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Eugenics and the Development of Nazi Race Policy
NWT CollegeRoute 1, Box 246A
Archbold, Ohio 43502
From: PSCF 44 (June 1992): 109-124.
A central government policy of the Hitler administration was the breeding of a “superior race.” This required, at the very least, preventing the “inferior races” from mixing with “superior” ones in order to reduce contamination of the latter’s gene pool. The “superior race” belief is based on the theory of group inequality within each species, a major presumption and requirement of Darwin’s original “survival of the fittest” theory. A review of the writings of Hitler and contemporary German biologists finds that Darwin’s theory and writings had a major influence upon Nazi policies. Hitler believed that the human gene pool could be improved by selective breeding, using the same techniques that farmers used to breed a superior strain of cattle. In the formulation of his racial policies, he relied heavily upon the Darwinian evolution model, especially the elaborations by Spencer and Haeckel. They culminated in the “final solution,” the extermination of approximately six million Jews and four million other people who belonged to what German scientists judged were “inferior races.”
The concept that “all men are created equal” and the egalitarian ideal which has dominated American ideology for the past thirty years, and to a lesser degree since the founding of our country, has not been universal among nations and cultures (Tobach et al. 1974). The Germans’ belief that they were a superior race had many sources, a major one being the social Darwinian eugenics movement, especially its crude survival of the fittest world view (Stein 1988, Clark 1953). As Lappe noted:
Although the idea of improving the hereditary quality of the race is at least as old as Plato’s Republic, modern eugenics thought arose only in the nineteenth century. The emergence of interest in eugenics during that century had multiple roots. The most important was the theory of evolution, for Francis Galton’s ideas on eugenics–and it was he who created the term “eugenics”–were a direct logical outgrowth of the scientific doctrine elaborated by his cousin, Charles Darwin (1978, 457).
Eugenics’ all important impact on Nazi policy can be evaluated accurately by an examination of the extant documents, writings, and artifacts produced by Germany’s twentieth century Nazi movement. Historical documents show that Nazi governmental policy was openly influenced by evolution, the zeitgeist of both science and educated society of the time (Stein 1988, Haller 1971, Keith 1946, 230). The Nazi treatment of Jews and the other “races” that their science concluded were “inferior” was largely a result of their belief that the source of biological evolution was a set of proven techniques available to scientists to significantly improve humankind. As Tenenbaum noted:
the political philosophy of the… German State, was built on the ideas of struggle, selection, and survival of the fittest, all notions and observations arrived at… by Darwin… but already in luxuriant bud in the German social philosophy of the nineteenth century…. Thus developed the doctrine of Germany’s inherent right to rule the world on the basis of superior strength… of a “hammer and anvil” relationship between the Reich and the weaker nations (1956, 211).
Implementation of Nazi Race Theories
The means of evolution are drawn primarily from the process of mutations, which are then selected by natural selection. Favored individuals will be more likely to survive and increase in number, forming new races while the “weaker” ones will die off. This process, once called raciation but labeled speciation today, is the source of evolution which, in theory, continues forever. If every member of a species were fully equal, there would be nothing to select from, and evolution for that species would stop. Evolution is based on the acquiring of unique traits, whether through mutations or other means, that enable those possessing them to better survive adverse conditions than those who don’t.
According to evolution theory, some people (even if it is only one person) will inherit a mutation which will be passed on and which will enable them to survive at a higher rate than those without that trait. These differences will always gradually produce new races, some of which have an advantage in terms of survival. These are the superior, i.e., the more evolved, races. When that trait eventually spreads throughout the entire race, because of the survival advantage it confers on those endowed with it, a new and “higher level” of animal will exist. Hitler and the Nazi party claimed that they were trying to apply this accepted science to society. And “the core idea of Darwinism is not evolution, but selection. Evolution… describes the results of selection” (Stein 1988, 53). Hitler stressed that “we [the Nazis] must understand, and cooperate with science”:
In 1937, while Mengele was still in residence [for his M. D. degree], Otmar von Verschuer published an article in which he said, “Hitler is the first statesman who has come to recognize hereditary biological and race hygiene and make it a leading principle of statesmanship.” Two years later von Verschuer announced: “We specialists of race hygiene are happy to have witnessed that the work normally associated with the scientific laboratories or the academic study room has extended into the life of our people” (Astor 1985, 23).
Darwin’s evolutionary ideas were exported into Germany almost immediately. The first language into which his writings were translated–only a year after The Origin of Species was published–was German. Darwinian evolution was not only championed in Germany more than most other countries, but it was more influential on German state policy. Gasman (1971, xiii) concluded that
[i]n no other country… did the ideas of Darwinism develop as… the total explanation of the world as [it did] in Germany… [or insist] on the literal transfer of the laws of biology [as interpreted by evolution] to the social realm.
This path was started at the 1863 Congress of German Naturalists. At this meeting, one of evolutions’ leading proponents and writers, Ernest Haeckel, “a respected professor of zoology” at the University of Jena, first forcefully presented the views which commenced his four decade long role as “Darwin’s chief apostle” (Stein 1988, 54). He was especially active in spreading “social Darwinism,”–the application of Darwinian theory to society in order to explain the historical and social development of civilizations, specifically why some were advanced and others remained primitive. But, as Gould (1977, 77-78) concluded,
… Haeckel’s greatest influence was, ultimately, in another, tragic direction–national socialism [Nazism]. His evolutionary racism; his call to the German people for racial purity and unflinching devotion to… his belief that harsh, inexorable laws of evolution ruled human civilization and nature alike, conferring upon favored races the right to dominate others…. His brave words about objective science–all contributed to the rise of Nazism. The Monist League that he had founded and led… made a comfortable transition to active support for Hitler.
Aside from Haeckel, the person most influential in helping the spread of Darwin’s ideas in Germany was Houston Chamberlain, the son of a British Admiral and a German mother. In 1899 he published The Foundations of the 19th Century, which concluded that Darwinism had proved that the Germans were superior to all other races (Weindling 1989). Germans were the “foundation” of our society because they produced the industrial world. Chamberlain quoted extensively from Darwin, noting that the latter stressed that a major difference between apes and humans was brain size. The brain, he stressed, is of far more importance than any other body structure in measuring human evolution progress. The larger the brain capacity, it was then believed, the higher the intelligence. Chamberlain also was interested in phrenology, the now discredited science of determining personality traits by examining and measuring the shape and size of the bumps on one’s skull (Jacquerd 1984). Certain traits, the phrenologists reasoned, were located in specific parts of the brain, and if one had developed some trait to an exceptional degree, a “bump” would exist in the appropriate place. Lastly, they concluded that the configuration of the brain and other physical traits can be used to distinguish not only humans from monkeys, but also to rank the races. This idea received wide support from
… the German academic and scientific communities… who helped prepare the way for national socialist biopolicies…. Beginning in the 1890s with the work of Otto Ammon on cephalic indexes and other such scientific proof of Aryan superiority, much German anthropology, especially the most scientific branch, physical anthropology… [concluded that] If humankind evolved through natural selection… then it was obvious that the races of humankind must be arranged hierarchically along the ladder of evolution…. there is little doubt that the anthropologists who discovered all the measurable divergent physical, psychological, and mental characteristics of the various races thought they were scientific. And so did the general public (Stein 1988, 57).
Chamberlain concluded that Darwinism had proved that the
Germans were superior to all other races.
The inequality doctrine, although an integral part of German philosophy for years, reached its apex under the Hitler regime, and obtained its chief intellectual support from established science (Weiss 1988, Aycoberry 1981). Ernst Haeckel taught that “the morphological differences between two generally recognized species–for example sheep and goats–are much less important than those… between a Hottentot and a man of the Teutonic race” (1876, 434). And that the Germans have evolved the “furthest from the common form of apelike men [and outstripped]… all others in the career of civilization” and will be the race to bring humankind up to a “new period of higher mental development” (1876, 332). This was true, not only mentally but physically, because evolution achieves “symmetry of all parts, and equal development which we call the type of perfect human beauty” (1876, 321).
The inequality doctrine, although an integral part of German philosophy for years,
reached its apex under the Hitler regime,
and obtained its chief intellectual support from established science.
The lesser races were both inferior and worth less: “woolly-haired” peoples, he concluded, are “incapable of a true inner culture or of a higher mental development… no woolly-haired nation has ever had an important history” (1876, 10). Haeckel even argued that, since “the lower races–such as the Veddahs or Australian Negroes–are psychologically nearer to the mammals–apes and dogs–than to the civilized European, we must, therefore, assign a totally different value to their lives” (1905, 390). And Stein notes that this was not a minority or an extreme view: “Haeckel was the respected scientist; the views of his followers were often more extreme” (Stein 1988, 56).
As a race above all others, the Aryans believed that their evolutionary superiority gave them not only the right, but the duty, to subjugate all others. And race was no minor plank of the Nazi philosophy: Tenenbaum (1956,211-212) concluded that they
incorporated the… theory of evolution in their political system, with nothing left out…. Their political dictionary was replete with words like… struggle, selection, and extinction (Ausmerzen). The syllogism of their logic was clearly stated: The world is a jungle in which different nations struggle for space. The stronger win, the weaker die or are killed. In the 1933 Nuremberg party rally, Hitler proclaimed that “higher race subjects to itself a lower race… a right which we see in nature and which can be regarded as the sole conceivable right because [it was] founded on reason [of evolution]” (Quoted from The Nuremberg Trials, Vol. 14, pg. 279).
The Nazis believed that they must “direct evolution” to advance
the human race by isolating the “inferior races” to prevent them from
further contaminating the “Aryan” gene pool.
The Nazis believed that, instead of permitting natural forces and chance to produce what it may, they must “direct evolution” to advance the human race. To achieve this, their first step was to isolate the “inferior races” to prevent them from further contaminating the “Aryan” gene pool (Poliakov 1974). The widespread public support for this policy was a result of the common belief of the educated classes that it was scientifically proven that certain races were genetically inferior. The government was simply applying, as part of their plan for a better society, what they believed was proven science to produce a superior race of humans: “The business of the corporate state was eugenics or artificial selection–politics applied to biology” (Stein 1988, 56). In Hitler’s writings, humankind were biological “animals” to whom the genetics learned from livestock breeding could be applied. As early as 1925, in Chapter 4 of Mein Kampf, Hitler outlined his view that science, specifically the Darwinian natural selection struggle, was the only basis for a successful German national policy that the very title of his most famous work–in English My Struggle–alluded to. As Clark (1953, 115) concluded,
Adolf Hitler’s mind was captivated by evolutionary teaching–probably since the time he was a boy. Evolutionary ideas–quite undisguised–lie at the basis of all that is worst in Mein Kampf–and in his public speeches…. Hitler reasoned… that a higher race would always conquer a lower.
And Hickman (1983, 51-52) adds that:
It is perhaps no coincidence that Adolph Hitler was a firm believer in and preacher of evolutionism. Whatever the deeper, profound complexities of his psychosis, it is certain that [the concept of struggle was important because]… his book, Mein Kampf, clearly set forth a number of evolutionary ideas, particularly those emphasizing struggle, survival of the fittest and the extermination of the weak to produce a better society.
And the belief that evolution can be directed by scientists to produce a “superior race,” as Tenenbaum (1956, vii) noted, was the central leitmotif of Nazism:
There were many other sources from which Nazism drew its ideological fire-water. But in that concatenation of ideas and nightmares which made up the… social policies of the Nazi state, and to a considerable extent its military policies as well, can be most clearly comprehended in the light of its vast racial program.
The Nazi view on race and Darwinian evolution was a major part of the fatal combination which produced the holocaust and World War II:
One of the central planks in Nazi theory and doctrine was… evolutionary theory [and]… that all biology had evolved… upward, and that… less evolved types… should be actively eradicated [and]… that natural selection could and should be actively aided. [T]herefore [the Nazis] instituted political measures to eradicate… Jews, and… blacks, whom they considered… [less evolved] (Wilder-Smith 1982, 27).
Hitler’s views are rather straightforward German social Darwinism
of a type widely known and accepted throughout Germany and
which, more importantly, was considered by most Germans,
scientists included, to be scientifically true.
Terms such as “superior race,” “lower human types,” “race contamination,” “pollution of the race,” and evolution itself (entwicklung) were often used by Hitler and other Nazis leaders. Hitler’s race views were not from fringe science, as often claimed, but rather,
Hitler’s views are rather straightforward German social Darwinism of a type widely known and accepted throughout Germany and which, more importantly, was considered by most Germans, scientists included, to be scientifically true. More recent scholarship on national socialism and Hitler has begun to realize that… [Darwin’s theory] was the specific characteristic of Nazism. National socialist “biopolicy,” [was] a policy based on a mystical-biological belief in radical inequality, a monistic, antitranscendent moral nihilism based on the eternal struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest as the law of nature, and the consequent use of state power for a public policy of natural selection (Stein 1988, 51).
Hitler: the Nazis “are barbarians! We want to be barbarians.
It is an honorable title, [for by it] we shall rejuvenate the world… “
The philosophy that we can control and even propel evolution to produce a “higher level” of human is repeatedly echoed in the writings and speeches of prominent Nazis (Jackel 1972). Accomplishing this goal required ruthlessly eliminating the less fit by openly barbarian behavior:
The basic outline of German social Darwinism [was that]… man was merely a part of nature with no special transcendent qualities or special humanness. On the other hand, the Germans were members of a biologically superior community… politics was merely the straightforward application of the laws of biology. In essence, Haeckel and his fellow social Darwinists advanced the ideas that were to become the core assumptions of national socialism… The business of the corporate state was eugenics or artificial selection… (Stein 1988, 56)
Rauschning (1939) quoted Hitler as stating that the Nazis “are barbarians! We want to be barbarians. It is an honorable title, [for by it] we shall rejuvenate the world… ” By this means, as Keith (1946, 230) concluded, Hitler “consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.” As Humber (1987, ii) notes, Hitler believed that Negroes were
… “monstrosities halfway between man and ape” and lamented the fact of Christians going to “Central Africa” to set up “Negro missions,” resulting in the turning of “healthy… human beings into a rotten brood of bastards.” In his chapter entitled “Nation and Race,” he said, “The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he, after all, is only a weak and limited man; for if this law did not prevail, any conceivable higher development (Hoherentwicklung) of organic living beings would be unthinkable.” A few pages later, he said, “Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.”
Many of Hitler’s top aides held similar beliefs. Hoess was “particularly interested in books on ‘racial’ theories, heredity and ethnological works.” His race beliefs guided his management policy in the various concentration camps that he was head of, including Auschwitz. He restructured this former forced labor camp into an evolution laboratory. The inmates in Auschwitz were “no longer persons… [but] simply goods to be processed in the gigantic death-factory he had organized” (Rudorff 1969, 240).
Caring for the weak, the sick, lame, old, or poor was all directly counter to the chief driving force of evolution–the survival of the fittest, and death of the unfit. This meant that the weak must be eradicated for the benefit of the race as a whole. The Nazi Party did not view these policies as wrong or even inhumane. It openly “prided itself on its scientific ideology and modern view of the world” (Gasman 1971). Given their wholesale acceptance of evolution, their “ideas of class and race… and determinism, may well [be]… inescapable” (Barzum 1958, xx).
Caring for the weak, the sick, lame, old, or poor was all
directly counter to the chief driving force of evolution–the survival
of the fittest, and death of the unfit.
The Nazis were not superficial in their application of what became known as “racial hygiene.” Prior to 1933, the German scientists published thirteen scientific journals devoted to racial hygiene and there were over thirty institutions, many connected with universities or research centers, devoted to “racial science” (Proctor 1988). When the Nazis were in power, something like 150 scientific journals, many of which are still highly respected, dealt with racial hygiene and allied fields (Weindling 1989). Enormous files of data were kept on the races, much of which was analyzed and used for research papers published in various German and other journals. In 1927, The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics was established. Although much of the research there was related to the field of eugenics, researchers also studied a wide variety of topics including venereal disease and alcohol.
The German eugenists relied heavily upon the work done in Britain and America. Franz Bumm, the President of the Reich Health Office, “noted that the value of eugenics research had been convincingly demonstrated in the United States, where anthropological statistics had been gathered from two million men recruited for the American Armed Forces” (Proctor 1988, 40). The various institutes began to research the persistence of various “primitive racial traits” in various races in and outside of Germany. They found much evidence of “Cro magnon racial type in certain populations, and presumably also Neanderthal.” Like the American and British counterparts, the German Racial Hygiene Institutes and the professors at various universities began to discover genetic evidence for virtually every malady of humankind from criminality to hernias, and even divorce, with researchers adding a few original problems of their own, such as “loving to sail on water.” They saw their work as a noble effort to continue “Darwin’s attempts to elucidate the origin of species” (Proctor 1988, 291).
The various institutes began to research the persistence of various
“primitive racial traits” in various races in and outside of Germany.
The core concept of the survival of the fittest philosophy, the observation that all animals and plants contain a tremendous amount of genetic variety, and that in certain environmental situations some of these differences may have an advantage in survival, and others may be at a disadvantage, has been well documented. The best example is artificial selection, where breeders select the male and the female with the maximum trait that they are concerned with and then, from the offspring, again select the members which maximize that trait. Breeders using these techniques have been able to breed a wide variety of plants and animals. Breeding for certain traits, though, invariably causes the loss of other traits. Consequently, in plant and animal breeding a trade-off occur: some traits are gained, but others are lost. Thus cows are bred either for dairy use or else for meat. The theory that the German eugenists had developed was thus poorly conceived, and inadequately considered enormous amounts of data and the implications of the tremendous amounts of biological diversity which we now know exist.
Some members of the scientific community do not want to share the blame for what happened and try to justify what Nazi Germany did. The most common claim is that the German academics were coerced into accepting racist ideas. Several recent studies, including Weindling (1989) and Proctor (1988), persuasively argue that this was not the case. The limited coercion that occurred was often from the scientific community, rather than the German political force “imposing its will on an apolitical scientific community” (Proctor 1988, 5; see also Wertham 1966). The Nazis forced the dismissal of many German academics from their posts, but many were Jews, and most were dismissed for reasons not related to their opposition to eugenics. Proctor’s important study eloquently argued that Nazis are
commonly portrayed… as fanatic, half crazed criminals conducting their evil plans with as much reason or sense as 1930s television gangsters. This is a false impression for a number of reasons, but primarily because it underestimates the degree to which large numbers of intellectuals, often leaders in their field, were willing and eager to serve the Nazi regime. Evidence presented in the [Nuremberg] trials reveals the involvement of doctors in a massive program for the extermination of “lives not worth living,” including, first, infants with inheritable defects, and later, handicapped children and patients of psychiatric institutions, and finally, entire populations of “unwanted races” (1988, 5-6) [Emphasis mine].
“Biological arguments for racism… increased by order of
magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory” by scientists in most nations.
As Gould (1977, 127) concluded, “Biological arguments for racism… increased by order of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory” by scientists in most nations. Chamberlain (1899) was one of the first popular German writers to use evolution to argue for the claim that the Germans were innately biologically superior to all other races and peoples, including the Persians, Greeks, and especially the “parasitic semites” whom he branded as a “race of inferior peoples.” Darwin interpreted evolution of homo sapiens as principally due to brain improvements, as shown by the much larger brain case in higher primates, and especially by the apex brain found in humans. Chamberlain picked up on this, concluding that human evolutionary differences were thus reflected in skull differences, primarily its shape and size, but also all of those traits which have historically identified human races (skin color, nose, lip and eye shape among others). He utilized as evidence for his theory not only physical anthropology and Darwinian evolution, but also the then fashionable “science” of phrenology, and
Chamberlain’s racial explanation for human history was only one of the many intellectual syntheses produced in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. Most of the “isms” which have profoundly influenced the Twentieth Century have their genesis in these decades (Schleunes 1970, 30).
Social Darwinism was thus extremely influential in the development
of the racism based on physical traits that flourished in the late 19th century Germany and elsewhere.
Social Darwinism was thus extremely influential in the development of the racism based on physical traits that flourished in the late 19th century Germany and elsewhere. These racist theories closely followed the spread of Darwinian evolution, which had a wide following in Germany almost immediately after the publication of the German edition of The Origin of Species (Schleunes 1970, Cohn 1981). Although racists also relied on phrenologists for support, both phrenology and social Darwinism obtained their rational, if not their primary, basis from evolution (Davies 1955). Also used for support were comparisons of various cultures which were assumed to be a product of racial superiority (not the reverse). They concluded that inferior races produced inferior cultures, and only superior races produced superior cultures (Hooton 1941). Hence, Schleunes (1970) notes that racism came into scientific repute through its solid link with the “third great synthesis of the Nineteenth Century,” the Darwinian theory of evolution and the survival of the fittest world view.
These “scientific” views about race that then existed in the western world, especially Nazi Germany, were clearly evident even in America, as is apparent from surveys of textbooks published from 1880 to 1940. Princeton Professor Edwin Conklin (1921, 34) said in one of his texts that
Comparison of any modern race with the Neanderthal or Heidelberg types shows that… Negroid races more closely resemble the original stock than the white or yellow races. Every consideration should lead those who believe in the superiority of the white race to strive to preserve its purity and to establish and maintain the segregation of the races…
Soon after the American Supreme Court ruled that sterilization of minorities was legal, Adolf Hitler’s cabinet, using the American work as an example, passed a eugenic sterilization law in 1933. The German law was compulsory to all people,
…institutionalized or not, who suffered from allegedly hereditary disabilities including feeblemindedness, schizophrenia, epilepsy, blindness, severe drug or alcohol addiction and physical deformities that seriously interfered with locomotion or were grossly offensive (Kevles 1985, 116).
Ironically, the German laws were used to inspire even harsher laws back in the States–in Virginia, Dr. Joseph DeJarnette argued that Americans who were progressive and scientific minded should be shamed by the “enlightened” progressive German legislation, and that we should be taking the lead in this area instead of Germany.
The next step in Germany was for the government to provide “loans” to those couples that it concluded were “racially and biologically desirable” and therefore should have more babies. The birth of each child reduced the “loan” indebtedness by another 25%. Then came sterilization and, in 1939, euthanasia for certain classes of the mentally or physically disabled. Up until this time, many American and British eugenists held up the German program as a model because “it was without nefarious racial content” (Kevles 1985, 188). The German eugenists, on the other hand, repeatedly acknowledged their enormous debt to the American and British researchers and periodically honored eugenists from their universities with various awards.
The Jews in Germany
The German eugenic leadership was originally less anti-semitic than the British. Most German eugenists had originally believed that German Jews were Aryan, and consequently the movement was supported by many Jewish professors and doctors. The Jews were only slowly incorporated into the German eugenic laws which, up to this time, were supported by a large number of persons, both in Germany and abroad.
The Darwinian racists’ views also slowly entered into many spheres of German society which they had previously not infected (Beyerchen 1977). The Pan German League, dedicated to “maintaining German Racial Purity” and helping Germans throughout the world resist the tendency to assimilate, was at first not overtly anti-Semitic. Jews who were fully assimilated into German culture were allowed full membership. Many German eugenists would have accepted blacks or gypsies as being racially inferior, but their racial theories did not seem to fit Jews, since they had achieved no small level of success in Germany. Schleunes (1970) adds that by 1903 the influence of racists’ ideas permeated the League’s program to the degree that its policy changed, and by 1912 the League declared itself based upon “racial principles.”
German Jews considered themselves Germans first–and were proud
of being such –and Jews second. Their assimilation into German life
was to the extent that most were convinced that Germany was now a safe harbor for them.
In spite of the scientific prominence of these racial views, until World War II they had a limited effect upon most Jews. German Jews considered themselves Germans first–and were proud of being such–and Jews second. Many modified the German intelligentsia’s racial views by including themselves in it. Their assimilation into German life was to the extent that most were convinced that Germany was now a safe harbor for them (Schleunes 1970, 33). Most felt its anti-Semitic actions did not represent a serious threat to their security. Many still firmly held to the Genesis creation model and rejected the views upon which racism was based, including macro-evolution, and thus, did not see these ideas as a real threat. What happened in Germany later was obviously not well received by Jewish geneticists, even Jewish eugenists, and certain other groups:
The eugenics movement felt a mixture of apprehension and admiration at the progress of eugenics in Germany… [but] the actual details of the eugenics measures which emerged after Hitler’s rise to power were not unequivocally welcomed. Eugenicists pointed to the USA as a place where strict laws controlled marriage but where a strong tradition of political freedom existed (Jones 1980, 168).
While in much American and British eugenic literature the Jewish race was still held up as an example of educational and professional achievement, the Germans soon began placing them near the bottom of the list. Further, many American and British eugenists were appalled that the Germans included “many foreign races” as inferior–including many groups such as the Southern and Eastern Europeans, which were respected groups in Britain and America.
Evolution and War in Nazi Germany
Darwinism not only offered the German nation a meaningful interpretation of their recent past, but also a justification for future aggression:
German military success in the Bismarkian wars fit neatly into Darwin categories in the struggle for survival, the fitness of Germany had been clearly demonstrated. [W]as not this expressive of a superior spirit or volksgeist? (Schleunes 1970, 31).
Hitler not only unabashedly intended to produce a superior race, but he openly relied heavily upon Darwinian thought in both his extermination and war policies (Jackel 1972). Nazi Germany thus openly glorified war for the reason that it was an important means of eliminating the less fit of the highest race, a step necessary to “upgrade the race.” Clark (1953, 115-116) concludes, quoting extensively from Mein Kampf, that
Hitler’s attitude to the League of Nations and to peace and war were based upon the same principles. “A world court… would be a joke… the whole world of Nature is a mighty struggle between strength and weakness–an eternal victory of the strong over the weak. There would be nothing but decay in the whole of nature if this were not so. States which [violate]… this elementary law would fall into decay…. He who would live must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.” To think otherwise is to “insult” nature. “Distress, misery and disease are her rejoinders.”
War therefore was a positive force, not only because it eliminated the weaker races, but also because it weeded out the weaker members of the superior races. German greatness, Hitler stressed, came about primarily because they were jingoists, and thereby had been eliminating their weaker members for centuries (Rich 1973). Although Germans were no strangers to war, this new justification was powerful. The view that the process of eradication of the weaker races was a major source of evolution was well expressed by Wiggam (1922, 102):
At one time man had scarcely more brains than his anthropoid cousins, the apes. But, by kicking, biting, fighting… and outwitting his enemies and by the fact that the ones who had not sense and strength… to do this were killed off, man’s brain became enormous and he waxed both in wisdom and agility if not in size…
In the long run, war is thus positive, for only by “… kicking, fighting, biting,”
etc., can humans evolve.
In the long run war is thus positive, for only by “… kicking, fighting, biting,” etc., can humans evolve. Hitler even claimed as truth the contradiction that human civilization as we know it would not exist if it were not for constant war. And many of the leading scientists of the day openly advocated this view:
Haeckel was especially fond of praising the ancient Spartans, whom he saw as a successful and superior people as a consequence of their socially approved biological selection. By killing all but the “perfectly healthy and strong children” the Spartans were “continually in excellent strength and vigor” (1876, 170). Germany should follow this Spartan custom, as infanticide of the deformed and sickly was “a practice of advantage to both the infants destroyed and to the community.” It was, after all, only “traditional dogma” and hardly scientific truth that all lives were of equal worth or should be preserved (1905, 116) (Stein 1988, 56).
The commonly believed assumption that European civilization evolved far more than others primarily because of its constant warmongering is not true. Historically, many tribes in Africa were continually involved in wars, as were most countries in Asia and America. War is actually typical of virtually all peoples except certain small island groups who have abundant food, or peoples in very cold areas (Posner and Ware 1986).
Nazi policies, therefore, resulted less from a “hatred” toward Jewish or other peoples, than the idealistic goal of preventing “pollution of the race.” Hitler (1953, 115-116) elaborated as follows:
Whose fault is it when a cat devours a mouse?… the Jews… cause people to decay… In the long run nature eliminates the noxious elements. One may be repelled by this law of nature which demands that all living things should mutually devour one another. The fly is snapped up by a dragon-fly, which itself is swallowed by the bird, which itself falls victim to a larger bird… to know the laws of nature… enables us to obey them.
We thus must understand and apply the “laws of Nature,” such as the survival of the fittest law, which originally produced the human races and is the source of their improvement. We as a race, therefore, must aid in the elimination, or at least the quarantine, of the less fit. In Hitler’s words, (1953, 116):
If I can accept a living Commandment, it is this one: “Thou shall preserve the species.” The life of the individual must not be set at too high a price. If the individual were important in the eyes of nature, nature would take care to preserve him. Among the millions of eggs a fly lays, very few are hatched out–and yet the race of flies thrives.
Individuals are not only far less important than the race, but the Nazis concluded that certain races, as Whitehead (1983, 115) notes, were not humans, but animals:
The Jews, labeled subhumans, became nonbeings. It was both legal and right to exterminate them in the collectivist and evolutionist viewpoint. They were not considered… persons in the sight of the German government.
Once the inferior races were exterminated, Hitler believed that
future generations would thank him profusely for the improvement that his work brought to the world.
Hitler was especially determined to prevent Aryans from breeding with any and all non-Aryans, a concern eventually resulting in the “final solution.” Once the inferior races were exterminated, Hitler believed that future generations would thank him profusely for the improvement that his work brought to the world:
The Germans were the higher race, destined for a glorious evolutionary future. For this reason it was essential that the Jews should be segregated, otherwise mixed marriages would take place. Were this to happen, all nature’s efforts “to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being may thus be rendered futile” (<M>Mein Kampf<D>) (Clark 1953: 115).
Thus, the Darwinist movement was “one of the most powerful forces in the nineteenth-twentieth centuries’ German intellectual history [, and] may be fully understood as a prelude to the doctrine of national socialism [Nazism]” (Gasman 1971, xiv). Why did the concepts of evolution catch hold in Germany faster, and take a firmer hold there than any other place in the world?
Evolution Used to Justify Existing German Racism
Schleunes (1970, 30-32), in his discussion of the Nazi policy towards the Jews, noted rather poignantly that the reason the publication of Darwin’s 1859 work had an immediate impact in Germany was because
Darwin’s notion of struggle for survival was quickly appropriated by the racists… such struggle, legitimized by the latest scientific views, justified the racists’ conception of superior and inferior peoples… and validated the struggle between them.
The Darwinian revolution gave the racists what they thought was powerful verification that their race suspicions were “correct.” The works of its chief German spokesman and most eminent scientist Haeckel especially provided support (Poliakov, 1974). The support of the science establishment was such that Schleunes (1970, 30-52) notes:
The racists’ appropriation of these scientific categories won for racist thought a much wider circulation than its ideas warranted. What satisfaction there must have been to find that one’s prejudices were actually expressions of scientific truth…
And what greater authority than science could the racists have for their views? Konrad Lorenz, one of the most eminent animal behavior scientists, often credited with being the founder of the field, stated:
Just as in cancer the best treatment is to eradicate the parasitic growth as quickly as possible, the eugenic defense against the disgenic social effects of afflicted subpopulations is of necessity limited to equally drastic measures… When these inferior elements are not effectively eliminated from a [healthy] population, then–just as when the cells of a malignant tumor are allowed to proliferate throughout the human body–they destroy the host body as well as themselves (Chase 1980, 349).
Lorenz’s works were important in developing the Nazi program which was designed to eradicate the parasitic growth. The government’s programs about the ways that “German Volk” (people) can maintain their superiority made racism almost unassailable. Although King (1981, 156) claimed that “the holocaust of Nazi persecution… pretended to have a scientific genetic basis,” in the minds of those in the government and the universities of the time, its scientific basis was so strong that few contemporary scientists seriously questioned it. The attitudes of the German people were only partly to blame in causing the holocaust–only when Darwinism was added to the preexisting attitudes did a lethal combination result.
Most of the early eugenists, especially in America and Britain, stressed that it was best to rely upon volunteerism to implement their programs. Galton, though, concluded that the situation in his day “was so clear cut and so dire, as to warrant state intervention of a coercive nature in human reproduction” (Kevles 1985, 91). Later, more and more eugenists supported direct government action in applying eugenics laws–if natural selection yielded the Darwinian fit, only artificial selection enforced by the government could insure that only the eugenically superior multiplied. Many social workers and psychiatrists in Britain, the United States, and Germany were convinced of the heredity origin of social deficiencies, and, in more and more countries, they felt compelled to force the government to intervene. In no country was this intervention as successful as in Germany. Discouraged by the lack of effectiveness of their science, and fully convinced that it had adequately been empirically supported with the brilliant work of Charles Darwin, Karl Pearson, Francis Galton and many others, Western scientists felt envy that only Germany was able to implement the programs which many scientists of America and Europe were then strongly advocating (Chase 1980).
…in the minds of those in the government and the universities of the time, its scientific basis was so strong that few contemporary scientists seriously questioned it.
Nazi Germany was certainly not alone in applying science to government. As Kevles (1985, 101) states, “In the United States during the opening decades of the century, it came to be a hallmark of good reform to shape government with the aid of scientific experts… eugenics experts aplenty were to be found in the biology, psychology, and sociology departments of universities or colleges… ” And the German eugenics programs elicited in little opposition from the United States. The implications of its eugenic immigration acts, especially the American Johannson act quotas of 1924, a law not repealed in 1941, had enormous consequences for human lives.
At least nine-million human beings of what Galton and Pearson called degenerative stock, two-thirds of them the Jews… continued to be denied sanctuary at our gates. They were all ultimately heralded into Nordic Rassenhygiene camps, where the race biologist in charge made certain that they ceased to multiply and ceased to be (Chase 1980, 360).
The first step was to determine which groups were genetically superior, a judgment that was heavily influenced by one’s culture. Many Germans believed that the American and British choices for the inferior races were incorrect; thus, they instituted their own program to determine who were the superior races. This meant that they must first determine which are superior, and then specifically what traits would place a person in a superior and/or in an inferior race.
The first step was to determine which groups were genetically superior,
a judgment that was heavily influenced by one’s culture.
In trying to group persons into races to select the “best” Germans to serve as “official” child breeders, the Nazis measured a wide variety of physical traits, such as brain case sizes. Although superficial observations enable most people to make a rough classification based on white, black and oriental, when the race question is explored in depth, such divisions are by no means easy, as the Nazis soon found out. It was further made difficult in that, with many of the groups that they felt inferior, such as the Slovaks, Jews, Gypsies, and other groups, it was not easy to distinguish them from the pure “Aryan” race. In general, the Nazis relied heavily upon the work of Hans F.K. Gunther, who was a professor of racial science at the University of Gena. As Mosse (1981:57) acknowledged, although Gunther’s “personal relationships with the party were stormy at times, his racial ideas were accepted” and received wide support throughout German government and were an important influence in German policy. Gunther recognized that, while “a race may not be pure, its members share certain dominant characteristics, thus paving the way for stereotyping (Mosse 1981:57). The goal was to find the racial “ideal type.”
Gunther concluded that all Aryans share an ideal Nordic type
which contrasted with the Jews, who, he concluded, were a mixture of races.
He concluded that all Aryans share an ideal Nordic type which contrasted with the Jews, who, he concluded, were a mixture of races. Gunther stressed both anthropological measurement of skulls, as well as an evaluation of a person’s physical appearance. The predominance of such characteristics and a person’s genealogical lineage were used as criteria. Even though physical appearance was stressed, the key was that “the body is the showplace of the soul” and “the soul is primary” (Mosse 1981:58). Select females were placed in special homes and kept pregnant as long as they were in the program. Even though the researchers tried to choose persons with the ideal traits, the I.Q.’s of the resulting offspring were generally lower than that of the parents. Research on the offspring of this experiment has concluded, as is now known, that I.Q. regresses toward the population mean.
The evolutionary views not only influenced the Nazi attitude toward Jews, but other cultural and ethnic groups as well. Even mental patients were massacred, in part because it was believed at the time that heredity had a major influence on mental illness. Mental patients were not the products of a sick environment, but a sick gene line (or perhaps they had some Jewish or other non-Aryan blood in them). Consequently, they had to be destroyed. Poliakov (1974, 282) notes that many intellectuals in the early 1900s accepted telegony, the idea that bad blood would contaminate a race line forever, or that “bad blood drives out good, just as bad money displaces good money.” Only extermination would permanently eliminate “weak” and inferior genetic lines and, thereby, further evolution.
Numerous respected biologists supported this position–Darwin even compiled a long list of cases where “bad blood” polluted a whole gene line, causing it to bear impure progeny forever. Ernst Ruedin, of the University of Munich, and many of his colleagues (such as Herbert Spencer, Francis Galton, Calaude Bermand and Eugene Kahn, later a professor of psychiatry at Yale) actively advocated this “hereditary argument.” They were also the chief architects of the compulsory German sterilization laws which were designed to prevent those with defective or “inferior” genes from “contaminating” the Aryan gene pool. Later, when the “genetically inferior” were also judged to be “useless dredges,” massive killings became justified. The groups judged “inferior” were gradually expanded to include a wide variety of races and national groups. Later, they even included less healthy older people, epileptics, mental defectives (both severe and mild), deaf-mutes, and those with terminal illnesses (Wertham 1966, Chase 1980).
Mengele’s zeal (at Auschwitz) was based on highly accepted
mainline science theory, not on alleged sadistic or psychopathic impulsives.
The justification for this killing, repeated over and over again, was that the “leading biologists and medical professors” advocated the program. Dr. Carl Brandt, according to Wertham (1966, 160), felt that since the learned professors were in support of it, the program must be valid, and “who could there be who was better qualified [to judge it] than they?” The scientist who presided over the race program at Auschwitz, Dr. Josef Mengele, was a highly respected and published researcher who held a Ph.D. from the prestigious University of Munich, and an M.D. from the University of Frankfort (Astor 1985). His zeal was based on highly accepted mainline science theory, not on alleged sadistic or psychopathic impulsives (Posner and Ware, 1986). His biographer (Astor 1985, 21) concluded that
Race purity and the contaminant threat of Jews became gospel in lower and higher education. When Mengele began his college studies at the University of Munich, anti-Semitism had already sprouted in the sciences …. The impressionable young man… soaked up writings like those of a German oriental scholar, Parl de Lagarde, who despised “those who out of humanity defend these Jews, or who are too cowardly to trample these usurious vermin to death…. With trichinae and bacilli one does not negotiate, nor are trichinae and bacilli to be educated. They are exterminated as quickly and thoroughly as possible.”
And Posner and Ware (1986, 23) add:
In Munich, meanwhile, Joseph was taking courses in anthropology and paleontology as well as medicine… his real interest in genetics and evolution happened to coincide with the developing concept that some human beings afflicted by disorders were unfit to reproduce, even to live… His consummate ambition was to succeed in this fashionable new field of evolutionary research [Italics added].
The groups included as “inferior” were later expanded to include persons who had only Negroid or mongoloid features, gypsies, and those who did not “pass” a set of ingeniously designed overtly racist phrenology tests now known to be worthless (Davies 1955). After Jessie Owen won several gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Hitler stated that “the Americans ought to be ashamed of themselves” for even permitting blacks to enter the contests (Stanton 1972). Some even advocated the view that women were evolutionarily inferior to men. Dr. Robert Wartenberg, who later became a prominent neurology professor in California, tried in one monograph to “prove” women’s inferiority, stressing that they could not survive unless they were “protected by men,” and females evolved “weak” because of historically being protected by males. For this reason, he concluded that natural selection had not been as operative on women to the extent it had been on men. Thus, the weaker women were not eliminated as rapidly, resulting in a slower rate of evolution. How the weak were to be “selected” for elimination was not clear, nor were the criteria used to determine “weak.” Women in Nazi Germany were openly prohibited from entering certain professions and were required by law to conform to a traditional female role (Weindling 1989).
After Jessie Owen won several gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,
Hitler stated that “the Americans ought to be ashamed of themselves”
for even permitting blacks to enter the contests.
Current writers often gloss over, totally ignore, or even distort the close connection between Darwinian evolution and the Nazi race theory and the policies that it produced, but, as Stein (1988, 50) admonishes,
There is little doubt that the history of ethnocentrism, racism, nationalism, and xenophobia has also been a history of the use of science and the actions of scientists in support of these ideas and social movements. In many cases it is clear that science was used merely as raw material or evidence by ideologically interested political actors as proof of preconceived notions. Most contemporary sociobiologists and students of biopolitics would argue that all attempts to use science in this manner are, in fact, mere pseudoscience… On the other hand, there is also little doubt in the historical record that this contemporary self-protecting attitude is based on a somewhat willful misreading of history. The history of ethnocentrism and the like has also been the history of many well-respected scientists of the day being quite active in using their own authority as scientists to advance and support racist and xenophobic political and social doctrines in the name of science. Thus, if the scientists of the day used the science of the day to advance racism, it is simply a form of Kuhnian amnesia or historical whitewash to dismiss concern with a possible contemporary abuse of science by a claim that the past abuse was mere pseudoscience.
The literature contains only a few studies which directly deal with this issue–and many avoid it because evolution is inescapably selectionist. The very heart of the theory of evolution is survival of the fittest–and this requires differences among a species which in time will become great enough so that those individuals that possess them–the fittest–are more apt to survive, manifesting differential survival rates. Although the process of raciation may begin with slight differences, evolution in time produces distinct races which results from speciation, or the development of a new species.
Nazism and Religion
Much of the opposition to the eugenic movement came from the German Christians. Although Hitler was once an altar boy and then “considered himself a good Roman Catholic,” (Zindler 1985, 29), as an adult, he clearly had strong anti-religious feelings, as did many of the Nazi party leaders. As would any good politician, though, he openly tried to exploit the church’s influence (Phillips 1981, 164). His feelings on religion were once bluntly stated:
The organized lie [religion] must be smashed. The State must remain the absolute master. When I was younger, I thought it was necessary to set about [destroying religion] with dynamite. I since then realized there’s room for subtlety…. The final state must be, in St. Peter’s Chair a senile officiant; facing him a few sinister old women…. The young and healthy are on our side… It’s impossible to eternally hold humanity in bondage and lies… [It] was only between the sixth and eighth centuries that Christianity was imposed upon our people… Our people had previously succeeded in living all right without this religion. I have six divisions of SS men absolutely indifferent in matters of religion. It doesn’t prevent them from going to their death with serenity in their souls (1953, 17).
“Christianity makes no distinction of race or of color … In this respect the hand of Christianity is against that of Nature, for are not the races of mankind the evolutionary harvest which Nature has toiled through long ages to produce?”
His beliefs are abundantly clear: the younger people who were the hope of Germany were “absolutely indifferent in the matters of religion.” As Keith (1946, 72) noted, the Nazi party viewed evolution and Christianity as polar opposites because
Christianity makes no distinction of race or of color; it seeks to break down all racial barriers. In this respect the hand of Christianity is against that of Nature, for are not the races of mankind the evolutionary harvest which Nature has toiled through long ages to produce? May we not say, then, that Christianity is anti-evolutionary in its aim?
The opposition to religion was a prominent feature of German science, and thus later German political theory, from its very beginning. As Stein (1988, 54) summarized:
Ernst Haeckel… in a lecture entitled “On evolution: Darwin’s Theory”… argued that Darwin was correct… humankind had unquestionably evolved from the animal kingdom. Thus, and here the fatal step was taken in Haeckel’s first major exposition of Darwinism in Germany, humankind’s social and political existence is governed by the laws of evolution, natural selection, and biology, as clearly shown by Darwin. To argue otherwise was backward superstition. And, of course, it was organized religion which did this and thus stood in the way of scientific and social progress.
Borman was equally blunt, stressing that the church’s opposition to the forces of evolution must be condemned. In his words:
National Socialist [Nazi] and Christian concepts are incompatible. The Christian Churches build upon the ignorance of men and strive to keep large portions of the people in ignorance… On the other hand, National Socialism is based on scientific foundations. Christianity’s immutable principles, which were laid down almost two thousands years ago, have increasingly stiffened into life-alien dogmas. National Socialism, however, if it wants to fulfill its task further, must always guide itself according to the newest data of scientific researches. (Quoted in Mosse 1981, 244.)
Borman also concluded that:
The Christian Churches have long been aware that exact scientific knowledge poses a threat to their existence. Therefore, by means of such pseudo-sciences as theology, they take great pains to suppress or falsify scientific research. Our National Socialist world view stands on a much higher level than the concepts of Christianity, which in their essentials were taken over from Judaism. For this reason, too, we can do without Christianity (Mosse 1981, 244).
From our modern perspective, WW II and its results ensued from the ideology of an evil madman and his administration. Hitler, though, did not see himself as evil, but as mankind’s benefactor. He felt that many years hence the world would be extremely grateful to him and his programs, which lifted the human race to genetically higher levels of evolution by preventing mixed marriages with inferior races. His efforts to put members of these inferior races in concentration camps was not so much an effort to punish but, as his apologists repeatedly stated, was a protective safeguard similar to quarantining sick people to prevent contamination of the community. Or, as Hoess (1960, 110) adds, “such a struggle, legitimized by the latest scientific views, justifies the racists’ conceptions of superior and inferior people and nations and validated the conflict between them.”
Although many factors produced the fatal blend which produced the Nazi movement, Darwin’s notion of struggle for survival was appropriated to justify the movement’s views, not only on race, but also war. One contributing reason, if not a major reason, that matters reached the extent of the holocaust was the acceptance of Social Darwinism by the scientific and academic community (Aycoberry 1981, Beyerchen 1977, Stein 1988). Misuse of Darwin’s theory, as modified by Haeckel (1876, 1900, 1903, 1905, 1916), Chamberlain (1911), and others thus contributed to the death of a total of over nine million persons in concentration camps, and approximately forty million other human beings in a war that cost about six trillion dollars. Although it is no easy task to fully assess the conflicting motives of Hitler and his party, eugenics clearly played an important part. If the Nazi party had fully embraced and consistently acted on the belief that all humans are brothers, equal before God, it can be argued that the holocaust probably never would have occurred. Expunging the Judeo-Christian-Moslem doctrine of divine human origins from mainline German theology and its schools openly contributed to the acceptance of Social Darwinian theory, resulting in the tragedy of World War II (Chase 1980).
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