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[Pages 20-40]

Chapter 2

Racial Hygiene

What profit does humanity derive from the thousands of cripples who are born each year, from the deaf and dumb, from cretins, from those with incurable hereditary defects etc who are kept alive artificially and then raised to adulthood?...What an immense aggregate of suffering and pain these depressing figures represent for the unfortunate sick people themselves, what a fathomless sum of worry and grief for their families, what a loss in terms of private resources and costs to the state for the healthy! How much of this loss and suffering could be obviated, if one finally decided to liberate the totally incurable from their indescribable suffering with a dose of morphia. - Ernst Haeckel (1904)[72]

Amongst the most fervent of German disciples of Darwin and Galton were Ernst Haeckel (another polymath), the aforementioned Alfred Ploetz, and the physician Wilhelm Schallmayer. Whatever their other differences of interpretation may have been, these and many other influential Darwinians shared a common credo; all observable events, whether religious, ethical or otherwise were subject to scientific diktat. Everything was explicable in terms of simple cause and effect, in the inexorable application of the laws of nature.[73] Accordingly, there was no place for God or divine intervention in their doctrine.

Haeckel named his philosophy monism, which in essence proposed that Homo sapiens were not separate and different from the rest of nature. Everything - all inorganic matter and all life, including that of humans - had material, energetic, and metaphysical aspects. Life was different from inorganic matter only in its degree of organization. If Darwin suggested that all life might have originated from a single organism, Haeckel proposed that life emerged from non-living matter.[74] Haeckel's views on most subjects would be considered somewhat extreme today. He favoured eliminating criminals (killing them was “a good deed for the better part of society”),[75] as well as removing the mentally and physically ill from the hereditary chain.[76] Like many of the eugenicists, he regarded advances in medicine with disdain:

The progress of modern medical science, although still little able really to cure diseases, yet possesses and practises more than it used to do the art of prolonging life during lingering, chronic diseases for many years. Such ravaging evils as consumption, scrofula, syphilis, and also many forms of mental disorders, are transmitted by sickly parents to some of their children, or even to the whole of their descendants. Now, the longer the diseased parents, with medical assistance, can drag on their sickly existence, the more numerous are the descendants who will inherit incurable evils, and the greater will be the number of individuals, again, in the succeeding generation, thanks to that artificial medical selection, who will be infected by their parents with lingering, hereditary disease.[77]

Haeckel was a racist of the most extreme variety, believing as he did that racial extermination was not only inevitable, but beneficial for the evolutionary process. He asserted that no woolly-haired race had ever achieved anything of historical importance.[78] In his 1868 book, The Natural History of Creation, Haeckel wrote that Europeans were taking over the entire world, driving other races to extinction. Whilst that may have been true in contemporary geopolitical terms, his conclusion that “even if these races were to propagate more abundantly than the white Europeans, yet they would sooner or later succumb to the latter in the struggle for life,”[79] has mercifully proved less accurate. As to whether Haeckel was or was not anti-Semitic, there are powerful views for and against.[80] Given the times, it might be considered that this was really a question of degree. Haeckel was opposed to all orthodox religions, and harboured a not uncommon German dislike of Ostjuden, a view which he considered (with some justification) was shared by assimilated German Jews. However, comments such as: “When we make a careful anthropological study of the personality of Christ [the] characteristics which distinguish his high and noble personality…are certainly not Semitical; they are rather features of the higher Aryan race,” suggest a more than passing familiarity with anti-Semitic reasoning.[81] Himself an archetypal “Aryan” in appearance, Haeckel's 1899 book The Riddle of the Universe was to have enormous influence on German eugenic thinking.

Until Haeckel's death in 1919, the Monist League, founded by him in 1906, remained a significant influence within the eugenic movement. Its relevance to Nazism, however, is disputed. Thus, on the one hand it is suggested that the Monist League showed hostility to the National Socialists by opposing Nazism's suppression of individual freedom: “Haeckel and the Monist League promoted many social reforms that were anathema to Hitler, such as homosexual rights, feminism, and pacifism”[82] Others present a differing view:

If one surveys the origins of the Völkisch movement in Germany during the three or four decades prior to the First World War it is apparent that Haeckel played an influential, significant, indeed a decisive role in its genesis and subsequent development. An impressive number of the most influential Völkisch writers, propagandists, and spokesmen were influenced by or involved in some way with either Haeckel or his Monist followers. In the development of racism, racial eugenics, Germanic Christianity, nature worship, and anti-Semitism, Haeckel and the Monists were an important source and a major inspiration for many of the diverse streams of thought which came together later on under the banner of National Socialism.[83]

What is indisputable is that on attaining power, the Nazis banned the Monist League. It seems probable the contrasting opinions quoted above are examples of Hitler's propensity to draw on whatever aspects of political or ethical notions suited his worldview. Nazism was what might be termed a cafeteria ideology - serve yourself from the notions on offer. For there can be no doubt that some features of Monism – eugenics, euthanasia, and racism – did feature prominently in National Socialism. Given the prevailing societal climate, this was hardly coincidental.[84] However, pronouncement's such as:

What in the world has the doctrine of descent to do with socialism ? It has already been abundantly proved on many sides, and long since, that these two theories are about as compatible as fire and water…Socialism demands equal rights, equal duties, equal possessions, equal enjoyments for every citizen alike ; the theory of descent proves, in exact opposition to this, that the realisation of this demand is a pure impossibility, and that in the constitutionally organised communities of men, as of the lower animals, neither rights nor duties, neither possessions nor enjoyments have ever been equal for all the members alike nor ever can be,[85]
were hardly likely to endear Haeckel politically to the Nazis, or for that matter to the communists.

Among those influenced by Haeckel's theories was Friedrich Ratzel, who as a young journalist had spent a good deal of time in the United States, Cuba, and Mexico during the 1870s. Originally a student of zoology, on his return to Germany he became a lecturer in geography, eventually holding a chair in the subject, first at the Technical High School in Munich, then at the University of Leipzig. In the last years of the nineteenth century, Ratzel developed the concept of Lebensraum (“living space”), which held that the conquest of regions outside of Europe by the white race and the banishment (or worse) of the indigenous population which inevitably accompanied it, was a natural consequence of Darwin's “struggle for existence”, coupled to mankind's eternal quest for territorial expansion. It was this constant migratory impulse, Ratzel believed, that drove human history onward. Not to follow it held out the possibility of being overwhelmed by other races better equipped for survival. In other words, imperialism was good, even essential. The disappearance of subjugated “inferior” races was of no account; their extermination could be justified in social Darwinist terms as a clear example of the “survival of the fittest.”[86] It was a proposition to which first Kaiser Wilhelm II and subsequently Adolf Hitler were only too eager to subscribe.

Alfred Ploetz was another heavily influenced by Haeckel,[87] and although opposed to the Nazis prior to their attainment of power, was happy enough to subsequently support them. The Swiss psychiatrist August Forel, who has been nominated as the grandfather of the German eugenic movement, also played a significant role in Ploetz's development.[88] An early advocate of eugenics, Forel proposed that mental illness was not only hereditary but was increasing with the advance of civilization, and he became a major influence on many other eugenicists, including Ernst Rüdin, a classmate and sometime brother-in-law of Ploetz.[89] Writing an 1885 paper on mental asylums, Forel concluded: “I will leave open the question of whether it is the best and most humane way to eradicate such disgusting specimens of [the] human brain by painless death.”[90] He proposed that sterilisation of the insane was a national sacrifice comparable to that made by a soldier in time of war,[91] and was also enough of a racist to be quoted with approval by Houston Stewart Chamberlain:

Professor August Forel, the well-known psychiatrist, has made interesting studies in the United States and the West Indian Islands, on the victory of intellectually inferior races over higher ones because of their greater virility. `Though the brain of the Negro is weaker than that of the white, yet his generative power and the predominance of his qualities in the descendants are all greater than those of the whites. The white race isolates itself [therefore] from them more and more strictly, not only in sexual but in all relations, because it has at last recognised that crossing means its own destruction'. Forel shows by numerous examples how impossible it is for the Negro to assimilate our civilisation more than skin-deep, and how so soon as he is left to himself he everywhere degenerates into the `most absolute primitive African savagery… And Forel, who as a scientist is educated in the dogma of the one, everywhere equal, humanity, comes to the conclusion: `Even for their own good the blacks must be treated as what they are, an absolutely subordinate, inferior, lower type of men, incapable themselves of culture. That must once for all be clearly and openly stated'.[92]

It is illuminating to record that Forel's promotion of racism, enforced sterilisation, and “euthanasia” was conveniently overlooked when in 1986 and 1988 his undoubted other contributions to real science were acknowledged by exhibitions in Zürich and Berne, accompanied by effusive paeans to his standing as “a man who even today can act as a role model and whose work still challenges us.”[93]

Ploetz was elitist, hoping that the Society for Race Hygiene he had jointly founded in 1905 would draw its membership from the upper quartile of the population, those who were supposedly biologically “superior”.[94] However, since there was no objective manner of determining this, he had to settle for a pledge from members to undergo a medical examination before marriage, in order to establish their suitability to reproduce.[95] In his own words, Ploetz believed that “whereas social hygiene aims for the substantial development of social institutions, the goal of race hygiene is to maintain and even strengthen egoism, as it is advantageous for the individuals in their struggle for existence.”[96] To this end, conception was “not to be left to accident, or to an over-excited moment, but rather regulated according to the principles which science has determined for the circumstances and time.” If, despite these strictures, pregnancy should result in an incapacitated child, a “college of physicians…should prepare a gentle death…through a small dose of morphia.”[97]

Ploetz's personal racism was apparent from his decision to name the German eugenics movement “race hygiene” (Rassenhygiene)[98], because, as he put it:

“The hygiene of the entire human species coincides with that of the Aryan race, which, except for a few smaller races, like the Jewish – which in any case is mostly Aryan – represents the civilized race par excellence; to further it [the “Aryan” race] is the same as furthering all of humanity.”[99]

Yet in an apparently contradictory opinion, Ploetz did not subscribe to the view that there were `pure' races anywhere on the globe. All races had been interbreeding for aeons, and the results had not necessarily been deleterious, provided the races in question were genetically similar.[100] Ploetz did not appear to have any difficulty in reconciling these diametrically opposed opinions.

Disciples of Ploetz's interpretation of social Darwinism were not restricted to Germany. Dr. Alois Scholz, who later became chairman of the Wiener Gesellschaft für Rassenpflege (founded 1924), the Austrian (Viennese) branch of Ploetz's German Society for Race Hygiene, explained racial hygiene as follows: “Just as the term implies, it deals with...the care for the gene pool of the people. ...Only if we promote the strong and that which is able to live and wipe out that which is unable to live, as demanded by nature, are we promoting that hygiene, which is useful to the whole.” Some went even further. Professor Dr. Otto Reche, director of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Vienna (of whom more later), commented in 1925: “Racial hygiene must be the basis of all domestic policy and at least a part of foreign policy as well.”[101]

* * *

As early as 1798, the German philosopher Christoph Meiners divided humanity into two categories – the fair-skinned “beautiful”, who were attractive both physically and intellectually, and the dark-skinned “ugly”, who were not merely unattractive, but also semi-civilized.[102] The eminent British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, wrote in 1927: “It seems on the whole fair to regard negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from questions of humanity) would be highly undesirable.”[103] Although Russell's comments were not made in a eugenic context, they illustrate contemporaneous thinking; Caucasians stood at the summit of civilization. This view was common to a multitude of eugenicists – and not just in Germany. In the last years of the nineteenth century, Theodore Roosevelt produced a four volume history of the American frontier entitled The Winning of the West” which included the following: “…but it is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races.”[104]

In evaluating individuals on the basis of worth, racism was never far from the minds of the eugenicists, and was an inherent component of the supposed science.[105] The “darker peoples of southern Europe and the Slavs of eastern Europe are less intelligent than the fair peoples of western and northern Europe” wrote the Harvard psychologist Robert M. Yerkes, adding that the “Negro lies at the bottom of the scale” of intelligence. Harry Hamilton Laughlin, director of the Eugenics Record Office in the United States, compared “human racial crossing with mongrelisation in the animal world” and argued that “immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, especially Jews, were racially so different from, and genetically so inferior to, the current American population that any racial mixture would be deleterious.”[106] The eminent English radical socialist, Sydney Webb, wrote in 1907:

In Great Britain at this moment, when half, or perhaps two-thirds of all the married people are regulating their families, children are being freely born to the Irish Roman Catholics and the Polish, Russian and German Jews on the one hand, and the thriftless and irresponsible. . . on the other. This can hardly result in anything but national deterioration; or, as an alternative, in this country gradually falling to the Irish and the Jews.[107]

But as was so often to be the case, in Germany this racism went just a little further. If European culture was superior, “Aryan” mores reigned supreme. Ploetz was so convinced of this that he formed a secret organisation, The Nordic Ring, to disseminate a more racist form of eugenics, the object of which, he stated, was “a Nordic-Germanic race hygiene.” Ploetz's considered Africans “inferior”, as were Poles, and black Americans unintelligent and immoral.[108] Since for most eugenicists of the early twentieth century, anti-Semitism was a sine qua non, it is hardly surprising that it featured in Ploetzs' rationale, if initially in a somewhat less virulent form than in certain of his contemporaries.[109] Although thereafter somewhat modifying his views, he was hardly reticent about euthanasia either, writing:

In relation to the persistently weak, i.e. the elderly, the incurable, and those who are otherwise defective, a society will be preserved all the better, the more these are disposed of. For their preservation requires sacrifice on the part of the strong and thereby reduces the ability of the whole to preserve itself…Any faulty and defective individuals still produced [later] can only be disposed of by annihilation or expulsion.[110]

At the very least, Ploetz was callous about the value of individual life. “The State is not there to see that the individual gets his rights, but to serve the race,” he stated.[111], and he was equally unfeeling in proposing a policy of killing weak or deformed children.[112] Medical care should not be provided for those of poor genetic quality, for in so doing their survival and, worse, their ability to reproduce was facilitated. This was a common view among racial hygienists; traditional medicine might cure the “worthless” individual, but only at the expense of the betterment of the race. Thus certain diseases were the eugenicists' friends, since they only attacked the weakest in society.[113]

Ploetz's views on the desirability of war were no less harsh. All young men should serve in the army, so that during the campaign the “specially assembled [biologically] bad elements” could be brought “to the place where one needs primarily cannon fodder.”[114] This was far from an outrageous view from the eugenicists' perspective; most of them were militarists, believing that war was a major contributor to human progress, which, if might was indeed right, was logical, if nothing else. Conventional wisdom dictated that war encouraged the development of mankind by benefitting the fit at the expense of the weak. Friedrich Hellwald, for example, commented: “Science knows no `natural right.' In nature only one right reigns, which is no right, the right of the stronger, violence. But violence is also the highest source of law [or right], since without it [i.e.violence] legislation is unthinkable….Properly speaking the right of the stronger has also been valid at all times in human history.”[115] In Britain, Karl Pearson, later the first holder of the Galton Chair of Eugenics at the University of London, claimed in 1900, at the height of the Boer War: “This dependence of progress on the survival of the fittest race, terribly black as it may seem to some of you, gives the struggle for existence its redeeming features; it is the fiery crucible out of which comes the finer metal.” If there was an end to war, “mankind would no longer progress.” Only through war could the advance of the “inferior” be checked and the law of natural selection prevail.[116]

The American eugenicist, David Starr Jordan, believed that war could be seen as the killing off of only the physically fit male members of the population, since the disabled stayed safely at home. It followed that war was only reprehensible when those dying were of “superior” race. Then it became dysgenic. But if warfare succeeded in destroying “inferior” specimens, it became an important contributor to the evolutionary process. It was for this reason most eugenicists regarded the Great War with horror, for it was overwhelmingly the highest race, the Caucasians, who were killing each other, leaving the “inferior” races to thrive.[117] In Germany this had become a commonly accepted philosophy by the turn of the century. If the anthropologist Ludwig Woltmann could propose that the “Germanic race has been selected to dominate the earth”, others viewed that coming domination as a consequence of a genetic imperative which would find its natural expression in warfare. “Without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy budding elements, and a universal decadence would follow,” declared General Friedrich von Bernhardi.[118]

Ploetz's overall reasoning posed a quandary, one that Darwin himself had acknowledged. How was it possible to reconcile the two disparate faces of a society which on the one hand sought to improve the lot of the weak, the poor, and the unhealthy, whilst on the other was dedicated to bettering the quality of the race? Was it not impossible to benefit one except to the detriment of the other?[119] To Ploetz the answer was simple; it lay in racial hygiene, with all that that implied. This was simply a matter of ends and means. If the `valuable' were to thrive, the `worthless' would perforce fall by the wayside.

Wilhelm Schallmayer, originally a student of law and philosophy who turned instead to natural science and medicine,[120] first came to prominence with his 1903 book Heredity and Selection in the Life of Nations: A Study in Political Science on the Basis of the New Biology, winner of the prestigious Krupp Prize competition.[121] In the introduction to his book he wrote: “This view [Darwinism] had an especially powerful influence on ethics. It not only produced new views about the origin and evolution of ethical commands and thus new foundations for them, but it also led to the call for a partial alteration of presently valid ethical views.”[122] Schallmayer believed that Christian morality was not simply outmoded, it was a hindrance to evolutionary progress. What was needed was an abandonment of out-of-date ethics based on religious belief, for like life itself, moral values too must evolve. Whosoever was first to adopt these evolutionary ethics would have an advantage and thus a better chance of prevailing in the never-ending struggle for existence. “The views of Christianity, insofar as they are at all influential, do not have the tendency to improve selection, either consciously or unconsciously, but rather – naturally unconsciously – has the opposite tendency.”[123] So those who after appropriate medical examination were deemed suitable, were not merely to be permitted to marry and reproduce, but positively encouraged to do so by means of financial and other incentives. Polygamy was to be allowed for especially racially valuable male specimens By way of contrast, those who failed the proposed examination would be prevented from reproducing through compulsory sterilisation.[124] Given such a rejection of established moral codes, anything was possible in terms of “negative eugenics”, that is to say the elimination, by one means or another, of those hindering evolutionary progress. Thus, in Schallmayer's view, advances in medicine were not improving the quality of life – they were destroying it:

Of all our cultural achievements which impede natural selection with respect to the human race, medicine was the first to arouse my suspicion. This question was bound to trouble me since I was a medical student at the time. In fact, the joy I derived from my profession subsided as I became more and more convinced that, on the whole, the therapeutic application of medical science not only did not contribute to the perfection of the human species, but often even damaged it.[125]

For Schallmayer, the concept of human rights no longer existed (indeed if it ever had). As a contemporary, Alexander Tille, commented, “Against the rights of the stronger, every historical right is completely invalid.”[126] The individual was valueless; only the continuation and evolution of the species was important. Nor was all life uniformly worthy. “Making the unequal equal can only be an ideal of the weak,” Schallmayer wrote.[127] He and his disciples were opposed to providing medical assistance to women in childbirth, for such aid enabled those who would otherwise not reproduce to do so – and they, inevitably, were “inferior” specimens. Tille approved of killing the disabled, and like Ploetz and Schallmayer, believed that sick children should receive no medical care. Instead they should be left to die, for to do so would effectively strengthen the hereditary link.[128]There was an inherent contradiction in an argument which bemoaned a declining birth rate, yet at the same time wished to encourage that decline. Of course, it all depended upon who was giving birth, a polarity that was to become evident as state policy under Hitler.[129]

If less racist than many of his fellow eugenicists, and judged by the standards of the day, not notably anti-Semitic, Schallmayer was no believer in racial equality either. In rejecting Ploetz's Nordic Aryanism, he still believed that black Africans were mentally and culturally inferior to Europeans.[130] Wars between unequal races were of positive value, because the “inferior” would inevitably be annihilated. “On the whole the influence of war on human evolution should still be considered overwhelmingly favourable.”[131]

* * *

Nowhere was the racist imperialism of Wilhelmine Germany better illustrated than in the Herero campaign in South West Africa (today Namibia), commonly described as the first act of genocide of the twentieth century.[132] As the influence of social Darwinism spread, so with it the concept of Lebensraum developed. The new colonies, chaotic and dangerous, were to become “civilized.” South West Africa was deemed particularly suitable for major colonization, and so became the crucible in which German social hygienic theory was first tested.[133]

As early as 1837, the German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, had written in The Philosophy of History:

The Negro, as already observed, exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state…From these various traits it is manifest that want of self-control distinguishes the character of the Negroes. This condition is capable of no development or culture, and as we see them at this day, such have they always been…it [Africa] is no historical part of the world; it has no movement or development to exhibit…What we properly understand by Africa, is the Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature, and…on the threshold of the World's History.[134]

One hundred years later opinions had not markedly changed, and were applied by the Nazis not to Africa and Africans, but to the inhabitants of the vast “uncivilized” territories of eastern Europe and beyond. Accordingly, Hitler could state in the latter geographical context that “the Germans…will have to constitute among themselves a closed society…the least of our stable-lads must be superior to any native.”[135]

In South West Africa in 1904-1908, native forced labour became an essential component of German colonization, thereby setting the precedent for the Nazi conquest and occupation of eastern Europe in the1940s.[136] In search of Kaiser Wilhelm II's “place in the sun”, and as an intrinsic part of this exercise in empire building, Germany waged a succession of exterminatory wars of colonization in Africa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Theodor Leutwein, Governor of South West Africa 1894 -1905, was explicit concerning his policies, even claiming that native exploitation accorded with eugenic principles, as well as being financially beneficial:

Stripped of all idealistic and humanitarian impediments, the final objective of all colonization is to make money. The colonizing race has no intention of bringing happiness to the aboriginal people, the kind of happiness that the latter perhaps expects. In the first instance, the conquerors seek their own advantage. Such objectives correspond to human egotism, and therefore accord with nature. Colonial policy must therefore be determined by the expected profits. [137]

The man appointed Commissioner for Settlement in South West Africa, Paul Rohrbach, was even more unequivocal in defining the ethos of German colonialism:

It is not right either among nations or among individuals that people who can create nothing should have a claim to preservation. No false philanthropy or race-theory can prove to reasonable people that the preservation of any tribe of nomadic South African Kaffirs…is more important for the future of mankind than the expansion of the great European nations, or the white race as a whole…[138]

The parallels between German military behaviour in the African wars of the late nineteenth century and in the former Soviet Union after Barbarossa in 1941 are demonstrably acute. In both cases there was a refusal to grant the enemy the status of an equal opponent entitled to any fundamental rights. Prisoners were allowed to die through malnutrition, disease, and neglect, or were often simply executed. In South West Africa, Herero and Nama prisoners, including women and children, were imprisoned in concentration camps where the mortality rate was 30-50 percent. The annihilation of civilian populations and a “scorched earth” policy were common to both the campaigns in Africa and those in the Soviet Union forty years later, as was ruthless economic exploitation.[139]

Following a German policy which had the effect of reducing the Herero to the status of second-class citizens by denial of any fundamental human rights, an uprising broke out on 12 January 1904.[140] The authorities in Berlin considered attempts by Leutwein to suppress the insurrection disappointing. A firmer hand was needed to crush the natives and bring total victory. Having already waged a brutal war of suppression in German East Africa, and been a member of the German forces sent to aid in the crushing of the so-called `Boxer Rebellion' in China on 1900-01, General Lothar von Trotha was appointed Commander in Chief of the German army in South West Africa in May 1904. The Kaiser's message to his troops on their departure for China had been:

When you meet the enemy, you will beat him; you will give no pardon and take no prisoners. Those whom you capture are at your mercy. As the Huns a thousand years ago under King Etzel made a name for themselves that has lasted mightily in memory, so may the name “Germany” be known in China, such that no Chinese will ever again even dare to look askance at a German. [141]

Von Trotha and his comrades did not disappoint their Emperor, any more than the forces of the United States, Great Britain, Russia, France, Japan, Italy and Austria sent to crush the rebellion displeased their respective governments. This was the heyday of imperialism – “inferior” indigenous life was valueless.

Arriving in South West Africa on 11 June 1904, von Trotha assumed the dictatorial powers granted to him by the Kaiser, overriding the civilian authorities, including Leutwein. Since he believed that a war in Africa could not be fought in accordance with the principles of the Geneva Convention (again, a parallel with Hitler and Barbarossa), von Trotha concluded that only the extermination of the Herero and later of the Nama would resolve the racial war he was fighting. He was therefore quite prepared to destroy “the rebellious tribes in streams of blood.”[142] Following the battle of Waterberg, his genocidal intentions were made clear in his proclamation of 2 October 1904:

…The Herero people must however leave the land. If the populace does not do this, I will force them out with (cannon). Within the German borders, every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I will no longer accept women and children, I will drive them back to their people or I will let them be shot at…[143]

A convinced racist, Von Trotha justified his actions in eugenic terms: “The philanthropic disposition will not rid the world of the…law of Darwin's, the `struggle of the fittest'”.[144] A newspaper reported him as uttering words which were to become familiar forty years later: “Against `nonhumans' [Unmenschen] one cannot conduct war `humanely'”.[145] The official war history of the campaign made it clear that “the waterless Omaheke [desert] would complete what German weapons had begun: the destruction of the Herero people.”[146] It would be difficult to find a clearer example of unashamed mass murder, a practical application of the racist eugenic theories so prevalent at the time, as a result of which an estimated 65,000, or 81 percent, of Hereros died.[147] A year later von Trotha began another campaign against the Nama (some of whom had been his allies in the war against the Herero), which eventually resulted in a further 10,000 African dead. He called on the Nama to surrender whilst boasting:

The Nama who chooses not to surrender and lets himself be seen in the German area will be shot, until all are exterminated. Those who, at the start of the rebellion, committed murder against whites or have commanded that whites be murdered have, by law, forfeited their lives. As for the few not defeated, it will fare with them as it fared with the Herero, who in their blindness also believed that they could make successful war against the powerful German Emperor and the great German people. I ask you, where are the Herero today?

Yet in the end, this Vernichtungsstrategie (strategy of annihilation) became self-defeating. For as Leutwein, himself considered a relative moderate,[148] remarked:

We have expended several hundred million marks and the lives of several thousand German soldiers. As a result we have. . . . totally destroyed the pastoral industry of our colony. We have destroyed two-thirds of our native labour. Worse still, we have as yet [by March 1906] been unable to restore peace.[149]

Although von Trotha was eventually ordered to change his policies, and was recalled to Germany in November 1905, this was due less to the application of humanitarian principles than to the unfavourable publicity engendered by German atrocities in Africa. Nor did the killing cease with von Trotha's departure. On the contrary, through internment in concentration camps and an intentionally exterminatory policy of forced labour, what is now acknowledged as a clear act of genocide, in the most literal sense, continued unabated.[150] In words that might also have been uttered by Hitler decades later, Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, Chief of the General Staff stated: “The race war, once commenced, can only be ended by annihilation or the complete enslavement of one party.” Von Schlieffen found it a cause of regret that von Trotha had not been permitted to personally complete his policy of extermination.[151]

In an eerie precursor of the activities of Julius Hallevorden and Carl Schneider nearly forty years later, the camp physician of the Shark Island concentration camp, Dr Bofinger, removed the brains of deceased Nama prisoners and forwarded them to the Institute of Pathology in Berlin, where Christian Fetzer attempted to prove the similarities between the Nama and various species of ape. Bofinger was allegedly greatly feared by the prisoners. According to a missionary's report it “was never the case that even a single person recovered in the Lazarett [Field Hospital].” This was hardly surprising, as Bofinger was also conducting medical experiments on living prisoners in a worthless attempt to find a cure for scurvy.[152]

Lest it be thought that imperialist practices of this murderous nature were an exclusively German phenomenon in Africa, mention should be made of Cecil Rhodes and his British South African Company, responsible for the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children in the course of stealing vast areas of land and huge numbers of cattle from the Mashona and Ndebele peoples of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the last decade of the nineteenth century. In 1896, Lord Jarvis, a supporter of Rhodes, wrote: “I hope the natives will be pretty well exterminated . . . our plan of campaign will probably be to . . . wipe them out “. The following year Lord Grey wrote that even the missionary Father Biehler felt: “The only chance for the future of the [Mashona] race is to exterminate the whole people, both male and female, over the age of 14!” Other European nations behaved no better, and in some cases immeasurably worse. In the Belgian Congo, between 1885 and 1920 ten million Africans were killed or worked to death in the ivory and rubber trades. Joseph Conrad called it “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration”.[153] However, although these and other examples provided Hitler with no shortage of precedents for colonial style exploitation on his invasion of eastern Europe, it was the genocidal Wilheminian behaviour in South West Africa that provided the most apposite analogy. As the German anti-Nazi political economist Moritz Julian Bonn commented, National Socialist racial policies were merely amplifications of von Trotha's own murderous racism: “The Nazi creed is based on the same cheap conception of Darwinism, and like their colonial predecessors, they do not believe in the unaided working of this supposed law of nature.”[154]

Within this context, the contribution of Hans Grimm, a once popular author who had spent his formative years in South Africa, is worthy of note. Grimm created a political slogan with his 1926 novel Volk ohne Raum (“Nation Without Space”), accentuating the need for German colonial expansion.[155] Regarded as a classic by the Nazis, the book was a bestseller in the 1930s and 1940s, becoming compulsory reading in German schools.[156] No less than 500,000 copies of the 1,344 page single volume edition had been sold by 1943. Although never a party member, Grimm was predictably right-wing in his political views and supported the Nazis. His first-hand experience of colonial life during the years of the Herero and Nama genocide, as reflected in his writing, was an influential factor in formulating National Socialist expansionist foreign policy propaganda.

* * *

Haeckel, Ploetz, Schallmayer and their fellow eugenicists may have shared a common belief in the inviolability of heredity, but they enjoyed few other opinions in common. Amongst their number were some for and some against abortion and birth control, a number who were pacifists and others who were militarists, some who supported involuntary euthanasia and others who opposed it, differing degrees of racism and anti-Semitism – in fact it seems difficult to find a subject on which there was complete agreement between any two or more parties. Among the most important of these disagreements were debates on two issues; were alleged social “afflictions” such as alcoholism or sexually transmitted diseases hereditary?; and secondly, could the transmission of hereditary traits be affected by external influences, such as environment, education and so on?[157]

Today, the views of some of these eugenicists appear very strange indeed. The Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso believed that criminals were throwbacks to an earlier stage of human evolution.[158] In his view, crime was a disease, and criminality an inherited trait; a `born criminal' could be identified by the presence of certain physical defects, such as a flattened or upturned nose, or fleshy lips. Like Schallmayer, Christian von Ehrenfels suggested polygamy as the answer to biological improvement, with the more valuable males (of whom he was doubtless one) having several wives.[159] August Weisman considered reliance on technology to be harmful to evolution; therefore the myopic should be discouraged from wearing spectacles, and visits to the dentist prohibited, since those with poor eyesight and weak teeth would produce biologically sounder offspring if their conditions were left untreated.[160] Karl Vogt claimed that certain mentally sick individuals were closer to animals than humans (a not uncommon view amongst eugenicists), regarding those so afflicted as a virtual missing link between ape and man.[161] Bartholomäus von Carneri wrote that “entire human tribes stand lower than animals…The mental activity of the elephant, horse, and dog [are] significantly better than the lowest human species.”[162] Franz Carl Müller-Lyer was of the opinion that producing a child with a sick constitution was a crime almost as bad as murder.[163] Eugen Wolfsdorf viewed caring for sick family members to be a waste of money and energy.[164] Alfred Hegar made no distinction between the mentally disabled and criminals. One was mentally “inferior”, the other morally “inferior” – why not kill both?[165] It is difficult to refute the pithy conclusion expressed by the Illustrated London News in 1910: “The only daring suggestion for the improvement of the human race that Eugenics suggests to us is that the world would be a jollier place if there were fewer cranks in it.”[166]

This was a proposition that could certainly have been applied to a man who has become, in effect, the patron saint of post-war right-wing extremism, the Italian philosopher Julius Evola, whose eccentric views were such as to make him too outré even for Mussolini's Fascist Party. Although no “scientific” eugenicist like others mentioned here, he surely is deserving of a place in their company. Not only anti-Semitic, but anti-Christian and anti-modernist as well, Evola peddled a preposterous concept of “Aryanism” that made him a natural bedmate of Heinrich Himmler, whose undercover agent in Italy he was. No Darwinian either, Evola (who seemed to have been opposed to almost everything) wrote: “We do not believe that man is derived from the ape by evolution. We believe that the ape is derived from man by involution.” Darwin's theories “promulgate a distorted and mutilated concept of man.”[167] In February 1940 Evola had published an article on “Jews and Mathematics” in which he concluded that Judaism existed in complete opposition to “Aryan civilization”.[168] It therefore comes as no surprise that Evola moved to Germany after Italy's surrender in September 1943, there finding a natural home in Himmler's Ahnenerbe (see chapter 10) along with a host of other crackpots.

The list of eccentric viewpoints is lengthy. However, the cornerstone of heredity was common not only to those who might be considered to have held somewhat unconventional opinions, but to global perceptions of the new religion. The eugenics movement was, after all, international,[169] (the world's first professorial chair in eugenics was established in 1911 at University College London), but as has been illustrated, it became particularly influential in Germany. Specific individual sources for Hitler's eugenic thinking are generally difficult to identify with certainty, and have been the subject of much scholarly debate,[170] but there are some influences which are indisputable. Prime among these is Fritz Lenz.

Lenz was born in 1887 in Pflugrade, Pomerania, now Redlo, Poland. As a medical student at the University of Freiburg he was a pupil of the racial anthropologist Eugen Fischer, author in 1913 of a highly successful book entitled Rehobother Bastard und das Bastardisierungsproblem beim Menschen (The Rehoboth Bastards and the Bastardization problem Among Humans), a study of the descendants of mixed marriages between European men and African women in a German South West African community. Needless to say, Fischer disapproved of such racial mixing, and supported segregation in German colonies.[171] A complete lack of evidence was no impediment to his claim that the children of mixed marriages were of “lesser racial quality”.[172] In this he merely reiterated the fallacies expounded by “scientists” like Felix von Luschan, Director of the Berlin Museum of Ethnology, who had proposed that in mixed race populations the blood of the “inferior” race would increasingly dominate in successive generations, until a point would eventually be reached when the progeny of such inter-breeding would regress to a point where only pure-blooded members of the “inferior” race were produced.[173] This kind of inverted Spencerian nonsense, a theory which might be termed “the survival of the unfittest”, was fully endorsed by Fischer, who continued that, so far as “inferior” races were concerned:

One should grant them the amount of protection that an inferior race confronting us requires to survive, no more and no less and only for so long as they are of use to us – otherwise free competition, that is, in my opinion, destruction.[174]

Ignoring his prognosis and continuing racial mixing in the manner of the Rehoboth Bastards was a recipe for disaster so far as the “superior” race was concerned. After all, it was in Fischer's view irrefutable that “every European people that has adopted the blood of inferior races – and that Negroes…and many others are inferior only mad people would deny – has, without exception, atoned for the adoption of these inferior elements with their mental and cultural downfall.”[175]

In the prevailing climate Fischer was pushing against an open door, his “research” merely reinforcing existing prejudices and stereotypes. As a reward for his book, and in a triumph of style over substance, Fischer was made a full professor, and was later appointed director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institut für Anthropologie, menschliche Erblehre und Eugenik (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, the Teaching of Human Heredity, and Eugenics).[176] From 1933-35 he served as chancellor of Berlin University,[177] where in his inaugural address he proudly boasted: “What Darwin was not able to do, genetics has achieved. It has destroyed the theory of the equality of man.”[178]

Lenz, who also studied under Ploetz, was a convinced racist eugenicist, publishing the magazine Archiv für Rassen- und Gesellschaftsbiologie (Archive for Racial and Social Biology) between 1913 and 1933. In 1917 he also published an essay, republished in 1933 with a preface stating that this work contained the essence of Nazism: “Everything comes from the ideal of the race: culture, evolution, personality, happiness, redemption…With every activity and with every inactivity we have to ask ourselves: Does it benefit our race? And to make our decision accordingly.”[179]

Together with Erwin Baur and Eugen Fischer, in 1921 Lenz authored Grundriss der menschlichen Erblichkeitslehre und Rassenhygiene (Outline of Human Genetics and Racial Hygiene)[180] This work and his theory of “race as a value principle” promoted Lenz and his two co-authors to the position of Germany's leading racial theorists, since their ideas provided “scientific” justification for Nazi ideology, particularly the emphasis on “Aryan” superiority, and the desirability of eliminating “inferior” humans. The Baur-Fischer-Lenz opus went through five editions by 1940, and was considered serious scientific research at the time - and not only in Germany.[181] It was received favourably in the Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, and many other countries. In the United States it was hailed as “the standard textbook of human genetics”, which given some of the odd conclusions it contained now seems difficult to believe.[182]

Lenz was appointed as the first associate professor of race hygiene in Germany at the University of Munich in 1923.[183] At that time he was critical of what he perceived to be German sloth in dealing matters of sterilisation, complaining that the medical provisions of the Weimar Constitution prevented the undertaking of an adequate number of vasectomies. Moreover, Germany had no legislation equivalent to the American laws preventing marriage between people suffering from conditions such as epilepsy or mental illness, or between individuals of different races. Lenz's only criticism of America was a perceived insufficient focus on “Aryan”, as opposed to white, supremacy,[184] since he believed the Nordic race creatively and intellectually superior to any other.[185] Lenz claimed that the revolutionary turmoil in Germany after 1918 was caused by inferior racial elements. He warned that the nation's racial superiority was threatened, stating: “The German nation is the last refuge of the Nordic race...before us lies the greatest task of world history”.

For Lenz, compulsory sterilisation was a sacred mission.[186] “As things are now,” he pronounced in 1934, “it is only a minority of our fellow citizens who are so endowed that their unrestricted procreation is good for the race.”[187] Like Schallmayer and Ehrenfels, he favoured polygamy (that is for those suitable), but realized the impossibility of its adoption in the foreseeable future. [188] And like so many other eugenicists he opposed the protection of “inferior” individuals, and supported the killing of disabled children.[189] But there were times when Lenz came across characters with opinions even more radical than his own. At a committee meeting attended by Himmler, Lenz opposed equality for illegitimate children because he believed it would have a negative hereditary effect. Himmler disagreed, arguing that illegitimacy was no disgrace. On the contrary, equality was necessary for the illegitimate in order to ensure a high birth rate and ward off the proliferation of homosexuality and abortion.[190] Himmler at least practiced what he preached, fathering two illegitimate children.

Both Himmler and Lenz would probably have agreed with the Hungarian, Jenõ Vámos, who theorized that if we want to improve the Caucasian race, those individuals are a priori suitable who bear the typical characteristics of the race, provided they serve a social purpose. On the other hand, for instance such individuals, who show characteristics contrary to their sexual nature – like the homosexuals – are a priori unsuitable, even if, in other aspects, they do befit a social purpose.[191]

Himmler indicated his obsession with these matters in 1936 with the creation of a Central Office to Combat Homosexuality and Abortion, an organisation which, in true Orwellian fashion, maintained records of both women who had had abortions as well as those members of the medical profession who had procured them. The introduction to his secret directive of 10 October 1936 on the subject began:

The serious danger to population policy and public health represented by the still relatively high number of abortions which are a major violation of the fundamental National Socialist worldview, as well as the homosexual activity of a not inconsiderable layer of the population which poses one of the greatest dangers to youth, requires more than before the effective combating of these public scourges.[192]

Despite some initial consequential prosecutions, ultimately Himmler was no more successful in curtailing perceived undesirable traits in human sexuality than those who attempted to do so both before and after him.[193]

Lenz's views on motherhood were, if anything, even more extreme than his opinions on sterilisation and illegitimacy. When reviewing an article by Eugen Fischer for a 1913 dictionary, in which Fischer proposed that a healthy woman ought to give birth to eight or nine children during the course of her lifetime, Lenz declared that Fischer's submission was quite inadequate:

It is a fact that a woman is capable of giving birth for a period of nearly thirty years. Even when we consider a woman giving birth only once every two years, this means a minimum of fifteen births per mother. Anything less than this must be considered the result of unnatural or pathological causes.[194]

Such was the judgement of Nazism's leading eugenicist. As a reward for his promotion of racist eugenic views, in 1933 the Nazis appointed Lenz director of the eugenics section at the aforementioned Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and a professor at the University of Berlin.[195] Initially, Lenz's anti-Semitism appeared to be of the less extreme variety. In 1931 he wrote: “We must of course deplore the one-sided anti-Semitism of National Socialism. Unfortunately, it seems that the masses need such `anti' feelings.” Predictably, however, he then attempted to rationalise the racism he had just deplored:

…we cannot doubt that National Socialism is honestly striving for a healthier race. The question of the quality of our hereditary endowment is a hundred times more important than the dispute over capitalism or socialism, and a thousand times more important than that over the (Weimar Republic.)[196]

Notwithstanding his earlier moderation, he subsequently found no difficulty in justifying the Nuremberg Laws of 1935:

As important as the external features for their evaluation is the lineage of individuals. A blond Jew is also a Jew. Yes, there are Jews who have most of the external features of the Nordic race, but who nevertheless display Jewish mental tendencies. The legislation of the National Socialist state therefore properly defines a Jew not by external race characteristics, but by descent.

By now firmly toeing the Party line, in 1940 Lenz described the replacement of Jews and Slavs in occupied eastern Europe to be “the most weighty task of racial politics.” Settlers there should be chosen “according to the criteria used by the SS to select racial settlers.”[197]

After the war, Lenz continued to work as a professor of genetics at the University of Göttingen. When questioned, he stated that the Holocaust would undermine the study of human genetics and racial theory, and continued in his belief that the eugenic theories of racial differences had been scientifically proven. He died in 1976 in Göttingen. Ironically, his son Widukind was a rather more distinguished geneticist, being among the first to recognize the dangers to unborn children of the drug thalidomide. Unlike his father, Widukind Lenz, who died in 1995, was recognized and respected during his lifetime as an eminent physician and humanitarian.

* * *

In truth, there was little, if anything, original in Nazi ideology, if indeed National Socialism as a political credo can be considered ideological at all in any meaningful sense. As has been observed: “[National Socialism] had no doctrine in the proper sense of the word…The ideas – few in number and crude as well as shallow – that formed the hard core of the national socialist creed had hardly sufficient logical coherence to deserve the name of ideology…”[198]> Lebensraum, eugenics, racism, anti-Semitism, fascism, nationalism, militarism, anti-capitalism and the like, all had significant antecedents in Germany. As has been observed: “Hitler did not invent much. Most of the time he was content to take up ideas that were already in the air and to carry them to their ultimate conclusion. Euthanasia and profound meditations on `lives that did not deserve to be lived' were commonplaces at that time.”[199] The uniqueness of Nazism was to pull the miasma of these disparate elements together into a noxious totalitarian entirety.

Despite the inflammatory rhetoric, many of Nazism's extreme policies appear to have had limited appeal to Germans as a whole. Having peaked at 37.4 percent in the election of 31 July 1932, the Nazi share of the national vote had declined to 33.1 percent in the final “free” election of 6 November 1932,[200] which would seem to indicate that, to take but a single element, the NSDAP's[201] vehemently antagonistic Jewish policy did not, as some have suggested, signify a singularly Germanic eliminationist anti-Semitism.[202] In fact, so far as this particular issue is concerned, there is scant evidence that German (as opposed to Nazi) anti-Semitism was eliminationist at all, except in its consequences. Negative racial stereotyping is hardly uncommon in most societies, and anti-Semitism was so commonplace in pre-World War II Europe and the United States that its appearance in publications of the day, both popular and academic, and in public pronouncements, was considered no more than the norm.[203]> However, the extent to which Jews were represented in many professions provided fertile soil for the Nazis to plough; in Germany between 1918 and 1933 Jews made up 0.78 percent of the population, but numbered 16 percent of the doctors, 15 percent of the dentists, 25 percent of the lawyers, 50 percent of the theatre directors, and occupied 80 percent of the leading positions on the Berlin stock exchange. In Vienna in 1936 it was estimated that 62 percent of all lawyers were Jewish, as were 47 percent of physicians, and nearly 29 percent of university tutors.[204] Yet at the same time, little more than one-quarter of one percent of Austrian government employees were Jewish – an example of a centuries-old endemic anti-Semitism, if religious rather than racial in character.[205] On 27 April 1933, the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper concluded:

A self-respecting nation cannot, on a scale accepted up to now, leave its higher activities in the hands of people of racially foreign origin…Allowing the presence of too high a percentage of people of foreign origin in relation to their percentage in the general population could be interpreted as an acceptance of the superiority of other races, something decidedly to be rejected.[206]

The `what if' school of history is normally to be avoided at all costs, but with regard to the manner in which racial hygiene came to be applied by the Nazis, a modest degree of speculation may be permissible. Given the National Socialist's declining share of the electoral vote, it is interesting, but of course ultimately futile, to speculate about the direction German politics might have taken if Hitler had not been invited to form a government on 30 January 1933. Still, most aspects of the eugenic policies the Nazis were to pursue were inherited from the Weimar Republic, and merely required their implementation by this most radical of regimes.[207] In view of the negative eugenic strategy being advocated and often followed in the United States, Sweden, and elsewhere at this time, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the adoption of at least some form of compulsory sterilisation might have been embraced in Germany whatever the political persuasion of the newly inaugurated government.[208] Moreover, it would be mistaken to assume that in the first decades of the twentieth century, racial hygiene or indeed racism of the crudest kind was exclusively a fascist, or even a notably right-wing obsession. It was embraced with equal enthusiasm by many on the left of the political spectrum, by social democrats as well as conservatives. In 1931 the German Communist party supported sterilisation of psychiatric patients under certain conditions, and between 1931 and 1938 Germany and the Soviet Union shared a joint Institute for Racial Biology in Moscow.[209] But of course, in this as in so many other matters, the Nazis adopted the most extreme position.

Nor should it be assumed that the National Socialist eugenic Weltanschauung (world view) was derived solely from Darwinism and the supposedly “scientific” reasoning to which it gave birth. There was no shortage of contributors to the melange of fin-de-siècle German political philosophy. The Nietzschean rejection of Judeo-Christian morality, indeed of religion itself (“God is Dead”) found many adherents. Nietzsche proclaimed himself an anti-Darwinist, although there was sufficient ambiguity in his writings to suggest otherwise for Darwinian enthusiasts. In The Will to Power, Nietzsche wrote:

The Biblical prohibition `thou shalt not kill!' is a piece of naiveté compared with the seriousness of the prohibition of life to decadents: `thou shalt not procreate' – Life recognizes no solidarity, no `equal rights' between the healthy and the degenerate parts of an organism: one must exercise the latter – or the whole will perish. – Sympathy for the decadents, equal rights for the ill-constituted – that would be the profoundest immorality, that would be antinature itself as morality.[210]

No eugenicist could have expressed the concept better. Moreover there are many other passages in Nietzsche which indicate, at the very least, sympathy for the negative eugenic viewpoint.[211] However, the hypothesis for which he is perhaps best remembered today, his vision of the `Superman' as a creative genius who would dominate others by intellectual rather than biological superiority, was subject to wilful misinterpretation, particularly by the Nazis, who adapted Nietzsche's notion to serve their own rationale of the Übermensch as a racial prototype.[212] In this they also conveniently overlooked Nietzche's approval of the inclusion of the Jews as part of what he termed “the strongest possible European mixed race,” a notion that hardly sat well with Hitler's maniacal Judeophobia.[213] Through careful selection of his writings, the Nazis felt confident enough of their interpretation of his philosophy to assert “…that only a conscious National Socialist can fully comprehend Nietzsche.”[214] He was, they claimed, one of their own, an uncompromising anti-Semite.[215] This adoption conveniently overlooked the irony that his insanity would actually have made Nietzsche singularly suitable for inclusion in the Nazi's own “euthanasia” programme.[216]

A major influence on Anglo-German relations in the years preceding the First World War, the philologist and philosopher, Alexander Tille, was the first to translate and edit Nietzche's works in English. A conservative Social Darwinist, Tille was a prominent member of the burgeoning movement, with observations such as: “When marriage to a sick wife produces sick cripples, then that deed deserves condemnation, it is an immoral act – even if conventional ethics praises it as a deed of heroic, altruistic self-sacrifice.” Tille found natural selection functioning in some unusual places and ways:

Nature, acting ineluctably, eliminates human beings who have degenerated into animals from amongst the ranks of the rest, thus East London operates to an extent as a national sanatorium; any attempt to help the “unfortunate” only reduces Nature's enormous significance in this regard.[217]

The ruling Social Democrat Party in Prussia unsuccessfully attempted to force through a National premarital form of eugenic certification in 1919-20.[218] However, the regional governments of Saxony and Thuringia were able to convince the Reich government into revising the clause in the Reich Criminal Code pertaining to offences against the person so as to permit doctors to carry out voluntary eugenic sterilisations. In Saxony, the district physician of Zwickau, Gustav Boeters, had drafted a law entitled “The prevention of unworthy life through operative measures”. He then lobbied the regional government unceasingly for the introduction of such legislation – in short, a compulsory Sterilisation Law for those deemed “inferior”. In a letter of 3 December 1923 he boasted that he and other physicians were already sterilizing disabled individuals against their will:

To my knowledge, I am the first German medical official who has dared to translate the aims of practical racial hygiene into action in his area of professional responsibility. We in Zwickau have undertaken sterilisation operations on mental defectives and others, under the aegis of our highest public authorities…since in many cases the consent of parents and others is not to be had at any price, even though the necessity of an operation is clearly evident for anyone not himself a mental defective, I urge the introduction of legislative coercion.[219]

In 1928, the Criminal Law Committee of the Reichstag debated the voluntary sterilisation of 'hereditarily ill criminals' as the price to be paid for their early release from custody. Again, this debate produced no legislation. Eventually, the Prussian Health Council formed a commission, which in October 1932 presented a draft Sterilisation Law to the Prussian government. Both Prussia and Saxony then lobbied the Reich government to introduce this at federal level. By the time this bill had passed through the legislative process, the Nazis were in power, with their own distinctive brand of eugenics.[220]

 

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