­ing them for their books. Even after the out­break of war, he writes, the Amer­i­can eugeni­cists frowned upon Hitler’s total­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment, but not his ster­il­iza­tion laws. So deep was the fail­ure to rec­og­nize the con­nec­tion between eugen­ics and Hitler’s geno­ci­dal poli­cies, that a promi­nent lib­er­al Jew­ish eugeni­cist who had been forced to flee Ger­many found it fit to grum­ble that the Nazis “took over our entire plan of eugenic mea­sures.”

By 1945, when the mur­der­ous nature of the Nazi gov­ern­ment was made per­fect­ly clear, the Amer­i­can eugeni­cists sought to down­play the close con­nec­tions between them­selves and the Ger­man pro­gram. Some of them, in fact, had sought to dis­tance them­selves from Hitler even before the war. But Ste­fan Küh­l’s deeply doc­u­ment­ed book pro­vides a dev­as­tat­ing indict­ment of the influence—and aid—provided by Amer­i­can sci­en­tists for the most com­pre­hen­sive attempt to enforce racial puri­ty in world his­to­ry.

THIS BOOK IS IN PRINT. Avail­able com­mer­cial­ly. Learn more about Ste­fan Külh [1].