Eugenics and the Third Reich

By Stephen B. Saetz

Originally published in The Eugenics Bulletin, Winter 1985

Paul Popenoe, one of the four most active figures in the early American eugenics movement, was asked in 1962 to account for the eclipse of the movement worldwide, and he replied: "The major factor in the decline of eugenics was undoubtedly Hitlerism" (letter of February 20, 1962 to Donald K. Pickens, in Pickens 1968: 99).

Ask almost anyone who has heard of eugenics which word comes to mind when "eugenics" is mentioned, and the answer will be "Nazis." This association provides a field day for misinformation and sensationalism. The following assertion by historian Lucy Davidowicz perhaps encapsulates the entire series of conceptions surrounding this matter:


Almost as soon as the Nazis came to power, they began to apply their racial ideology and enact these racial notions into law. The first step came with the law on compulsory sterilization, enacted July 14, 1933 . . . Thereafter the German dictatorship embarked on a program to carry out a policy of racial eugenics or, if you will, racial biology. That program had two aspects: positive eugenics and negative eugenics. Positive eugenics was a program designed to increase the population of persons who were regarded as racially pure "Aryans" (and good Nazis as well). Negative eugenics was a program designed first to halt the procreation of persons or categories of persons who did not meet the standards of racial purity through sterilization and then eventually to kill them and to kill those who were regarded as the racial enemy - - the Jews and the Gypsies ("Biomedical Ethics and the Shadow of Nazism. A Conference on the Proper Use of the Nazi Analog in Ethical Debate / April 8, 1976," p. 3).

A number of prominent contemporary eugenicists have themselves accepted some or all of these conceptions, so pervasive have the latter become. For example, Carl J. Bajema has said:


Does eugenics include brutal racist evolutionary practices such as those of Nazi Germany? The tragic history of Nazi Germany indicates that racism and man's attempts to influence his own genetic evolution are not necessarily mutually exclusive modes of behavior . . . Eugenics includes such policies as those of Nazi Germany if eugenics is defined as the social control of human genetic evolution (Bajema 1976: 5).

C. P. Blacker has written: " . . . [the] principles [of eugenics] had been perverted by a detested political tyranny" (Blacker 1952: 144). Nathaniel Weyl and Stefan Possony have asserted: "Eugenics, through sterilization of the supposedly unfit . . . is a power subject to terrible abuses as the history of Nazi Germany reveals" (Weyl & Possony 1963: 250). Marian Van Court has stated:


Ironically, the Nazis' pseudoscientific perversion of the eugenics concept had the greatest influence on public opinion, promulgating the notion of eugenics as the ideology of racism and genocide. Largely because of this pernicious association, eugenics as a social movement has remained dormant since the end of World War II (Van Court 1982: 30).

Many other such examples could be cited.

Without a doubt, the link with atrocities committed during the Third Reich is the greatest cross which contemporary eugenics has to bear. Is this association fully or partially justified, or is it a case of guilt by association? Historical data can put this question into proper prospective.

A thorough analysis of the purported relationship between National Socialist policies and eugenics evinces four basic elements:

I. The attempted extermination of European Jewry

II. Euthanasia

III. Attempts to breed a biological elite through (a) Lebensborn, and (b) SS selection and marriage criteria

IV. Negative eugenics, which is claimed to have been quantitatively and not just quantitatively different from similar policies elsewhere in the world

How justifiable are these association? It is time the decks were cleared.


There are two questions to be answered here. Did eugenics have anything to do with the motivation, advocacy, implementation, or justification of these actions? If not, what was the source?

Let the facts--the primary sources--speak for themselves.

Adolf Hitler's fundamental view of the Jews had been formed in late adolescence in Vienna, and it consisted of the following basic beliefs: that they constituted an unassimilable, ethnically alien State-within-a-State wherever they resided; that they pursued their own interests exclusively to the detriment of the non-Jewish peoples among whom they lived; that they lived a parasitical existence based upon the accumulation and manipulation of money for its own sake and even more as a source of power; that they were the creators and propagators of movements inimical to the spiritual and material welfare of European peoples, e.g., Bolshevism, Marxism, finance capitalism, Free Masonry, liberalism, egalitarianism, and Freudianism; that they acted as the bearers of the corrosion of national life, functioning as nihilistic agents of the dissolution of national and ethnic feeling and tradition and of all organic bonds, in the process setting various segments of the population against each other, e.g., capital and labor, in order to "divide and conquer"; that they were venal, materialistic, and totally devoid of idealism; that they were racially inferior; that they played a decisive role in manifestations of social degeneracy such as prostitution, usury, pornography, modern art, financial crimes, and the narcotics trade; that they possessed no ethics or morality as Europeans understood these terms; and that they had been engaged in a 4,000-year-old conspiracy to dominate the world pursuant to their view of themselves as the Chosen People. These characteristics and values he held to be rooted in the biology of the Jewish people, and therefore ineradicable (cf. generally Mein Kampf). In all this, Hitler was fully in the mainstream of European racial anti-Semitism which he had absorbed in Vienna.

From the time he came to power to the end of his life, Hitler was convinced that world Jewry was to blame, first for agitation abroad for war against Germany, and then for the outbreak of war itself and its extension into a world war. He asserted that important Jewish organizations and prominent Jewish spokesmen had stated explicitly that they would not rest until the openly anti-Semitic National Socialist regime was destroyed, even if it required war to do it; and that powerful Jewish figures in politics, the press, radio, and films - particularly in the U.S., Britain, and France were in the forefront of this agitation for war.

The policy of the German government prior to World War II had been to bring about complete social segregation, to deny Jews German citizenship, and to eliminate systematically Jewish influence in German life. Later in the prewar period - after November 1938 -punitive measures were instituted to force Jews to emigrate at a faster rate. By 1939 400,00 of the 600,00 Jews of pre-1938 Germany had departed. From the outbreak of the war until mid-1941, various plans were devised to resettle the Jews within the German sphere of control--in Madagascar, and later in Eastern Poland but these plans were abandoned for various reasons.

Hitler's first explicit threat to exterminate European Jewry was made in a famous speech before the Reichstag (Parliament) on January 30, 1939:


In the course of my life I have often been a prophet, and have usually been ridiculed for it . . . I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation [Vernichtung] of the Jewish race in Europe (To1and 1977: 700).

This "prophesy" Hitler was to hark back to a number of times, for instance in a speech of January 30, 1942 in Berlin:


We realize that this war can only end either with the wiping out of the Germanic nations, or by the disappearance of Jewry from Europe. On September 3 [the actual date was January 30, 1939], I spoke in the Reichstag--and I dislike premature prophesies--and I said that this war would not end the way the Jews imagine, that is in the extermination of the European Aryan nations, but that the result of this war would be the destruction of Jewry. For the first time, it will not be others who will bleed to death, but for the first time the genuine ancient Jewish law, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," is being applied (Hitler 1944: 83)

He reiterated his intentions on February 24, 1942 in another speech: "My prophecy shall be fulfilled that this war will not destroy humanity but it will exterminate the Jew. Whatever the battle may bring in its course or however long it may last, that will be its final course" (Toland 1977: 969). On April 26, 1942 in Berlin he spoke clearly again on this matter: "Death will come to all liars, who, pretending to protect the world against domination by a foreign power, in reality are only endeavoring to save their own world domination" (Hitler 1944: 84). On September 30, 1942 he repeated his threat that if Jewry instigated "an international war to exterminate the Aryan peoples it would not be the Aryan peoples that would be annihilated but Jewry itself" (Toland 1977: 985). In his annual speech to Party veterans at Munich on November 8, 1942 he sounded the same note: "As a prophet they always laughed at me. But of those who laughed loudest then, countless laugh no longer today. Nor are those who are still laughing even now likely to laugh when the time comes" (Irving 1977: 12). Other pronouncements of the same sort can be culled from various of his speeches from 1941, 1943, and 1944.

In his table talk for February 13, 1945, close to the end of the war, he put the matter forcefully:


I have always been absolutely fair in my dealings with the Jews. On the eve of war, I gave them one final warning. I told them that, if they precipitated another war, they would not be spared and that I would exterminate the vermin throughout Europe, and this time once and for all. To this warning they retorted with a declaration of war and affirmed that wherever in the world there was a Jew, there, too, was an implacable enemy of National Socialist Germany.

Well, we have lanced the Jewish abscess; and the world of the future will be eternally grateful to us (Hitler 1961: 57).

Finally, in a retrospective attempt to justify his actions, he announced the following in his Political Testament, dictated on April 29,1945 the day before he committed suicide:


I have left no one in doubt that if the people of Europe are once more treated as mere blocks of shares in the hands of these international money and finance conspirators, then the sole responsibility for the massacre must be borne by the true culprits: Jewry. Nor have I left anyone in doubt that this time millions of European children of Aryan descent will starve to death, millions of men will die in battle, and hundreds of thousands of women and children will be burned or bombed to death in our cities without the true culprits being held to account, albeit more humanely (Hitler 1976: 346).

Paul Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and Gauleiter (District Leader) of Berlin, and an anti-Semite as vociferous as Hitler himself, echoed these same sentiments. After a conference with the latter about the Jewish question on August 18, 1941, he wrote in his diary:


The Fuehrer is convinced that the prophesy he uttered in the Reichstag- that if the Jews once more succeeded in provoking a world war, it would end with the destruction of the Jews is coming true. It is coming true these weeks and months with a dread certainty that is almost uncanny. In the east the Jews will have to square accounts; they have already footed part of the bill in Germany and they will have to pay still more in the future. Their last refuge will be North America, and there too they will one day, sooner or later, end up footing the bill . . . In the coming world the Jews will have little cause for mirth . . (Irving 1977: 302-303).

On November 16, 1941, in a long editorial entitled "The Jews are to Blame!" in his prestigious weekly newspaper Das Reich, Goebbels wrote:


We are now witnessing the acid test of this prophesy, and thus Jewry is experiencing a fate which is hard but more than deserved. Pity or even regrets are entirely out of place here. World Jewry, in starting this war, made an entirely wrong estimate of the forces at its disposal, and is now suffering the same gradual process of destruction which it had planned for us, which it would apply without hesitation were it to possess the power to do so. It is in line with their own law, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," that the ruin of the Jews is now taking place . . .

The Jews are our destruction. They provoked and brought about this war. What they mean to achieve by it is to destroy the German state and nation . . . The treatment we give them does them no wrong. They have more than deserved it . . . (Remak 1969: 155, 156, 157).

In a lead article in Das Reich, Goebbels once more publicly enunciated these points: "In this war the Jews are playing their most criminal game, and they will have to pay for that with the extermination of their race in Europe and perhaps far beyond" (New York Times, June 12, 1942).

The Goebbels Diaries 1942-1943 contain further relevant material. The following is an entry for March 27, 1942:


A judgment is being visited upon the Jews that, while barbaric, is fully deserved by them. The prophecy which the Fuehrer made about them for having brought on a new world war is beginning to come true in a most terrible manner. One must not be sentimental in these matters. If we did not fight the Jews, they would destroy us . . . there is nothing funny in it for the Jews, and the fact that Jewry's representatives in England and America are today organizing and sponsoring the war against Germany must be paid for dearly by its representatives in Europe -and that's only right (Goebbels 1948: 148) .

Another entry for December 14, 1942 states:


The Jewish race has prepared this war; it is the spiritual originator of the whole misfortune that has overtaken humanity. Jewry must pay for its crime just as our Fuehrer prophesied in his speech to the Reichstag; namely, by wiping out the Jewish race in Europe and possibly in the entire world (Goebbels 1948: 243-244).

The official charged with carrying out the Find Solution was Heinrich Himmler, Reichafuehrer-(National Leader) SS and Chief of the German Police. In a speech made in Posen to the assembled Higher SS and Police Leaders on October 4, 1943, he spoke openly of the extermination of the Jews, and strove to justify it in these terms: ". . . We had the moral right, we had the duty to our people, to destroy this people [dieses Volk umzubringen] which wanted to destroy us" (Himmler, October 4, 1943). On October 6, 1943, in the same city, he reiterated the same points and admissions to the assembled Gauleiters and Reichsleiters, almost all of whom were hearing them for the first time, as Baldur van Schirach, Gauleiter of Vienna and former head of the Hitler Youth, relates (Schirach 1967).

The Final Solution was initiated with the commencement of the German-Soviet conflict in June 1941, and was terminated by unilateral order of Himm1er in October 1944. The extermination operations were carried out in maximum secrecy - particularly those in the camps - and with very few exceptions, only those directly involved were permitted knowledge of them. A larger group in the Party had suspicions, but only a small minority knew absolutely. Himmler drove home the need for secrecy, and spoke of the unawareness of the German people of this matter, in his speech to the Gauleiters and Reichsleiters in Posen. He concluded the part of the speech dealing with the Jewish question with these words:


You now know what is what and you must keep it to yourselves . . . Perhaps at a much later time we shall consider whether something about it can be told to the German people. But it is probably better to bear the responsibility on behalf of our people (a responsibility for the deed as well as for the idea) and take the secret with us into our graves (Toland 1977: 1052).

If the objection be raised that, in view of the unequivocal and repeated public pronouncements by Hitler and Goebbels previously cited, the German people must have been fully aware of what was transpiring, it must be emphasized that these and other similar statements were regarded as pure rhetoric by a people who had been well-accustomed to hearing the most radical rhetoric since 1920. In reality, the statements cited were not mere rhetoric, but were uttered in dead earnest, and were the external expressions of a criminal program with terrible consequences for the Jews, and also for traditional European values, raciology, nationalism, eugenics, and the German people.

Certainly social, economic, political, ideological, and racial-theory considerations (together with his personal experiences) account for Hitler's radical anti-Semitism. However, they do not account for the ultimate application of this anti-Semitism, the Final Solution. There was no necessary or logical causal relationship between the two. Milton Himmelfarb, a contributing editor to the prestigious Jewish cultural organ Commentary, and an editor of the American Jewish Year Book, makes this point clear:


Traditions, tendencies, ideas, myths - none of these made Hitler murder the Jews. All that history, all those forces and influences, could have been the same and Hitler could as easily, more easily, not have murdered the Jews. . .

Anti-Semitism was a necessary condition for the Holocaust, it was not a sufficient condition. Hitler was needed. Hitler murdered the Jews because he wanted to murder them . . . The obedience of Himmler and the SS was to Hitler, not to anti-Semitism . . .

That one man made so much difference may be even harder to accept emotionally than intellectually. The disproportionate frightens us. We need to believe that causes are proportionate to effects . . . We would rather talk about socioeconomic stresses and strains, political backwardness, group psychopathology, religious hatred, racism . . . (Himmelfarb 1984: 37, 38).

What did determine Hitler's choice of the Final Solution? Unlike many racial anti-Semites who hated Jewry in an abstract but non-personal sense, Hitler felt profound revulsion for individual Jews and for the collectively of Jewry at the physical and emotional levels. His high level of emotionality made him prone to view things in black and white terms, and therefore to incline to extreme solutions. Because of these factors, he was fully able to dehumanize them and view them in his own mind as "bacilli."

What clearly and consistently emerges is that the motivation behind his policy of extermination lay in Hitler's fanatical hatred of the Jews, and in his fixed conviction, shared by his associates, that the Jews were responsible for the origin, enlargement, and prolongation of World War II. This motivation on the part of Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, and others had absolutely nothing to do with eugenics, nor was it justified or implemented in terms of even pseudo-eugenic considerations.


The euthanasia program--which accounted for the deaths of perhaps as many as 80,000 people, largely institutionalized mental patients--has come to be confused with eugenics in the minds of many. The historian Joachim Remak, editor of The Nazi Years: A Documentary History, devoted his entire chapter on "eugenics" in the Third Reich to euthanasia. What are the facts?

In a secret order issued in September 1939, Adolf Hitler initiated a euthanasia program. The order was both simple and direct:


Reicheleiter Bouhler and Dr. Brandt, MD, are herewith given full responsibility to enlarge the powers of certain specified doctors so that they can grant those who are by all human standards incurably ill a merciful death, after the most critical assessment possible of their medical condition (Irving 1977: 21).

The rationale for the issuance of this order seems clear:


The ostensible occasion for this formal decision was related to war needs. About a quarter of a million hospital beds were required for Germany's mental institutions; of Germany's disproportionately large insane population (a result of centuries of lax and indiscriminate marriage laws) of some seven or eight hundred thousand people all told, about 10 percent were permanently institutionalized. Others were in and out of hospitals. They occupied bed space and the attention of skilled medical personnel which Hitler now urgently needed for the treatment of the casualties of his coming campaigns . . . . . . Hitler instructed Dr. Conti that in view of the war, a program for the painless killing of the incurably insane should be initiated; this would release badly needed hospital beds and nursing facilities for patients with a greater national priority (Irving 1977: 20-21).

The Jewish historian Gitta Sereny, who discusses it at length, characterizes the euthanasia program as having been undertaken for "starkly economic" reasons (Sereny 1983: 50).

It is often contended that those at whom this order was directed composed a large segment of those considered unfit from a eugenic standpoint. In the quotation by Davidowicz cited in the introduction to this paper, she claims that euthanasia was somehow the extension of eugenic sterilization: "Negative eugenics was a program designed first to halt the procreation of persons . . . and then events to kill them [sic] . . ." Neither common sense nor the historical record provide any support for this notion. The interest of negative eugenics in cases of genetic defect is that they not reproduce, a purpose fully accomplished by sterilization or segregation. What eugenic purpose could possibly have been served by putting to death institutionalized patients who had no possibility of procreation whatsoever? None. The rationale behind euthanasia was pragmatic, not eugenic.



The most sensational accusation made against the Third Reich in this category is that it attempted a sort of positive eugenics program by the establishment of a "stud farm" institution known as Lebensborn (Spring of Life), where selected unmarried women of Nordic phenotype were supposedly mated with SS men, and the illegitimate offspring of these unions raised by the institution. Whether such an endeavor could ever legitimately be called a type of positive eugenics or not is irrelevant, since Lebensborn was nothing of the kind. To quote John Toland, the respected author of the most comprehensive biography of Hitler in the English language:


. . . To promote (his) racial policy (Himmler) established Lebensborn (Spring of Life), an SS maternity organization whose main function was to assist racially sound unwed mothers and their children. Thousands of children in the occupied territories were kidnapped and raised in special SS installations . . . Lurid postwar accounts describe Lebensborn as "stud farms" where SS men and suitable young women were mated to breed a master race. While Himmler's program did nothing to discourage illegitimacy, there is no evidence that he sponsored illicit sexual liaisons nor is there any proof that the kidnapping of children was done on a large scale. The fact that there were only 700 employees in n1 the Lebensborn homes casts doubts on such claims (Toland 1977: 1046n).

Eleuel (1974: 217,221) also exposes the "stud farm" myth:


Fantastic rumors surrounded the Lebensborn or "Fount of Life" association, not only during the Third Reich but even more so after its downfall. SS brothel or stud-farm, or a cross between the two--such were the sensational constructions placed upon it by each according to his particular flight of fancy. The truth . . . was far simpler and less lurid. Lebensborn was in fact a rather bourgeois institution founded in conformity with a conservative sexual code, serving to keep up an appearance of middle-class respectability and run in accordance with an almost monastic set of regulations.

. . . (M)en were strictly forbidden to visit the home except on special occasions. Male guests might then be invited to sip a cup of coffee, but any more intimate form of hospitality was taboo. The Lebensborn motto - "Every mother of good blood is our sacred trust" was puritanically followed to the letter.


The National Socialist attempt to create a biological elite from which would come the future leadership corpus of the Reich was centered upon the SS. The program was initiated by Himmler in April 1929, four years before Hitler 's accession to power, when he submitted to him and to the current chief of the SA a draft of regulations according to which no one was to be allowed to enter the SS who did not meet the strictest criteria, which were almost exclusively racial and aimed at selecting for Nordic phenotypes (Hoehne 1971: 59). In a wartime speech, Himmler described the program retrospectively:

Applicants for the SS had to submit photographs, and Himmler would peer at them through a magnifying glass until he was convinced that the applicants possessed "good blood" (Hoehne 1971 : 60) . On one occasion he told his officers:


I used to think: are there any definite indications of foreign blood in this man--prominent cheekbones, for instance, which might cause people to say "he has a Mongolian or Slav look about him"? Why did I do that? Let me draw your attention to the lessons of experience. Think of the types who were members of the soldiers' councils in 1918 and 1919 (Hoehne 1971: 60).

(The soldiers' councils were German soviet-style Communist organizations.)

Hitler held out to the World War I generation of soldiers the prospect of the formation of a racial aristocracy, an ideological elite. In the late 1930s, he ordered the RuSHA (Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt = Race and Settlement Main Office) to compose new and more stringent criteria for SS candidates. SS Hauptsturmfuehrer (Captain) Professor Bruno K. Schultz, a physical anthropologist, transmitted a set of criteria to the RuSHA Racial Commission, before which all prospective SS members had to appear for their final examinations (Hoehne 1971: 166).

Schultz divided his criteria into three parts: racial phenotype, physical condition, and "general bearing." He aimed his set of values to favor the Nordic type. He listed five racial groupings: "pure Nordic," "predominantly Nordic or Falic" [Falic = Brunn], "harmonious bastard [cross-breed] with slight Alpine, Dinaric or Mediterranean characteristics," "bastards of predominantly East Baltic or Alpine origin," and "bastards of extra-European origin." Only those in the first three categories were eligible to join the SS. Schultz also composed a list of nine categories of physical proportion as a guide for the physical examination of SS candidates (Hoehne 1971: 166). Candidates achieving ratings of 6-9 were passed; categories 4 and 5 were only passed after proving "Nordic qualities" in their behavior; while ratings 1-3 were failed (Knoebel 1965: 26). Himmler was adamant that his men be "of well-proportioned build; for instance there must be no disproportion between the lower leg and the thigh or between the legs and the body; otherwise an exceptional bodily effort is required to carry out long marches" (Hoehne 1971: 166-167). As to "Nordic bearing," Himmler put it this way: "The point is that in his attitude to discipline the man should not behave like an underling, that his gait, his hands, everything, should correspond to the ideal which we set ourselves" (Hoehne 1971: 167).

No mention was made of intellectual or educational attainments. As Knoebel (1965: 27) states: "No moral and intellectual achievement was refined to qualify as a Herrenmensch [a man born to be master]." Knoebel (1965:18) explains why this had to be the case:


. . . Certainly the SS never could have been developed along educational or social lines. The only criterion which could serve as a uniting bond was to establish the new elite along the lines of racial selection. This would make the Schutzstaffel [SS] attractive to ambitious upstarts as well as promise continued membership in the new elite to upper bourgeoisie and especially the nobility. Himmler had been fascinated with eugenic breeding ever since he had studied poultry science.

Alcoholics were rejected or expelled, as Knoebel (1965: 29) makes clear: "Others, who qualified superbly according to the racial charts by the commission, were dismissed because they were found incapable of controlling their consumption of alcohol." On December 31, 1931 Himmler issued a marriage law for SS men which stated that they could marry "solely if the necessary conditions of race and healthy stock were fulfilled" and only after approval by him or by RuSHA. The SS man and his fiancee had to fill out a RuSHA questionnaire, take a comprehensive physical examination administered by an SS doctor, provide photographs of themselves in bathing suits taken from three angles, and submit proof of Aryan ancestry back to 1800 (for officers, back to 1750). (The term "Aryan" as used in National Socialist laws and regulations denoted a person of non-Jewish European origin.) RuSHA would determine if both prospective spouses deserved to be entered into the SS clan book; in the case of SS leaders, Himmler would make the decision personally (Hoehne 1971: 168-169, 177). To quote this order:

1. The SS is a formation of German men in the Nordic mold . . .

2. In keeping with National Socialist ideology and cognizant that our national future depends upon the selection and preservation of racially and hereditarily good stock, I am . . introducing a "marriage permit" for all single members of the SS.

3. The intended aim is (to produce) a valuable clan of German stock in the Nordic mound.

4. The marriage permit will be granted or refused solely on grounds of race and hereditary health.

5. Every SS man who intends to marry must obtain a marriage permit from the Reichsfuehrer-SS.

6. SS members who marry notwithstanding the refusal of a marriage permit will be expelled from the SS . . .

7. The relevant processing of marriage applications will be the task of the "Racial Bureau" of the SS.

8. The Racial Bureau of the SS will keep the "Clan Book of the SS," in which the families of SS members will be entered after a marriage permit has been issued or a request for registration granted (Bleuel 1974: 265-266).

Jochen van Lang (1979: 440-444) has reproduced the actual SS medical examination form as it stood in late 1939. It was designed to be employed for both male and female applicants. The examination was divided into five sections: "Permission for Disclosure," "Past History of Family," "Past Medical Treatment," "Personal History," and "General Findings of Examination." Under "Past History of Family," the only category of interest here is "precise data on chronic diseases, i.e., endocrine disturbances, allergies, alcoholism." Family members included children, parents, siblings, children of siblings, and grandparents. Under "Personal History," there was a question about "Mental development (schooling, career training, delinquency if any)," on which the candidate had only to secure a rating of "normal" (average), and two questions on "Character development" and "Noteworthy special giftedness."

Section 5 was the most detailed and significant. It included a whole series of anthropometric and somatotypic measurements, as well as points on "Bearing and stride," coloration of skin and eyes, coloration and texture of hair, and presence or absence of the Mongolian fold (inner epicanthic eyefold). The racial diagnosis followed, and then a long list of meticulous medical determinations. For women, the listing "Capability to bear children" appeared, and for men "Reproductive capability." The nebulous listing "Degree of talent" followed, but could be passed simply by a rating of "normal." Next followed the question, "Does the subject of the examination make a credible and frank impression?" Finally, the form requested a "Summary judgment on suitability for marriage," and four questions were asked: "Total impression"; "Is perpetuation in racial/national sense desirable?"; "Are any conditions present that would affect medical opinion to contraindicate advisability of entering into a pregnancy?"; and "Is the subject now pregnant?" The rest of the form largely contained standard medical questions, although in greater number, detail, and specificity than one would normally expect.

Himmler expected his newborn biological elite to have large families, and did virtually everything in his power in the way of propaganda and indoctrination to assure such a result. In 1936 he decreed that SS men should marry between the ages of 25 and 30 (Smith 1975: 234). In the former, and in the latter as well, he was to be bitterly disappointed. The SS birth rate differed little from that of the population of the Reich as a whole. Knoebel (1965: 68-69) states:


The ideal image of an SS family as portrayed in the SS Leithefte [SS Manuals] consisted of a rather young couple surrounded by a large number of children . . . Yet the image was a fraud and statistics for 1937, for example, belie this picture. They show that the leaders of the SS, who often had adequate incomes, by and large remained captives of bourgeois customs. They enjoyed the convenience their positions afforded but were reluctant to assume the inconvenience and burden of a large family. According to statistics, each married SS officer who did not derive his income from the Schutzstaffel [SS] had 1.59 children. The ratio of children per marriage was a mere 1.28 children for those officers who were employed full-time by the Schutzstaffel or one of its sub-branches.

As of the end of 1939, instead of Himmler's heavily-emphasized average of 4 children, the 115,650 married SS men under officer rank had an average number of children per family of only 1.41. Even his broad hints that illegitimacy was fully acceptable for SS men if the women involved were of "good blood" availed practically nothing: of 12,081 children of married SS leaders between 20 and 50 years of age, only 135 were illegitimate (Hoehne 1971: 178-179). A caveat to be entered here is that these sets of figures could not, in many cases, have represented completed fertility. One must remember that the Waffen SS (Armed SS, i.e., combat troops), which composed the vast bulk of SS membership by 1941, sustained battle losses far in excess of those of other branches of the German fighting forces, many units being virtually decimated, which obviously had serious effects on the overall SS birth rate. In addition, the average age of members of the Waffen SS was significantly lower than that of members of the other branches of the fighting forces, and this was especially true of the officers.

What can be validly stated about this entire program from the standpoint of positive eugenics? Himmler undoubtedly saw it in positive eugenic terms. Several selection criteria fit into the framework of positive eugenics: freedom from hereditary defects, "noteworthy special giftedness" (a rather indefinite phrase), and good health. In addition, as noted, alcoholics were expelled. However, if one looks at the overall aims and criteria employed, one sees that they were largely racial--as Himmler intended. It is valid, then, to conclude that his program was intended to be positive eugenics--as eugenicists understand the term to some extent, but that the bulk of it can not be so characterized.


Adolf Hitler always intended that a large-scale negative eugenics program become an integral part of his future State. He expressed himself forthrightly on this point in Volume II of Mein Kampf, written in prison in 1924:


(We live) in a time which on the one hand gives every depraved degenerate the possibility for propagation, but which burdens the products of such a union themselves as well as their contemporaries with untold misery, while on the other had, the means for preventing births to even the healthiest parents are offered for sale in every drug store and by every street-hawker. Thus in this present State of quiet and order, in the eyes of its representatives, this brave bourgeois national world, the prevention of the procreative faculty of sufferers from syphilis' tuberculosis, hereditary diseases, of cripples and cretins is a crime, whereas the practical prevention of the procreative faculty of millions of the best is not looked upon as an evil and does not offend the good morals of this hypocritical society, but is rather of advantage to the short-sighted inertia of thought. . .

How boundlessly unideal and ignoble is this entire system! One no longer endeavors to breed the best for posterity, but one lets things go as they go. . .

It would correspond to the meaning of the most noble in this world if our two Christian churches . . . would teach our European mankind with kindness but in all earnestness, that with unhealthy parents it is a God-pleasing work to take pity on a healthy, poor little orphan, in order to give him father and mother, rather than putting a sick child into the world which will bring itself and the rest of the world only misfortune and suffering.

The voelkisch [ethnic-nationalist] State has to make up for what is today neglected in this field in all directions . . . It has to take care that only the healthy beget children; that there is only one disgrace: to be sick and to bring children into the world despite one's own deficiencies; but one highest honor: to renounce this . . . Hereby the State has to appear as the guardian of a thousand years' future, in the face of which the wish and the egoism of the individual appears as nothing and has to submit. It has to put the most modern medical means at the service of this knowledge. It has to declare unfit for propagation everybody who is visibly ill and has inherited a disease and it has to carry this out in practice . . .

He who is not physically and mentally healthy and worthy must not perpetuate his misery in the body of his child. Here the voelkisch State has to achieve the most enormous work of education . . . By education it has to teach the individual that it is not a disgrace but only a regrettable misfortune to be sick and weakly, but that it is a crime and therefore at the same time a disgrace to dishonor this misfortune by one's egoism by burdening it again upon an innocent being; that in the face of this it gives proof of a nobility of the highest mind and of most admirable humaneness if the innocently sick, by renouncing his own child, gives his love and tenderness to an unknown poor young descendant of his nationality, whose health promises that one day he will become a vigorous member of a powerful community . . .

The prevention of the procreative faculty and possibility on the part of physically degenerated and mentally sick people, for only six hundred years, would not only free mankind of immeasurable misfortune, but would also contribute to a restoration that appears hardly believable today. If thus the conscious methodical promotion of the fertility of the most healthy bearers of the nationality is realized, the result will be a race which, at least at first, will have eliminated the germs of our present physical, and with it of the spiritual, decline . . .

In the voelkisch State the voelkisch view of life has finally to succeed in bringing about that nobler era when men see their care no longer in the better breeding of dogs, horses and cats, but rather in the uplifting of mankind itself, an era in which the one knowingly and silently renounces, and the other gladly gives and sacrifices (Hitler 1941: 606-610).

In 1925, eight years before Hitler came to power, a eugenic sterilization draft law was submitted to the Reichstag but failed of passage. Between 1927 and 1933 a small number of sterilizations were performed on a consensual basis under an amendment to the German Criminal Code of 1927 which provided for the explicit consent of the Court of Chancery if costs were borne by public authorities (Harmsen 1955: 227). In 1932 the last pre-National Socialist government was about to introduce a eugenic sterilization law to be implemented on a voluntary basis.

When Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933, one of his first priorities, as promised in Mein Kampf, was the introduction of a comprehensive, compulsory eugenic sterilization law. It is well to remember that at this time the 18-member Reich Cabinet consisted of only 8 National Socialists, including Hitler as Chancellor, and 10 nationalist conservatives. Furthermore, Hitler not only had a (conservative) Vice-Chancellor, Franz van Papen - retained until mid 1934 but above all had over him the venerated Reichspraesident (President of the Reich) Field Marshall Paul van Hindenburg, who could have removed him at any time until his death in August 1934. Thus, it is apparent that during this period Hitler was subject to several checks upon his power.

On July 14, 1933 the Gesetz zur Verhuetung erbkranken Nachwuchses (Act for Averting Descendants Afflicted with Hereditary Disease) was enacted. Anthony Smith states that it "could well have been initiated without the help of the Nazis because the idea had been actively promoted for several decades" (Smith 1975: 220). The act provided for the compulsory sterilization of all those in and outside institutions who were afflicted with specific hereditary conditions. These conditions, and the contemporary German estimates of the number of citizens in each category, are listed below:

Hereditary feeble-mindedness: 200,000

Schizophrenia: 80,000

Epilepsy: 60,000

Manic-depressive psychosis: 20,000

Serious physical deformities: 20,000


Hereditary deafness: 16,000

Hereditary alcoholism: 10,000

Hereditary blindness: 4,000

Huntington's chorea: 600

TOTAL: 410,600

(Santoro 1938: 126)

Another purpose of the law was to reduce expenditures for the care of persons afflicted with the conditions named above, on the presumption that after sterilization, many institutionalized cases could be released. To provide some idea of the extent of institutionalization in Germany as of 1936, when the total population was about 60 million, the following figures are cited: 300,000 persons suffering from physical defects were interned in State-run homes - 44 for cripples, 42 for general paralytics, 123 for "incurables," etc. In addition, the State maintained 243 mental homes, 74 homes for the mentally retarded, 57 homes for nervous cases, and 19 homes for alcoholics. The entire German nation from 1870--the year before its unification under Bismarck- -increased in population by 50%, while in the same period the number of cases with hereditary pathologies increased by 450% (Santoro 1938: 126).

Under the law, the application for sterilization could be made by the patient, his lawyer (if the Court of Chancery approved), or a local public health officer. If the person was institutionalized or hospitalized, the institutional director could make the application. Erbgesundheitsgerichte (Hereditary Health Courts), which were annexed to District Courts, issued the preliminary judgments. Appeals could be made against their decisions within two weeks, and these appeals went before Hereditary Health Courts annexed to Provincial Courts of Appeal(Harmsen 1955: 228). The court of final resort was the Eugenic Supreme Court in Charlottenburg, a suburb of Berlin. An additional statute provided for the compulsory sterilization of those committing sexual crimes. The Reich government also announced that it was undertaking a census of genetically defective stocks so that thorough data could be secured on prospective sterilization cases ("Eugenical Sterilization in Germany," pp. 89, 90). The preamble to the law laid stress on the expenses incurred by the State for the maintenance of "asocial, degenerate, and incurably diseased persons." The State was spending more than one billion marks per year for that purpose, while at the same time Germany was suffering a severe economic depression (Santoro 1938: 126).

The first Verordnung (official ordinance) to implement the law was issued on December 5, 1933 by the of the Interior and the Reichminster of Justice. The greater part of this ordinance is reproduced in Appendix 1. A second Verordnung was promulgated on May 29, 1934 by the same authorities. It specified that as a preliminary to the application for sterilization the official doctor could call in the person for medical examination and, if necessary, call upon the police to aid him. Hospitals, institutions, and physicians were required to provide information to the official doctors upon request.

On May 19, 1934 a Circular Letter on the law was sent out by the Reichsminister of the Interior, Dr. Wilhelm Frick. Among other things, it declared that official doctors were to visit private institutions and, in consultation with the directors, decide which patients came under the provisions of the law. A patient could avoid sterilization by entering a "closed" institution (where patients were not permitted to leave the premises). The Eugenics Courts, it was stated, would find it advantageous to hold sittings in these institutions or even in institutions treating outpatients coming under the law (Lewis 1934:184).

An official commentary on the law by three figures who played a leading part in its development was published in book form in 1934. The first of the three was Professor Dr. Ernst Ruedin, founder of psychiatric genetics, Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry in Munich, Director of the German Society for Race Hygiene (an alternate term for eugenics widely in use at the time), and a collaborating editor of the Archiv fuer Rassen- und Gesellechaftsbiologie (Archive for Racial and Social Biology). The second and third authors were Medizinalrat (Medical Officer) Dr. Arthur Guett, and Dr. Falk Ruttke, both officials of the Ministry of the Interior ( Fisher 1934: 40, 41; Lewis 1934: 184).

The book contained an appendix on surgical techniques for vasectomy and salpingectomy (tubal ligation). The law specified that an official doctor presented with difficulties of psychiatric diagnosis which he was not qualified to settle might send the patient into a mental hospital or clinic for diagnosis, and that this could be done before decision on the case by the Eugenic Court. The three commentators described this provision as applicable when the person to be sterilized attempted to evade the operation. They also discussed another provision whereby a patient in a "closed" institution who appeared to come under the law could neither be discharged nor given leave until application for sterilization had been put and a decision rendered. Dr. Ruedin declared that it was the intention of the Reichstag that all research in human genetics be exempted from its provisions (Lewis 1934: 184, 185, 186).

Further sections of the official commentary dealt with the diseases specified in the law. The view that valuable qualities - even genius - which might accompany manic-depressive psychosis should be weighted against the psychosis in a decision about sterilization was discounted. Applications were to be put in all such cases, regardless of the completeness of recovery, subsequent duration of good mental health, or any particular valuable endowments. It was explicitly stated that, in view of variations in medical terminology, especially in psychiatry, diagnoses other than those specified in the law would require notification. Some examples named were melancholia, depression, paranoia, confusional states, delusions of persecution, religious mania, delirium, paraphrenia, convulsions, and states of excitement. In the section on physical malformations, a broad range of conditions was dealt with, and it was stated that such a disorder as severe myopia had to be reported (Lewis 1934: 186-187).

The commentary further stated that the word "can" in the law was to be understood in a permissive sense. Prior to the law, all eugenic sterilization was assumed to be forbidden, but the law permitted it in instances specified. However, where the diagnosis was certain, and none of the stated grounds for exemption applied (i.e., when age, health, or permanent segregation precluded procreation), then the applicable word was "must." A decision of the Eugenic Court in Stettin confirmed this compulsory interpretation (Lewis 1934: 187-188).

At the lecture course given by the German Mental and Racial Hygiene Union, of which Dr. Ruedin was Reichskommissar (National Commissioner), and subsequently at the annual congress of the German Psychiatric Society, he stated that the law applied to foreigners resident in Germany, but those coming under the law had the alternative of leaving the country. He added that in matters of genetic disease and sterilization there could be no compromise, and that defects in the law could not be permitted to obstruct activity. He advised critics to stop criticizing and to join in the endeavor themselves (Lewis 1934: 188, 189).

Dr. Ruedin sent out from the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute a questionnaire to all hospitals and sanitarial requesting data on patients with hereditary physical and mental pathologies for both research purposes and possible recommendations for sterilization (Lewis 1934: 189). Dr. Dornredden, an official of the Reich Ministry of Health, supplied figures obtained from 21 selected mental institutions housing over 24,000 patients at the end of 1933. Of these more than 80% had one of the genetic mental pathologies named in the law. It was found that 67% would require permanent institutionalization, and of the remainder more than 2/3 would have to be sterilized prior to discharge, the majority suffering from schizophrenia or severe mental retardation. Taking the total portion of German mental hospitals and institutions as 160,000, Dornredden projected a figure of 36,000 sterilizations. This figure did not include the yearly influx of patients and those living outside institutions. He added that his figure was probably too low (Lewis 1934: 188).

Catholic judges and surgeons were exempted from participation in the administration of the law, since the Church had specifically condemned sterilization. Dr. Ruedin, in reply to an inquiry, stated that priests and nuns were subject to the provisions of the law if they were mentally defective on the supposition that their mental status impeded them from fulfilling their vows of chastity (Lewis 1934: 187).

Hereditary feeble-mindedness, schizophrenia, and hereditary epilepsy accounted for 85% of the sterilization's. Sterilization's were performed on equal numbers of males and females. Those for hereditary feeble-mindedness were performed more often on females, while those for chronic alcoholism more often on males. Two-thirds of all sterilizations occurred between 1934-1936 (Harmsen 1955: 228-229) .

It is interesting to note that some cases which fell into one of the categories liable for sterilization were not in fact sterilized on the grounds of "social proof." This occurred when it could be demonstrated that a person with, for example, a hereditary physical malformation, was self-supporting, or made some contribution to the nation. As a case in point, Harmsen (1955: 229) was able to demonstrate in 1935 that persons with congenital dislocation of the hip were in general quite talented and socially valuable; the result was that many applications for sterilizations in these cases were rejected, and many were not even put at all. He adds: " The rather high proportion of decisions of the superior court rejecting a sterilization on account of 'social proof' likewise shows precision in handling the law" (Harmsen 1955: 229). He further states: "By bringing a case to the Erbgesundheitsobergerichte (Hereditary Health Superior Courts) as the higher court, which was done fairly frequently, local influences could be avoided and new scientific knowledge could be taken into account"(Harmsen 1955: 229).

In an address in Berlin on June 28, 1933, Dr. Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior, made the following comments in justification of the sterilization law, and of eugenics generally:


Since we have not yet taken any heredo-biological census, we are confined to estimates. While we may assume that the cases of serious physical and mental hereditary diseases number about 500,000, the number of minor cases is considerably higher. According to some authors 20% of the German population are considered to be hereditary detectives, whose progeny is therefore undesirable. In addition to this, consider that just the feeble-minded and inferior persons multiply at a rate greatly exceeding the average. Deplorable as it sounds, the healthy German family of today hardly produces an average of two children while we find that just the feeble-minded and inferior produce twice and even three times as many children, on the average. This means, however, that the highly endowed and valuable stocks decrease from generation to generation, facing complete extinction -with their achievements and German culture - in very few generations . . .(T)he possibility of our economic and social survival and our capability of self-defense is constantly being reduced by this decrease and deterioration of our people . . .

With the exceedingly heavy burdens placed upon our people by taxation, wage deductions and interest payments, we must realize the necessity for revision of our entire legislation and a reduction of the great burden of inferior and antisocial population. It is only by examining the sums expended by the Government, the State and the communities for the maintenance of the unfit, the antisocial, diseased, feeble-minded, insane, deformed (meaning only hereditary deformities and not those acquired by disease or injuries) and criminal, that we realize the disproportionate burdens put upon a population already struggling for its existence. Here are a few examples: the daily per capita cost of maintenance amounts to

4.00 RM [Reichemarks] for the insane,

3.50 RM for the criminal,

to 6.00 RM for the deformed and the deaf and dumb,

while the unskilled laborer earns about 2.50, the employee 3.60 and the minor official approximately 4.00 RM daily. These are the consequences of a system of exaggerated care for the single individual, a system which kills the energy of the healthy and brings up a nation of dependents. On the other side the valuable families are so overburdened that they consequently resort to birth-control. What we have practiced heretofore: personal hygiene and the care of the individual have been overdone and without considering the principles of heredity, of selection and of race-hygiene. This sort of modern "humanity" and social care of the diseased, weak and inferior individual must, when we consider the nation as a whole, prove the greatest cruelty to the people and finally lead to its ruin.

In order to avert the threatening disaster, it is urgent to reform the entire public health system, as well as the attitude of physicians; it is necessary to change our duties from the point of view of race-hygiene . . .

To increase the number of sound offspring, it is above all our duty to reduce the expenditures for the antisocial, inferior and those suffering from hopeless hereditary diseases and to prevent reproduction by hereditary defective persons. . .

The scientific study of heredity (based on the progress of the last decades) has enabled us clearly to recognize the rules of heredity and selection as well as their meaning for the nation and the state. It gives us the right and the moral obligation to eliminate hereditary detectives from procreation. No misinterpreted charity nor religious scruples, based on the dogmas of past centuries, should prevent us from fulfilling this duty; on the contrary it should be considered an offense against Christian and social charity to allow hereditary detectives to continue to produce offspring ~ having recognized that this would mean endless suffering to themselves and to their kin in this and future generations . . . . . . (T)he salary scale of officials should be more effectively adjusted in proportion to the size of the family and the number of children. The salary of an official should not only be a compensation, but afford sufficient income for the family. An income necessary to support a family of 3 or 4 children should be adopted as the standard from which salaries may be graded upwards and downwards . . . (T)he free professions and the industrial middle-class could be reached by drastic tax reductions . . . (O)ur public health system should be unified and placed in the service of race-hygiene by constructive measures. Together with the present sanitary regulations it will be necessary to banish the dangers of hereditary defects in accordance with our knowledge of heredity and race hygiene. This would insure the propagation of hereditarily sound and fit human stock . . .

To enlighten the people on the subject of heredity and anthropology, these studies must develop into an eugenic education of the youth of the entire nation, as a preparation for matrimony. In order to make this knowledge available to all and to put appropriate educational material at the disposal of teachers and educational institutions, I have organized a Public Health Committee . . . Too prolonged scientific education, as much as exaggerated sports, prevent an early establishment of the family. Just the educated strata are most affected, because postponed marriages are often the cause of celibacy, (venereal) disease and unhappy unions. Here again it is up to the educated youth . . . to strive toward improvement of their own family-stocks by suitable matings . . . We must have the courage to rate our population according to its hereditary value, in order to supply the State with leaders. If other nations and foreign elements do not wish to follow us in this course, that is their own affair. I see the greatest aim and duty of the Government of our national revolution in warranting the improvement and preservation of our German people in the heart of Europe (Frick 1934: 34, 35, 36, 37, 38).

Frick defended the law before an international audience of scholars in August 1935 when he addressed the International Congress on Population:


. . . (T)his law has for its aim to relieve not only the present generation, but also future ones, of the heavy burden of disease with its resulting sufferings. Hence the law, considered from a moral standpoint, is superior to the law of Christian charity which is restricted in its operation to the living generation.

We are reproached with inaugurating a "racial religion" and with violating by these eugenic measures the Christian commandment of charity. If, however, it was not too venturesome to modify the original system of Nature by enabling, thanks to the progress of science, a large number of sick persons to prolong their lives, it cannot be unjust to prevent the benefit which has thus accrued to sick persons from becoming in its turn an impediment for those who have the privilege of enjoying health (Santoro 1938: 125).

The sterilization law was amended on June 26, 1935 to provide for the consensual castration of sex offenders if, in the opinion of a public health officer or forensic physician, the operation was considered necessary to eliminate degenerate sexual desires from which further sexual offenses could reasonably be expected. The amendment did not affect the existing law providing for the compulsory castration of dangerous, habitual sex offenders, which could be ordered by the ordinary criminal courts (Wittelshoefer 1942: 91). The sterilization of dangerous, habitual criminals was also provided for, and consensual eugenic abortion was legalized in cases where either spouse suffered from a genetic pathology (Santoro 1938: 126).

The law was further amended on February 24, 1936 to permit an abortion to be performed along with a sterilization with the consent of the pregnant woman, unless the fetus was viable or the termination involved serious danger to the woman's life or health. This regulation conformed to the general intent of the sterilization law, i.e., to risk losing normal offspring in order to prevent the birth of those who might be defective (Wittelshoefer 1942: 91).

On September 13, 1939 the Ministry of the Interior ordered that medical health officers not apply for sterilization of women if pregnancy were unlikely, e.g., for those undergoing menopause or those who had been married several years without reproducing, if the diagnoses were unclear, or if the cases were considered borderline. A further order of the Ministry on April 8, 1943 laid down additional restrictions, and directed medical officers to place applications for sterilization only where the diagnosis was unmistakably clear and a "classic form of development" could be predicted, or if a particular case could be diagnosed with certitude as a hereditary pathology. Judgment was said to be based upon "practical genetics" and "social adjustment" (Harmsen 1955: 229).

In the domain of negative eugenic marriage legislation, on October 18,1935 the Law Relating to Matrimonial Hygiene was promulgated (Santoro 1938: 125).Prior to this law, the standard State loans provided to newlyweds had been denied when one or both partners suffered from a genetic mental or physical pathology regarded as rendering the marriage "undesirable in the interest of the nation" (Fischer 1934: 43). The law prohibited marriages in cases where admitted infirmities would cause future unhappiness for parents and offspring. It also stated that m marriage could be contracted without a medical certificate attesting to the biological fitness of both partners (Santoro 1938: 125). Any marriage contracted in violation of the law was void. The certificate was to be issued by the local Health Office, which was connected with the Premarital Counseling Center, a kind of basic genetic counseling facility where healthy unions were encouraged and undesirable ones discouraged (Mullen 1937: 270).

With the coming of the war, the foregoing provisions were applied only in very serious cases. The mere existence of one or more of the impediments to marriage detailed in the law no longer justified the refusal of the prenuptial health certificate. Henceforward, it was to be denied only if severe damage to the nation's health or to the "purity of German blood" could be expected. The registrar was required to demand it only when he entertained serious suspicions about the possibility of impediments under the law, or when the Public Health Office (which he had to notify in cases of all applications for the banns) suggested it. When a certificate was required the local Public Health Office had to perform a special medical examination of the couple. If there was no doubt from the records that the case was serious, the couple would be denied the certificate without an examination. (It should be mentioned that as of 1942, at least, the certificate had not become generally compulsory.) (Wittelshoeffer 1942: 91-92).

An ordinance of October 22, 1941 specified that as of December 1, 1941 all engaged couples, other than those including members of the armed services and similar units, had to produce an Ehebedenklichkeitsbescheinieun--(Certificate of No Objection to Matrimony) to the registrar when the banns were applied for, or, at the latest, just before the marriage. The new certificate did not certify the absence of the impediments specified in the law, but declared only that according to the records of the Public Health Office there was no objection to the proposed union. In actuality, it did not change the conditions for refusal, but left it up to the couple to tell the truth. The couple would apply for the certificate, and the Public Health Office had to grant it if there were no suspicion of a serious case. The registrar then had to register the union unless he received contravening information from the Public Health Office (Wittelshoefer 1942: 92). These modifications in wartime were made to encourage the maintenance of the birthrate in view of heavy casualties.

Parenthetically, in other areas relating to negative eugenics, a provision that prospective civil servants be free from any "hereditary taint" (erbliche Belastung) was added to the requirements for obtaining government positions in the early years of the regime (Wullen 1937: 270), and the State undertook the enormous task of recording the family pedigrees of the entire German people. By 1936, 600,000 had been obtained, verified, and filed. The pedigrees included the propositi, their parents, grandparents, and other close relatives, and recorded sufficient data to indicate, among other things, the physical and mental status of every person (Campbell 1936: 25).

How many sterilizations were actually carried out in Germany in the years 1933-1945? No precise figure can be given, since most of the records were lost during the war (Harmsen 1955: 227). Franz Guertner, Minister of Justice at the time, stated that 62,463 were sterilized in 1934 and 71,760 in 1935. After 1936, however, there was a significant decrease in the number of cases referred to the Hereditary Health Courts. Fritz Lenz, Germany's leading eugenicist, estimated a maximum of 350,000, but Harmsen surmised a figure of between 200,000 and 250,000. Harmsen added that his estimate "exceeds by far the total number of sterilizations in all other countries of the world since the enactment in 1907 of the first sterilization law in the American state of Indiana" (Harmsen 1955: 227).

It should be recognized that eugenic sterilization laws were far from unique to National Socialist Germany. Indeed, it was the United States which pioneered them. By 1931, 30 of the 48 states had passed such a law at one time or another, and they were still on the statute books in 27, even if not always enforced (Haller 1984: 137). These laws were unique ventures observed closely by foreign eugenicists. The first non-American jurisdictions to enact such laws were the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland (Kemp 1947: 182) and the Canadian province of Alberta in 1928 (Wullen 1937: 272). Denmark followed suit in 1929 (Kemp 1947: 182). The State of Veracruz in Mexico adopted such a law in 1932 (Mendoza 1933). The Canadian province of British Columbia followed in 1933 (Wullen 1937: 272-273), Norway in 1934 (Kemp 1947: 182), Finland in 1935 (Kemp 1947:182), and Iceland (Stefansson 1939: 127-129) and Estonia (Kemp 147: 182) in 1937. Wullen (1937: 273-275) provides information on negative eugenic marriage laws in the United States, Estonia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Lithuania, Sweden, Iceland, Bulgaria, Mexico, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, E1 Salvador, Venezuela, Italy, Monaco, Austria, Hungary, Greece, and Spain. All these laws prohibited marriage in cases of hereditary mental pathologies, hereditary feeblemindedness, and, in a couple of instances, specified hereditary physical pathologies.

The charge has sometimes been made that Germany's sterilization program was used for political purposes. After the war, the case records in certain instances gave the impression that the law had been abused to punish political enemies of the regime. Harmsen investigated the matter, and reported his results:


. . . I asked my students of the Akademie fuer Staatsmedizin [School of Public Health] in Hamburg to examine the documents on the carrying out of the Erbgesundheitsgesetz [Hereditary Health Law] in representative urban and rural zones. The results obtained by these public health officers have been collected in a series of papers. In all these investigations there was no evidence that any reasons other than eugenic ones influenced the handling of the proceedings. The improper political misuse mentioned above seems to have occurred only to a very insignificant extent....1955: 228).

What, then, is our verdict on the German eugenic sterilization program? First, it was not qualitatively different from others - e.g., those in the United States--but it differed markedly in a quantitative sense, a result of the fact that when the German totalitarian State decided on definite objectives, such as eliminating unemployment or increasing the birthrate, it did not generally carry them out slowly or by half-measures. Second, it should by now be evident that there was nothing particularly unusual or perverse about the criteria or implementation of the German sterilization law.


The major conclusion to be drawn from the historical evidence presented in this paper is completely at variance with popular assumptions. Put simply, there was no barbaric abuse of eugenics in National Socialist Germany. The exterminations had nothing to do with eugenics--Hitler ordered the Jews destroyed because he held them responsible for World War II and despised them bitterly. The euthanasia program was instituted for pragmatic reasons which bore no relation to eugenics. The notion of Lebensborn as a "stud farm" is pure fiction. A few of the criteria for SS membership and marriage were eugenic, but most were not, and the aim of increasing the SS birthrate was never fulfilled. The eugenic marriage laws were not extraordinary. Finally, the sterilization program could in no sense be characterized as perverse or barbaric.

In response to the question posed in the introduction to this paper as to whether the main source of the opprobrium eugenics has suffered for forty years is "guilt by association," the answer must be an unequivocal "Yes." It is analogous to a man being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for a crime he never committed.

In view of the evidence presented, the reader might well wonder, "How did the false association between eugenics and atrocities committed in the third Reich ever come into being? And how has it managed to sustain itself all this time?" The explanatory factors include: the general confusion, intentional and unintentional misinformation, uncritical attitudes, and error which abound concerning this period; pure sensationalism - always lucrative, with Hitler an ideal subject; and conscious and unconscious perpetuation of this false association by such enemies of eugenics as liberals, Marxists, and other egalitarians.

It is incumbent upon us to devise and implement positive and negative eugenics programs, and they must be considered on their own merits, apart from sensational and false popular associations with exterminations, euthanasia, and so-called "stud farms." What the eminent Jewish political philosopher Leo Stress has called the "reductio ad Hitlerum argument" has done nothing more than obscure the real issues and postpone the day of reckoning when the most pressing problem confronting humanity must be faced.

I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Marian Van Court for her invaluable help and steadfastness in the preparation of this article.

Stephen B. Saetz holds an M.A. degree in physical anthropology from Rutgers University, and is going on to take his Ph.D. in a combination of physical anthropology and human behavioral genetics. He has also done extensive independent work on the history of the Third Reich.


The application for sterilization is not to be made if great age or other causes render procreation impossible, if the operation would endanger life, or if the patient has to be permanently detained in a "closed" institution. In the last instance, he may not be discharged or given parole until the application for sterilization has been made and the decision given. Sterilization is not to be undertaken before completion of the tenth year.

Punitive institutions in the sense of the law are institutions where convicted prisoners or prisoners on trial are detained, or in which measures associated with the loss of liberty are carried out for the purpose of securing or improving persons.

If a qualified doctor in the course of his profession gets to know a person who has a hereditary disease as specified, or who suffers from severe alcoholism, then he must immediately report it to the official doctor. The same duty rests on other persons who have to do with the treatment, examination or advising of patients.

If the official doctor thinks sterilization is called for, he shall set about getting the person to be sterilized or his legal representative to put forward the proposal. If this fails, he must do so himself.

The Eugenic Court or Supreme Eugenic Court can, after hearing the official doctor, order the commitment of the person to be sterilized to an appropriate hospital for a period up to six weeks. If sterilization is finally decided upon by the court, then the official doctor has to call on the patient in wring to be sterilized within two weeks; the appropriate hospitals are to be enumerated in the notification. If the patient has not alone put forward the proposal for his sterilization, he must further be informed that the operation will be done, even against his will.

If the person to be sterilized has obtained admission at his own cost to a "closed" institution, which guarantees that he will not procreate, then on his proposal the Court orders that the operation shall not be undertaken as long as he stays there or in a similar institution. If his legal representative made the application for this before the patient had completed his eighteenth year, then the patient can, on attaining this age, apply to be sterilized.

If, after the given period, the operation has not been performed and the person to be sterilized has not been admitted to a "closed" institution, or has left such an institution, then the operation is to be carried out with the help of the police, if necessary by the application of direct force, in an institution designated by the official doctor. Direct force may not be employed for the sterilization of young people until they have completed their fourteenth year.

A patient whose sterilization has been decided upon, but who has been admitted to a 'closed" institution, may not be discharged or given parole unless he has been sterilized or the decision has been reversed.

Any doctor who sterilizes or castrates a patient to avert a serious risk to life or health must report it in writing within three days to the appropriate official doctor (Lewis 1934: 183-184).


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