Eugenics Tree analogy
"If inferior people have 4 children while higher-quality people have 2, this is what will happen."

UCSB Hist 33d, L5-6:
Eugenics and Euthanasia
lectures on Oct. 11 & 13, 2005

by Professor Harold Marcuse (homepage)
uploaded Oct. 24, 2005, updated 2/13/12

1. International Connections
2. Euthanasia in Nazi-era Films
3. Nazi Eugenics Timeline
4. Bishop von Galen's Resistance

Introduction (back to top)

The previous lectures on Hitler and the haphazard development of the concentration camps raised the question of the origins and causes of the Nazi genocide. Many scholars argue that Hitler had a clear plan for mass murder in his mind since the early 1920s, but the many twists and turns in the haphazard development of the system of mass murder indicate that this plan emerged gradually. Still, we need to know where the idea of genocide came from.

This week we turned to the role of "racial science" played in the emergence of the system of Nazi genocide. Noting that our textbook does not cover this topic at all, I began with a quotation from Gerald Markle's Meditations of a Holocaust Traveler (Reader no. 3), p. 111:

"EIEIO causal modelMost historians have attempted to account for the horrible excesses of Nazi science in one of two ways: as perverted by politicians, or as perverted by scientists. I think that each of these accounts is at best narrow, at worst deeply flawed. Both lead us away from a proper understanding of Nazi medicine—as an important expression of Nazi social structure and culture."

On the EIEIO model, this indicates that two Elites played a role: political and scientific, as well as the institutionally anchored structure of German culture. In the films we saw, Existence without Life (the one with the fictitious lecture at Munich university) showed a professor arguing that the support of the institutionalized disabled was a huge burden on Germany's Economy. That prof's unscientific arguments point to the role of Ideology. Today I'll talk mostly about the international connections (especially to the eugenics movement in the US), and the role individual peOple's Opposition played in forcing the program into an even more stealthy mode in 1941.

1. International Connections: The United States (back to top)

The Eugenics Movement

  • Eugenics: (Greek: 'good origin')eugenics is the self-direction...: improvement of offspring ( entry)
    • 1863: modern movement started by Darwin's cousin Francis Galton
      • Gregor Mendel (1822-1884): theory of genetics (1865) made a science possible
    • 1902: Stanford Univeristy president David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) published: The Blood of the Nation: A Study of the Decay of Races through Survival of the Unfit (Boston, American Unitarian Association, 1902, 1906, 1910), 82 pages
    • 1904: Carnegie Insitute-funded research institute on Long Island (Cold Spring Harbor)
    • 1907: first eugenic (forced sterilization) law in the US (Indiana)
    • 1909: California was the third state to pass a forced sterilization law (35 states by 1936)
    • 1916: Madison Grant (1865-1937), The Passing of the Great Race: or, The Racial Basis of European History (New York: Scribner, 1916, 1918, 1919, 1921, 1922 [1970, 2002]), 476 pages; UCSB: GN575 .G75 1916 and 1921.
    • 1918: textbook by Paul Popenoe and Roswell Hill Johnson, Applied Eugenics
      (New York: Macmillan, 1918, 1922, 1925, 1933), 459 pages, UCSB: HQ751 .P6.
      • Popenoe was an Army venereal disease specialist in California
      • In many ways California led the US eugenics movement
    • 1927: Supreme Court affirmed Virginia's law in Buck vs. Bell (Carrie Buck was sterilized because of sexual promiscuity"--she had been raped by a relative of her foster parents). In the majority opinion Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…. Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
      (see the University of Virginia library's excellent Buck vs. Bell website)
    • 1931: publication in English of popular German textbook drawing on US sources: Erwin Baur, Eugene Fischer, and Fritz Lenz, Human Heredity, translated by Eden & Cedar Paul (New York: Macmillan, 1931), 734 pages, 172 illustrations. UCI: QH431 .B413
    • References:
      • Edwin Black, "The Horrifying American Roots of Nazi Eugenics," Nov. 24, 2003 article published on the History News Network
        Black is author of: The War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race (2003) (searchable on amazon)
      • Stefan Kuhl, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (Oxford, 1994, 2002) (searchable on amazon)
      • Martin Pernick, The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915 (Oxford, 1999) (searchable on amazon)
      • Race and Membership in American History: The Eugenics Movement (Brookline, Mass: Facing History and Ourselves, 2002), 356 pages. UCSB: HQ751 .R33 2002
    • Eugenics soon moved to encompass not only "positive" selective breeding, but "negative" selective weeding out of people deemed inferior--termed euthanasia.
      Black writes in the Nov. 2003 article cited above:
      'The grand plan was to literally wipe away the reproductive capability of those deemed weak and inferior--the so-called "unfit." The eugenicists hoped to neutralize the viability of 10 percent of the population at a sweep, until none were left except themselves.
      Eighteen solutions were explored in a Carnegie-supported 1911 "Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Section of the American Breeder's Association to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population." Point eight was euthanasia.'
  • Euthanasia (Greek: 'good death'): first recorded in English in 1869 (see entry)
    • killing the painfully, incurably ill
    • Nazi redefinition: killing the racially unfit
  • Aktion T4: Nazi code name for program to murder the disabled
    • abbreviation for Tiergartenstrasse 4 (address of Reich Health Office in Berlin)
    • General use of euphemisms and code words, e.g.
      • life unworthy of life (lebensunwertes Leben)
      • special treatment (Sonderbehandlung)
      • resettlement (Umsiedlung, Aussiedlung

2. From 'Mercy Killing' to Murder in Nazi-era Films (back to top)

Film Selling Murder: The Killing Films of the Third Reich (eugenics: healthy carry the sickDiscovery Channel, 1993), 45 mins., based on research by Michael Burleigh, published in his Death and Deliverance: 'Euthanasia' in Germany, 1900-1945 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994), esp. chapter 6, pp. 183-219.

  • Town of Hadamar, north of Frankfurt; "Devereaux"-like institution there (still there today)
    • testimony of Elvira Mathey, who was rescued by a nurse after undressing
    • discussion of Paul Reuter, who formerly worked at Hadamar, with the son of someone who was killed there
  • Features excerpts from 6 Nazi propaganda films (one only footage, another only script)
    • 1935: What you inherit; Hereditarily ill (Was Du Erbst, Erbkrank); for Nazi party members
    • 1937: Victims of Past (Opfer der Vergangenheit); specially commissioned by Hitler, shown in the pre-showing in all 3,000 cinemas in Germany
    • 1939: Existence without Life; Mentally Ill (Dasein ohne Leben; Geisteskrank)
      commissioned by T4 staff, start of murders
    • 1941: I Accuse, (I Accuse, film stillIch klage an); prize-winning feature film with famous actors, 18 million viewers. Pianist has multiple sclerosis, given poison by husband.

3. Timeline of Nazi "Euthanasia" Program (back to top)

  • 1939, Aug. 18: Ministry of Interior decrees that midwives and doctors must report the births of children with defects
  • 1939, October: Hitler wrote a letter, back-dated to Sept. 1, to his personal doctor Karl Brandt and chancellory leader Philipp Bouhler, commissioning them to give certain doctors the authority to perform euthanasia: "Reichsleiter Bouhler and Dr. med. Brandt are responsibly commissioned to expand the authority of certain physicians to be designated by name in such manner that persons who, according to human judgment, are incurable can, upon a most careful diagnosis of their condition of sickness, be accorded a mercy death." [Nuremberg document 2710-NO]
  • early 1940: killings in institutions began (by Carbon monoxide gas in cylinders).
    Six institutions were used: Grafeneck near Stuttgart, moved in January 1941 to Hadamar near Frankfurt; Brandenburg prison, moved in Nov. 1940 to Bernburg an the Saale; Hartheim near Linz; Sonnenstein near Pirna.
  • Soon became an black euthanasia buses of the Dekratopen secret in neighboring towns (black buses)
  • obviously fake death certificates: death by appendicitis after appendix removed
  • 1941, Aug. 3: sermon by Bishof Clemens von Galen in Münster attacks the program
    • read to congregations in Catholic parishes all over Germany
    • Aug. 24: Hitler orders the program stopped
    • 70,273 persons had been murdered by gassing; including those killed by other means 93,251 institutional beds for the mentally ill had been "released"
    • Role of the sermon: Was the program going to be stopped anyway after the reassessment period?
  • 1942ff: continued as "Aktion 14f13" [filing system number] in concentration camps.

4. Resistance (back to top)

  • Bishop von Galen's sermon: excerpts on
    • Reference: Beth Griech-Polelle, Bishop von Galen: German Catholicism and National Socialism (New Haven: Yale, 2002), 259 pages.
  • What did the German populace know, and what did they do about it?

  • Additional topics:
    • On the question of what role "racial science" and "euthanasia" played in the Holocaust, see:
      • Henry Friedlander, The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution (North Carolina, 1995) (searchable on amazon)
      • Friedlander makes a strong case that the Nazi "euthanasia" program played a crucial role, right down to individual personnel who went from the killing institutions to the extermination centers
    • The ethical question of using the results of experiments on human subjects against their will:
      Pernkopf Anatomical Atlas (4 vols., 1943ff; republished in 2 vols. in 1960s and 1980s). See text beginning with notes 22-23 in William Seidelman, "On Science: Medicine and Murder in the Third Reich," Dimensions 13:1(199x).
      Use of 1377 corpses between 1938 and 1943
    • contemporary discussions of euthanasia:
    • 2003 Hist 33D student projects: Medical Experiments (sorry, never debugged); Euthanasia Nurses

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, Oct. 24, 2005, updated: see header
back to top, Hist 33d homepage