Sunday, January 8, 2012
Eugenicists craved blond, blue-eyed Nordic types. This group alone, they believed, was fit to inherit the earth. In the process, the movement intende
By Edwin Black
Mr. Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust and the just released War
Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race, from
which the following article is drawn.
Hitler and his henchmen victimized an entire continent and exterminated millions
in his quest for a co-called "Master Race."
But the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn't
originate with Hitler. The idea was created in the United States, and cultivated
in California, decades before Hitler came to power. California eugenicists
played an important, although little known, role in the American eugenics
movement's campaign for ethnic cleansing.
Eugenics was the racist pseudoscience determined to wipe away all human beings
deemed "unfit," preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype.
Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced
sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in
twenty-seven states. In 1909, California became the third state to adopt such
laws. Ultimately, eugenics practitioners coercively sterilized some 60,000
Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in
"colonies," and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning. Before
World War II, nearly half of coercive sterilizations were done in California,
and even after the war, the state accounted for a third of all such surgeries.
California was considered an epicenter of the American eugenics movement. During
the Twentieth Century's first decades, California's eugenicists included potent
but little known race scientists, such as Army venereal disease specialist Dr.
Paul Popenoe, citrus magnate and Polytechnic benefactor Paul Gosney, Sacramento
banker Charles M. Goethe, as well as members of the California State Board of
Charities and Corrections and the University of California Board of Regents.
Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for
extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie
Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They
were all in league with some of America's most respected scientists hailing from
such prestigious universities as Stamford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. These
academicians espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted
data to serve eugenics' racist aims.
Stanford president David Starr Jordan originated the notion of "race and blood"
in his 1902 racial epistle "Blood of a Nation," in which the university scholar
declared that human qualities and conditions such as talent and poverty were
passed through the blood.
In 1904, the Carnegie Institution established a laboratory complex at Cold
Spring Harbor on Long Island that stockpiled millions of index cards on ordinary
Americans, as researchers carefully plotted the removal of families, bloodlines
and whole peoples. From Cold Spring Harbor, eugenics advocates agitated in the
legislatures of America, as well as the nation's social service agencies and
The Harriman railroad fortune paid local charities, such as the New York Bureau
of Industries and Immigration, to seek out Jewish, Italian and other immigrants
in New York and other crowded cities and subject them to deportation, trumped up
confinement or forced sterilization.
The Rockefeller Foundation helped found the German eugenics program and even
funded the program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.
Much of the spiritual guidance and political agitation for the American eugenics
movement came from California's quasi-autonomous eugenic societies, such as the
Pasadena-based Human Betterment Foundation and the California branch of the
American Eugenics Society, which coordinated much of their activity with the
Eugenics Research Society in Long Island. These organizations--which functioned
as part of a closely-knit network--published racist eugenic newsletters and
pseudoscientific journals, such as Eugenical News and Eugenics, and
propagandized for the Nazis.
Sir Francis Galton, aged 73Eugenics was born as a scientific curiosity in the
Victorian age. In 1863, Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin,
theorized that if talented people only married other talented people, the result
would be measurably better offspring. At the turn of the last century, Galton's
ideas were imported into the United States just as Gregor Mendel's principles of
heredity were rediscovered. American eugenic advocates believed with religious
fervor that the same Mendelian concepts determining the color and size of peas,
corn and cattle also governed the social and intellectual character of man.
In an America demographically reeling from immigration upheaval and torn by
post-Reconstruction chaos, race conflict was everywhere in the early twentieth
century. Elitists, utopians and so-called "progressives" fused their smoldering
race fears and class bias with their desire to make a better world. They
reinvented Galton's eugenics into a repressive and racist ideology. The intent:
populate the earth with vastly more of their own socio-economic and biological
kind--and less or none of everyone else.
The superior species the eugenics movement sought was populated not merely by
tall, strong, talented people. Eugenicists craved blond, blue-eyed Nordic types.
This group alone, they believed, was fit to inherit the earth. In the process,
the movement intended to subtract emancipated Negroes, immigrant Asian laborers,
Indians, Hispanics, East Europeans, Jews, dark-haired hill folk, poor people,
the infirm and really anyone classified outside the gentrified genetic lines
drawn up by American raceologists.
How? By identifying so-called "defective" family trees and subjecting them to
lifelong segregation and sterilization programs to kill their bloodlines. 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.
The most commonly suggested method of eugenicide in America was a "lethal
chamber" or public locally operated gas chambers. In 1918, Popenoe, the Army
venereal disease specialist during World War I, co-wrote the widely used
textbook, Applied Eugenics, which argued, "From an historical point of view, the
first method which presents itself is execution… Its value in keeping up the
standard of the race should not be underestimated." Applied Eugenics also
devoted a chapter to "Lethal Selection," which operated "through the destruction
of the individual by some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive
cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency."
Eugenic breeders believed American society was not ready to implement an
organized lethal solution. But many mental institutions and doctors practiced
improvised medical lethality and passive euthanasia on their own. One
institution in Lincoln, Illinois fed its incoming patients milk from tubercular
cows believing a eugenically strong individual would be immune. Thirty to forty
percent annual death rates resulted at Lincoln. Some doctors practiced passive
eugenicide one newborn infant at a time. Others doctors at mental institutions
engaged in lethal neglect.
Nonetheless, with eugenicide marginalized, the main solution for eugenicists was
the rapid expansion of forced segregation and sterilization, as well as more
marriage restrictions. California led the nation, performing nearly all
sterilization procedures with little or no due process. In its first twenty-five
years of eugenic legislation, California sterilized 9,782 individuals, mostly
women. Many were classified as "bad girls," diagnosed as "passionate,"
"oversexed" or "sexually wayward." At Sonoma, some women were sterilized because
of what was deemed an abnormally large clitoris or labia.
In 1933 alone, at least 1,278 coercive sterilizations were performed, 700 of
which were on women. The state's two leading sterilization mills in 1933 were
Sonoma State Home with 388 operations and Patton State Hospital with 363
operations. Other sterilization centers included Agnews, Mendocino, Napa,
Norwalk, Stockton and Pacific Colony state hospitals.
Even the United States Supreme Court endorsed aspects of eugenics. In its
infamous 1927 decision, Supreme Court 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." This decision opened the floodgates for
thousands to be coercively sterilized or otherwise persecuted as subhuman. Years
later, the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials quoted Holmes's words in their own
Only after eugenics became entrenched in the United States was the campaign
transplanted into Germany, in no small measure through the efforts of California
eugenicists, who published booklets idealizing sterilization and circulated them
to German official and scientists.
Hitler studied American eugenics laws. He tried to legitimize his anti-Semitism
by medicalizing it, and wrapping it in the more palatable pseudoscientific
facade of eugenics. Hitler was able to recruit more followers among reasonable
Germans by claiming that science was on his side. While Hitler's race hatred
sprung from his own mind, the intellectual outlines of the eugenics Hitler
adopted in 1924 were made in America.
During the '20s, Carnegie Institution eugenic scientists cultivated deep
personal and professional relationships with Germany's fascist eugenicists. In
Mein Kampf, published in 1924, Hitler quoted American eugenic ideology and
openly displayed a thorough knowledge of American eugenics. "There is today one
state," wrote Hitler, "in which at least weak beginnings toward a better
conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model
German Republic, but the United States."
Hitler proudly told his comrades just how closely he followed the progress of
the American eugenics movement. "I have studied with great interest," he told a
fellow Nazi, "the laws of several American states concerning prevention of
reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value
or be injurious to the racial stock."
Hitler even wrote a fan letter to American eugenic leader Madison Grant calling
his race-based eugenics book, The Passing of the Great Race his "bible."
Hitler's struggle for a superior race would be a mad crusade for a Master Race.
Now, the American term "Nordic" was freely exchanged with "Germanic" or "Aryan."
Race science, racial purity and racial dominance became the driving force behind
Hitler's Nazism. Nazi eugenics would ultimately dictate who would be persecuted
in a Reich-dominated Europe, how people would live, and how they would die. Nazi
doctors would become the unseen generals in Hitler's war against the Jews and
other Europeans deemed inferior. Doctors would create the science, devise the
eugenic formulas, and even hand-select the victims for sterilization, euthanasia
and mass extermination.
During the Reich's early years, eugenicists across America welcomed Hitler's
plans as the logical fulfillment of their own decades of research and effort.
California eugenicists republished Nazi propaganda for American consumption.
They also arranged for Nazi scientific exhibits, such as an August 1934 display
at the L.A. County Museum, for the annual meeting of the American Public Health
In 1934, as Germany's sterilizations were accelerating beyond 5,000 per month,
the California eugenics leader C. M. Goethe upon returning from Germany
ebulliently bragged to a key 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
That same year, ten years, after Virginia passed its sterilization act, Joseph
DeJarnette, superintendent of Virginia's Western State Hospital, observed in the
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "The Germans are beating us at our own game."
More than just providing the scientific roadmap, America funded Germany's
eugenic institutions. By 1926, Rockefeller had donated some $410,000 -- almost
$4 million in 21st-Century money -- to hundreds of German researchers. In May
1926, Rockefeller awarded $250,000 to the German Psychiatric Institute of the
Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, later to become the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for
Psychiatry. Among the leading psychiatrists at the German Psychiatric Institute
was Ernst Rüdin, who became director and eventually an architect of Hitler's
systematic medical repression.
Another in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute's eugenic complex of institutions was
the Institute for Brain Research. Since 1915, it had operated out of a single
room. Everything changed when Rockefeller money arrived in 1929. A grant of
$317,000 allowed the Institute to construct a major building and take center
stage in German race biology. The Institute received additional grants from the
Rockefeller Foundation during the next several years. Leading the Institute,
once again, was Hitler's medical henchman Ernst Rüdin. Rüdin's organization
became a prime director and recipient of the murderous experimentation and
research conducted on Jews, Gypsies and others.
Beginning in 1940, thousands of Germans taken from old age homes, mental
institutions and other custodial facilities were systematically gassed. Between
50,000 and 100,000 were eventually killed.
Leon Whitney, executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society declared of
Nazism, "While we were pussy-footing around…the Germans were calling a spade a
A special recipient of Rockefeller funding was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for
Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics in Berlin. For decades, American
eugenicists had craved twins to advance their research into heredity. The
Institute was now prepared to undertake such research on an unprecedented level.
On May 13, 1932, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York dispatched a radiogram
to its Paris office: JUNE MEETING EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS OVER
THREE YEAR PERIOD TO KWG INSTITUTE ANTHROPOLOGY FOR RESEARCH ON TWINS AND
EFFECTS ON LATER GENERATIONS OF SUBSTANCES TOXIC FOR GERM PLASM.
At the time of Rockefeller's endowment, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a hero in
American eugenics circles, functioned as a head of the Institute for
Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Rockefeller funding of that Institute
continued both directly and through other research conduits during Verschuer's
early tenure. In 1935, Verschuer left the Institute to form a rival eugenics
facility in Frankfurt that was much heralded in the American eugenic press.
Research on twins in the Third Reich exploded, backed up by government decrees.
Verschuer wrote in Der Erbarzt, a eugenic doctor's journal he edited, that
Germany's war would yield a "total solution to the Jewish problem."
Verschuer had a long-time assistant. His name was Josef Mengele. On May 30,
1943, Mengele arrived at Auschwitz. Verschuer notified the German Research
Society, "My assistant, Dr. Josef Mengele (M.D., Ph.D.) joined me in this branch
of research. He is presently employed as Hauptsturmführer [captain] and camp
physician in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Anthropological testing of the
most diverse racial groups in this concentration camp is being carried out with
permission of the SS Reichsführer [Himmler]."
Josef MengeleMengele began searching the boxcar arrivals for twins. When he
found them, he performed beastly experiments, scrupulously wrote up the reports
and sent the paperwork back to Verschuer's institute for evaluation. Often,
cadavers, eyes and other body parts were also dispatched to Berlin's eugenic
Rockefeller executives never knew of Mengele. With few exceptions, the
foundation had ceased all eugenic studies in Nazi-occupied Europe before the war
erupted in 1939. But by that time the die had been cast. The talented men
Rockefeller and Carnegie financed, the institutions they helped found, and the
science it helped create took on a scientific momentum of their own.
After the war, eugenics was declared a crime against humanity--an act of
genocide. Germans were tried and they cited the California statutes in their
defense. To no avail. They were found guilty.
However, Mengele's boss Verschuer escaped prosecution. Verschuer re-established
his connections with California eugenicists who had gone underground and renamed
their crusade "human genetics." Typical was an exchange July 25, 1946 when
Popenoe wrote Verschuer, "It was indeed a pleasure to hear from you again. I
have been very anxious about my colleagues in Germany…. I suppose sterilization
has been discontinued in Germany?" Popenoe offered tidbits about various
American eugenic luminaries and then sent various eugenic publications. In a
separate package, Popenoe sent some cocoa, coffee and other goodies.
Verschuer wrote back, "Your very friendly letter of 7/25 gave me a great deal of
pleasure and you have my heartfelt thanks for it. The letter builds another
bridge between your and my scientific work; I hope that this bridge will never
again collapse but rather make possible valuable mutual enrichment and
Soon, Verschuer once again became a respected scientist in Germany and around
the world. In 1949, he became a corresponding member of the newly formed
American Society of Human Genetics, organized by American eugenicists and
In the fall of 1950, the University of Münster offered Verschuer a position at
its new Institute of Human Genetics, where he later became a dean. In the early
and mid-1950s, Verschuer became an honorary member of numerous prestigious
societies, including the Italian Society of Genetics, the Anthropological
Society of Vienna, and the Japanese Society for Human Genetics.
Human genetics' genocidal roots in eugenics were ignored by a victorious
generation that refused to link itself to the crimes of Nazism and by succeeding
generations that never knew the truth of the years leading up to war. Now
governors of five states, including California have issued public apologies to
their citizens, past and present, for sterilization and other abuses spawned by
the eugenics movement.
Human genetics became an enlightened endeavor in the late twentieth century.
Hard-working, devoted scientists finally cracked the human code through the
Human Genome Project. Now, every individual can be biologically identified and
classified by trait and ancestry. Yet even now, some leading voices in the
genetic world are calling for a cleansing of the unwanted among us, and even a
master human species.
There is understandable wariness about more ordinary forms of abuse, for
example, in denying insurance or employment based on genetic tests. On October
14, America's first genetic anti-discrimination legislation passed the Senate by
unanimous vote. Yet because genetics research is global, no single nation's law
can stop the threats.
This article was first published in the San Francisco Chronicle and is reprinted
with permission of the author.