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[Pages 41-52]

Chapter 3

“Euthanasia”

The fundamental principles of criminal procedure were seriously affected inasmuch as expert physicians declare that in all good conscience they could no longer give a diagnosis in dubious cases of the increased insanity of accused persons in order to establish a basis for their confinement in a sanatorium or asylum because such commitment, in its result, was equivalent to the execution of a death sentence without a previous trial in court. – Franz Schlegelberger, acting Minister of Justice (March 1941)[221]

What is interesting and important about the killing programme is not the mad-dog killers, but rather the careful, orderly, and quite methodical manner by which the full German medical and scientific establishment proceeded to kill its patients over a period of years. – Hugh Gallagher[222]

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines euthanasia as “the action of inducing a quiet and easy death.” Derived from the Greek prefix “eu” (goodly, or well) and suffix “thanatos” (death), this grant of a “mercy death” may occur with the consent of the individual concerned, is then termed “voluntary” euthanasia, and was the meaning originally attributed to the expression in ancient Greece and Rome, where it was frequently practised. In his book “Utopia”, in 1516 Sir Thomas More described the ending of the life of the incurably ill as an act of mercy. Essentially, More suggested that such action should never be undertaken without the authority of the sufferer. It is undoubtedly true that for many people, the option of ending one's life in the face of unbearable pain and anguish is the preferable of two equally dreadful alternatives. In an admittedly small survey of adults suffering from a variety of potentially incurable medical conditions, 96 percent felt it was worse to be kept alive under hopeless circumstances with the certainty of impending death than it would be to die, 82 percent felt that total loss of independence would be worse than death, and 73 percent were so averse to a life of unremitting pain and suffering that they would rather be dead.[223] It may be reasonable to assume that these responses typify public attitude toward the question of voluntary euthanasia.

Centuries before More, Plato had rather more callously suggested in The Republic that “defective offspring… will be quietly and secretly disposed of”, and that the state “will provide treatment for those…citizens whose physical and psychological constitution is good; as for the others, it will leave the unhealthy to die.”[224] Eugenicists were (and are) fond of quoting both men. They are less eager to quote Adolf Hitler, who in 1928 wrote in an unpublished manuscript:

While nature only allows the few most healthy and resistant out of a large number of living organisms to survive in the struggle for life, people restrict the number of births and then try to keep alive what has been born, without consideration of its real value and its inner merit. Humaneness is therefore only the slave of weakness and thereby in truth the most cruel destroyer of human existence.[225]

In words that presaged Hitler, the French philosopher, Henri Lichtenberger had written in 1898:

There are unfortunates whom it is inhuman to relieve. There are degenerates whose death should not be delayed…The earth must not be a lazar-house inhabited by the sick and discouraged, or else the healthy man will perish from disgust and pity. To spare future degenerations the depressing sight of misery and ugliness, let us kill all those who are ripe for death, let us have the courage not to retain those among us who are falling, but let us push them so that they may fall even more quickly.[226]

Such thinking led to the concept of “involuntary” euthanasia, as for example when a patient is suffering from an incurable and painful disease or terminal illness, or is in a coma and is considered unlikely to regain consciousness. In such circumstances, a third party or parties may determine to put an end to the patient's suffering. The circumstances are, in general, that the person involved is no longer capable of making up his or her mind and/or of expressing his or her ultimate wish.[227]

Lest it be thought that such notions are outdated, in another experimental survey conducted among 570 students at the University of Hawaii in the early 1970s, 90 percent of those participating agreed that there would always be some people fitter for survival than others; 91 percent agreed that under extreme circumstances elimination of those most dangerous to the general welfare was justified, with 29 percent supporting this option even if it applied to their own families. Moreover, if required by law to do so, no fewer than 89 percent were prepared to participate in the life or death decision-making process, and 9 percent were prepared to assist with the killing, or with both the decision and the elimination of the condemned.[228] Given the ease with which Nazi Germany was able to recruit individuals ranging from university professors to labourers in order to implement its policies, there is no reason to suppose that these are unrepresentative figures.

Nazi “euthanasia” was, in fact, devoid of any humanitarian or compassionate reasoning, but rather was symptomatic of a mercilessly applied pseudo-scientific theory coupled to a ruthless economic policy. The Nazis destroyed “life unworthy of life” (lebensunwertes Leben) as they termed it, not as an act of mercy, but as part of a strategy to murder that part of the population least able to defend itself. That policy came to be directed not only at German citizens, but at those of other eastern European countries which fell under Nazi hegemony. The “euthanasia” programme had nothing to do with concern for the sick and suffering. Rather it formed an essential part of the evolving Nazi policy of extermination on a massive scale. That policy reached its apogee with the industrialised murder of the Jews, but had the programme arrived at its intended conclusion, the eventual death toll would have been immeasurably greater. Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East), the Nazi scheme for the reorganization of the demographic and economic structure of eastern Europe, mainly through depopulation, envisaged the deportation or murder of between 31 and 51 million people, depending upon the ambition of the planner.[229] As it was, deaths attributable in one form or another to the Nazi regime did eventually total countless millions. At the root of many of those deaths lay an obsession with the bogus science of eugenics, and its eventual godchild, state-sponsored murder.

Among those contributing to this concept of a eugenically defined Nazi paradise was Otto Reche, an anthropologist and associate of Eugen Fischer and Fritz Lenz. Reche's speciality was the study of blood types, a matter of supreme importance to the regime. He was an adviser to the SS Race and Settlement Main Office (SS Rasse-und Siedlungshauptamt), to whom he suggested that in order to maintain racial purity, Jews and Poles should be deported from regions where it was intended that Germans were to settle. Shortly after the invasion of Poland in 1939 he wrote to a colleague:

…we need space (Raum) but no Polish lice in our fur. I am absolutely sure that the racial-scientific matter determines the solution of all of these questions, since in the future we do not want to build a Germany in the East that would only be linguistically German but a racial mishmash, with strong Asiatic elements and Polish in character. That would be no German nation, nor a corner stone for a German future!…[230]

Amongst other things, Reche maintained that Volksdeutsche returning to the Reich should first be screened in order to establish that they were acceptable on racial hygienic grounds.[231] He was imprisoned for a brief period after the war, but thereafter, despite his Nazi associations (he had been a member of the Party since 1937), he went on to enjoy a distinguished post-war career, being awarded the Austrian Honorary Cross for Science and Art First Class in 1965.

Adolf Jost had argued in his 1895 book, “The Right to Death” (Das Recht auf den Tod), that if the state demanded the sacrifice of thousands of individuals in wartime, it had the same “right” in times of peace to demand the sacrifice of the impaired and non-productive, who were draining the state of its resources.[232] During the Great War that theory of peacetime civilian immolation became a wartime reality as mortality rates in German asylums soared to unprecedented levels. It has been estimated that approximately 30 percent of the pre-1914 asylum population, or more than 71,000 people, died as a result of malnutrition, sickness or neglect.[233] The British blockade and consequent rationing, coupled with a lack of medication and clothing, poor sanitary conditions and overcrowding all contributed towards the death toll, but attitudes towards the institutionalised had also changed. In 1920, Karl Bonhoeffer, chairman of the German Psychiatric Association observed how

…we were forced by the terrible exigencies of war to ascribe a different value to the life of the individual than was the case before…we had to get used to watching our patients die of malnutrition in vast numbers, almost approving of this, in the knowledge that perhaps the healthy could be kept alive through these sacrifices.[234]

Dr Georg Ilberg, director of the Sonnenstein asylum, commented in 1922:

If one surveys the higher death rate among the mentally ill in psychiatric institutions during the war, the great sacrifice of death that our innocent patients had to offer is naturally painfully regrettable…At any rate, it was not possible and not justified to give the mentally ill more food than the healthy.[235]

In his 1961 evidence to a Frankfurt court, Hans Hefelmann, responsible for handling petitions at the KdF (Kanzlei des Führers der NSDAP - Chancellery of the Führer), testified to the impact this kind of reasoning allegedly had on the decision to introduce “euthanasia” in 1939:

Asylum directors pointed out that there had been an alarming mortality rate during the First World War. It had been much higher than the number of extremely severe, incurable cases that would have been considered for euthanasia…During that time, many doctors and nurses had been called up for military service. Food and pharmaceuticals had become scarce, leading to a great increase in the mortality rate, because what was available had to be distributed equally among the curable and the incurable…If euthanasia were [now] administered to the most serious cases, it would ensure a peacetime level of therapeutic care for less severe cases by making available a relatively large number of nurses within the institution…The doctors stressed that the numerous deaths, confirmed by all parties, that had occurred after even greater suffering during the First World War would provide justification for the recommended euthanasia measures.[236]

Whether this evaluation, that in times of national crisis some lives could be assessed as being worthier of preservation than others, provided at least a part of the necessary stimulus for doctors to adopt and practice the principle of “euthanasia”, seems plausible, if ethically deplorable. Certainly in the years immediately following the First World War, there were German psychiatrists who believed that whilst patients might be entitled to enjoy the same rights as everybody else, they were not entitled to better rights than others, a curious inversion of the concept of healthcare. Instead of defending and preserving the lives of the incapacitated and helpless, these physicians reduced everything to a simple question of economics. If times were hard, they were to be equally hard for all.[237] The most notorious example of this logic was the prize winning essay of 1931 by Emil Bratz, entitled “Can the Care of the Mentally Ill Be Arranged More Cheaply, and How?”, wherein it was proposed that patients with favourable prognoses receive the best treatment, whilst those with less positive diagnoses be removed to inferior institutions, where their care would only cost half as much.[238] On purely economic grounds a distinction was to be made between those mental patients who could be considered “curable” and those who could not. The quality of care each category of patient so assessed was to receive would be decided solely by the application of a financial benchmark.[239]

Yet at the same time, nurses were adjured to respect the dignity of patients, to “treat them in the same friendly, courteous way as other people, and as we ourselves wish to be treated,”[240] and psychiatrists were themselves encouraged “to support with particular love and enthusiasm those to whom nature has not been so kind, so that the way to a life worthy of living is also opened to them.”[241] This dichotomy, contrasting the ruthless application of financial constraints with the traditional caring nature of physicians and nurses, was to become ever more apparent with the advent of National Socialism and the associated application of the tenets of racial hygiene.

Whatever the rationale, there seems little doubt that the events of 1914-1918 did have a profound impact on German thinking so far as the legalization of so-called “mercy killing” was concerned. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in a short (62 page) but extraordinarily influential booklet published in 1920. Twenty-five years after Jost, in Der Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Leben (“The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life”), Karl Binding, a criminal lawyer, and Alfred Hoche, a psychiatrist, proposed that “unworthy life” included not only the incurably sick, but many of the mentally ill and feebleminded, as well as retarded and deformed children. Killing such people was “an allowable, useful act.” History, they believed proved their thesis, and in time society would adopt it:

There was a time, now considered barbaric, in which eliminating those who were born unfit for life, or later became so, was taken for granted. Then came the phase, continuing into the present, in which, finally, preserving every existence, no matter how worthless, stood as the highest moral value. A new age will arrive – operating with a higher morality and with great sacrifice – which will actually give up the requirements of an exaggerated humanism and overvaluation of mere existence.[242]

To the eugenicists, this supposed human detritus appeared to have less intelligence, higher levels of antisocial behaviour, and, accordingly, less value than worthier individuals, such as, naturally, the eugenicists themselves. They were “burdensome existences” (Ballastexistenzen).[243] There had been many others who wrote in a similar vein, but for Binding and Hoche in particular, the right to life was not simply an entitlement - it demanded justification; it was a privilege earned only by being a fully functioning member of society, specifically in economic terms.[244] Writing of those with mental disabilities, and urging the introduction of “involuntary euthanasia”, Binding continued:

Their life is absolutely pointless, but they do not regard it as being unbearable. They are a terrible, heavy burden upon their relatives and society as a whole. Their death would not create even the smallest gap - except perhaps in the feelings of their mothers or loyal nurses.[245]

Although both Binding and Hoche were right-wing nationalists, somewhat ironically, Hoche was privately critical of Nazi eugenic laws, pointing out that their implementation would have precluded the birth of Goethe, Schopenhauer, and Beethoven, among others.[246] However, the unimaginable had occurred; physicians were being encouraged, not to save life, but to take it. And Binding and Hoche had unwittingly introduced both the arguments for and vocabulary of “euthanasia.”[247]

By no means all of the medical profession of that era concurred with the view expressed by Binding and Hoche. Many eugenicists pointed out that their concern was with well-birth, not with well-dying, that is positive rather than negative eugenics. In essence, this was the conceptual difference between sterilisation and “euthanasia.” As reprehensible as compulsory sterilisation may have been, it was conceived of as being anti-cacogenic, not outright murder, except in the limited sense of the murder of unborn future generations, the possibility of whose birth could in any event be adjudged undesirable for one perceived reason or another. Dr E Baege commented in 1931 that “for eugenics, the occasionally occurring thought about extermination of life unworthy of living is of course out of the question. This would undoubtedly be the surest method of hindering offspring; it is just irreconcilable with ethics.”[248] Another doctor, M. Beer, had already written in 1914: “Once respect for the sanctity of human life has been diminished by introducing voluntary mercy killing for the mentally-healthy incurably ill, and involuntary killing for the mentally ill, who is going to ensure that matters stop there?”[249] This is the “slippery slope” argument. In essence the concern is that once such a process has been started, where will it end? Such disquiet could lead to statements such as that of the Catholic Bishop, Joseph V Sullivan, who in 1989 had obviously been inspired by the crimes of the Nazi regime:

If voluntary euthanasia were legalised, there is good reason to believe that at a later date another bill for compulsory euthanasia would be legalised. Once the respect for human life is so low that an innocent person may be killed directly even at his own request, compulsory euthanasia will necessarily be very near. This could lead easily to killing all incurable cancer patients, the aged who are a public care, wounded soldiers, all deformed children, the mentally afflicted, and so on. Before long the danger would be at the door of every citizen…That is why euthanasia under any circumstances must be condemned.[250]

Dr Beer's was a pertinent question, for others in Germany were increasingly less troubled by ethical concerns. In 1922, the popular writer Ernst Mann had demanded the extermination of the mentally and terminally ill, as well as that of crippled and incurably ill children and the killing of the `exhausted.' At the time this was considered an abnormal and extreme view; in little more than a decade it had become official government policy.[251] A year after Baege's comments, another doctor, Berthold Kihn, in a subsequently published lecture entitled “The eradication of the less valuable from society”, suggested that not only were the state's resources being squandered in supporting irresponsible individuals who reproduced without regard to the economic consequences, but that advances in medical care were “keeping beings alive whose value to society is at least regarded as very debatable.” He was able to calculate that killing the mentally ill would save 150 million Reichsmarks and release a substantial pool of labour dedicated to their care. “In the battle against inferiority,” he continued, “every measure that seems inexpensive and effective is permitted.”[252] However, he concluded, such options were unrealistic. Such a change in either the legal or in “somewhat over-developed ethical sensibilities” was unfeasible in the near future.[253] He was a poor judge of the times, for Kihn was himself to become a major player in both sterilisation and “euthanasia” affairs shortly after passing these remarks. Given his published views, this was hardly surprising.

In 1922, an unemployed down-and-out named Florian Huber, who had been severely wounded in the First World War and was a holder of the Iron Cross, was convicted of armed robbery and murder in Bavaria. A psychological examination concluded that Huber “demonstrated some physical evidence of degeneracy.” Rather than concluding that Huber might therefore be unfit to stand trial, his “degeneracy” was taken as evidence that he was probably hereditarily damaged and thus beyond redemption. Huber was executed. A year later, Theodor Viernstein established a “Criminal-Biological Information Centre” in Bavaria to collect details of all known criminal offenders, their families and circumstances. In this way it was believed that hereditary abnormalities could be scientifically pinpointed. Similar organisations soon appeared in other German states. A significant number of those in a position of authority believed that the “asocials”[254] thereby identified, as such troublesome individuals came to be termed, should, at the very least, be compulsorily sterilised in order to prevent their progeny contaminating future society.[255] It was symptomatic of much contemporary thinking. To many psychiatrists logic dictated that since it had been determined to their satisfaction that so much mental disease was hereditary in nature, and the bearers could not be persuaded to voluntarily prevent the passing on of their illness by avoiding reproduction, compulsory sterilisation provided a convenient and permanent answer to the perceived problem. Some went further. A meeting of Bavarian psychiatrists held in 1931 debated the sterilization and “euthanasia” of persons with chronic mental illnesses.[256] Well before the Machtergreifung there were psychiatrists advocating, and in some cases even initiating the killing of their patients, often on eugenically justified cost-cutting grounds. It can thus be seen that whilst the advent of National Socialist government undoubtedly intensified and accelerated the process, notions of compulsory sterilisation and “euthanasia” as a curative were already well-known and perfectly acceptable to certain elements within the medical profession - and elsewhere.[257]

* * *

It is natural to pose the question of how a nation so apparently civilized and singularly cultured came to accept such callous, inhuman, and immoral ideas as the norm, for without the approval of the populace, tacit or otherwise, none of what was to follow would have been possible. To provide an answer, analysts habitually consider the political, social, and economic background of the times. As has been illustrated, many of the medical notions circulating in the early years of the twentieth century concerning the issues under discussion were international. But it is suggested that the circumstances pertaining to their implementation in Germany were unique. The nation-state had itself only been in existence since 1871.[258] Prior to the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918 and the creation of the Weimar Republic in the following year, there had been no centuries-long tradition of democracy. The Weimar government was born out of the disaster of defeat in the Great War, and in the course of the next fifteen years suffered a series of crushing blows. The terms of the humiliatingly punitive treaty of Versailles[259] - the crippling reparations, the loss of 13 percent of Germany's territory, a tenth of its population, and all of its overseas colonies[260] - was followed by hyper-inflation in 1923, and world-wide economic depression in 1929. There had been a brief period of relative stability between the two latter events, but the new democracy was a fragile creature, wracked by bitter street fighting between the political parties of the extreme left and right, with numerous politically motivated murders. By 1932, on the eve of Hitler's attainment of power, unemployment had reached a staggering 6 million, representing almost 25 percent of the workforce. If to this number was added the dependants of the unemployed, about 20 per cent of the entire population, some 13 million people, were effectively on the breadline.[261] Scapegoats had to be found for this seemingly endless chaos. And as the American psychologist, Ervin Staub, writes: “Blaming others, scapegoating, diminishes our own responsibility. By pointing to a cause of the problems, it offers understanding that, although false, has great psychological usefulness. It promises a solution to problems by action against the scapegoat.”[262]

Although all of these factors undoubtedly played some part in the rise of Nazism and the implementation of the National Socialist manifesto, this simplistic explanation contains a fundamental flaw, for it presupposes a set of ethics and morality common to all. It suggests that what occurred during the Nazi era was an example of aberrant human behaviour. Today, we naturally view the actions of the Nazis from the perspective of a liberal democracy. However, history teaches that such high minded principles are not the rule. The concept of `natural law' will be examined later, but ethics and morality have always meant differing things to different people in different places at different times. What if, as has been suggested

During the National Socialist era a large proportion of the Germans were committed to a moral code, which instead of condemning, actually demanded the degradation and persecution of other people, and which among other things prescribed that it was necessary and good to kill?[263]

To some extent this echoes Goldhagen's thesis quoted earlier, but without Goldhagen's specificity relating it solely to Jews. In other words, what today seems to us immoral and repugnant was, at the time, perceived by the perpetrators to be perfectly moral, essential and most of all, desirable. This is not as outlandish as it sounds. When Atzec priests ripped the hearts out of living prisoners in ritual sacrifice, or when the Inquisition ordered heretics burned at the stake, they doubtless felt their actions were morally justified. If indeed, eugenics was the new creed, and Nazism its natural offspring, it was easy to rationalize any act of inhumanity on similar quasi-religious grounds.

The American sociologist, William Isaac Thomas proposed that “if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” People's behaviour is dependent on the manner in which they perceive and define situations; this in turn means that it is conditions that characterize what is considered to be absolutely right in one set of circumstances appearing in another set of circumstances to be absolutely wrong - and vice-versa. This theory also suggests that while the individual may perceive themselves to be perfectly moral and their actions completely justified, viewed from another time and place their behaviour may seem murderously incomprehensible. If this proposition does accurately reflect individual behaviour, it eliminates any suggestion that it was first necessary to overcome moral or ethical scruples before embarking on a policy of mass murder. To the perpetrator, their actions were perfectly moral and ethical in the then prevailing circumstances, so that in later quite different circumstances they were able to see themselves as victims rather than criminals, and self-pityingly proclaim their distress at the duties they had had no option but to perform.[264] A variation on this concept has been suggested by the ethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan. In his belief, physicians did not set aside their ethics during the Nazi era but saw their actions as synonymous with their ethical commitment to heal the people through the elimination of undesirable elements.[265]

Yet all of these arguments raise doubts. If the creators and executors of Nazi eugenic policies were so convinced at the time of committing these acts of being able to justify their actions, why did so many either commit suicide, obtain new identities, emigrate, or simply vanish on the collapse of the regime, if not out of the knowledge of certain guilt? It seems rather that individuals are able to compartmentalise their actions, segregating and rationalizing the most extreme conduct, then revising their perception of that conduct as circumstances change. Or as has been suggested: “Actions must be capable of being endowed with meaning for the person who carries them out and in some way of being incorporated into a self-concept, which does not seriously undermine the subject's personal feeling of moral integrity.”[266] This subject is considered in greater depth in later chapters of this work.

Whatever individual motivation may have been (and there were as many reasons for becoming a perpetrator as there were perpetrators), fertile ground had been prepared for the Nazis by the nineteenth century writings of racists such as the Frenchman, Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau, and the Englishman, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, among many others, with their dissemination of the idea of “Aryan” supremacy and the worthlessness of the Untermenschen, ideas enthusiastically embraced by many of the influential eugenicists of the day. Gobineau was a diplomat and writer who, in his seminal 1851 book Essai sur l'Inégalité des Races Humaines (The Inequality of Human Races), had neatly categorized humanity into three races – the white, the yellow, and the black. Of these the lowest was the black; “His mental faculties…are dull or even non-existent…He kills willingly, for the sake of killing.” The yellow was somewhat higher up the evolutionary ladder, but not by much; “He tends to mediocrity in everything…The brutish hordes of the yellow race seem to be dominated by the needs of the body.” By far the most superior was the white race, which possessed “a monopoly of beauty, intelligence, and strength.” And the best of the best? Why of course the “Aryan”, defined as a nebulous race of Indo-Iranian origin whose descendants were responsible for everything “great, noble, and fruitful in the works of man on this earth.” But even the “Aryan” was in a state of inexorable degeneration because of miscegenation with inferior races. Gobineau had acted first as secretary to Alexis de Tocqueville, then as chief of cabinet when the latter was appointed foreign minister, and it is perhaps best left to de Tocqueville to pass definitive judgement on his protégé's maliciously irrational racist stereotyping. In 1853 he wrote to Gobineau: “I believe that [your doctrines] are probably quite false; I know that they are certainly very pernicious.”[267]

If the dyspeptic Gobineau was not notably anti-Semitic, regarding all of humanity other than the “Aryan” with an equal degree of revulsion, the same could not be said of Chamberlain, to whom all things German were holy. His book Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century), published in 1899-1900, had sold 100,000 copies by 1914, and had run to no less than twenty-eight editions by 1938. The beneficiary of an inheritance that obviated the necessity of his working for a living, in 1885 Chamberlain moved to Dresden, where he became acquainted with Richard Wagner's widow, Cosima. So enamoured with the recently deceased arch anti-Semite Wagner and his family did Chamberlain become, that in 1906 he divorced his wife, married Wagner's daughter Eva, and settled in Bayreuth, a town forever to be associated with the composer. In 1901 a meeting had been arranged between Chamberlain and the Kaiser that was to last two days, at the end of which Chamberlain had convinced Wilhelm that it was the Kaiser's special mission to combat the decadence of contemporary civilization and raise the banner of a revitalizing Aryan racism.[268] Central to Chamberlain's argument was an all-embracing anti-Semitism.

Chamberlain's perception of history was essentially simple; it was no more than an eternal conflict between the forces of good (the “Aryan-Christian worldview”) and evil (“Jewish materialism”). Building upon the foundations laid by Gobineau, Chamberlain went even further than his predecessor by claiming that it was the Teutonic branch of the “Aryan” race that reigned supreme. Germans and Jews were locked in an unending struggle to decide the future of humankind.[269] It is not difficult to see the appeal of such a hypothesis to the nascent fascist, Adolf Hitler, or for that matter the allure of the future Führer to the ideologue Chamberlain, who in October 1923 concluded what amounted to a love letter to Hitler in the following terms:

My faith in Germandom has not wavered for a moment, though my hopes were – I confess – at a low ebb. With one stroke you have transformed the state of my soul. That Germany, in the hour of her greatest need, brings forth a Hitler – that is proof of her vitality…May God protect you![270]

For some of the populace it was but a short step from the pseudo-scientific theorizing of Chamberlain and his successors such as Alfred Rosenberg to wholesale approval of National Socialist policies. If the traditional purity of the Nordic/ Teutonic/”Aryan” race had been maintained, if in the past the resources of the state had not been squandered on worthless individuals, could much anguish have been avoided? And could the despair felt by so many of the population be alleviated now and in the future? Who better to answer these questions than Adolf Hitler, the demagogue who had consistently preached fanatical support for this kind of reasoning, and had been an early and enthusiastic supporter of the prevalent biological gobbledegook, in the process providing deceptively simple answers to immeasurably complex problems? As the eminent post-war German geneticist, Benno Müller-Hill commented, Nazi ideology regarding eugenic matters was easily explained: human differences were based upon an individual's blood, that is to say their genes, and could never be changed. A Jew would always remain a Jew, an anti-social an anti-social, and so on. Those of inferior blood could not receive rights equal to those of superior blood. Moreover, as the possibility existed that the inferior might breed more rapidly than the superior, the inferior must be identified, isolated, and eventually eliminated by one means or another in order to protect `civilization'[271] For, in the words of Victor Klemperer, “…a man can change his coat, his customs, his education and his belief, but not his blood.”[272] Or as a 1937 `Handbook for the Hitler Youth' expressed it: “Environmental influences have never been known to bring about the formation of a new race. That is one more reason for our belief that a Jew remains a Jew, in Germany or any other country. He can never change his race, even by centuries of residence among another people.”[273]

The extent to which the Nazis were prepared to take this ludicrous reasoning is well illustrated by the case of an SA man in southern Germany who was struck by a car close by a Jewish hospital, to where he was taken. There he was given a transfusion of `Jewish blood'. Subsequently the man appeared before an SA tribunal to determine whether his blood had been so tainted as a consequence that he should be ejected from the SA. It was ruled that, although a strict interpretation decreed that the man was now racially impure and should therefore no longer be permitted to remain a member of the organisation, the Jewish donor had fought at the front in the Great War. In the circumstances his contaminated blood was acceptable. The donee was allowed to remain in the SA.[274]

In 1942, when the regime's genocidal activity was at its most deadly, a biology textbook for girls was published which made no secret of where Nazi eugenics led. In a discussion of insect life, the following was observed:

The instinctual state of…ants corresponds to the leadership state among mankind; however, the principles of a perfect insect state give people cause to think. They have preserved bees and ants in the struggle for survival and thereby proved their validity. We earlier noted the following truths…:

  1. The work of the individual has only one purpose: to serve the whole group.
  2. Major accomplishments are possible only by the division of labour.
  3. Each bee risks its life without hesitation for the whole.
  4. Individuals who are not useful or are harmful to the whole are eliminated.
  5. The species is maintained by producing a large number of offspring.

It is not difficult for us to see the application of these principles to mankind.[275]

 

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