Analyse the Role of Eugenis in the Third Reich

            Eugenics is the study & practice of breeding applied to humans. The Third Reich was a racial state, and eugenics formed a major part of their racial ideology and practice. In a wider sense eugenics would also incorporate preventing German Aryans from committing ‘racial defilement’; hence the Nuremberg race laws. Negative eugenics in a narrow sense encompasses sterilisation and euthanasia, targeting Aryans, which played a major role in the third Reich. It is important to point out as it is often confused; the Holocaust is not considered part of what is understood by eugenics in the context of the Third Reich because the Holocaust is a special case in the form of genocide.

            The racial policy of Nazi Germany was a set of policies and laws implemented by Nazi Germany, asserting the superiority of the “Aryan race,” and based on a specific racist doctrine which claimed scientific legitimacy, It was combined with a eugenics programme that aimed for racial hygiene by using compulsory sterilizations  extermination of the Utermensch (or “sub-humans”. These policies targeted Jews, Gypsies, coloured, mentally and physically handicapped along with those with ‘genetic’ diseases. These people were placed at the bottom of a hierarchical system. While the Volksgemeinschaft (or “national community”) were situated at the top.

            Eugenics was not a uniquely Nazi idea. Decades before the 1930’s doctors, pharmacists and scientists in many countries thought that industrial urban society was degenerating, because of the ever increasing amount of unfit individuals. Migration represented a sort of eugenic anxiety, with several societies’ fearing that they were either loosing the right, or gaining the wrong sort of people. Towards the end of the 19th century biology and medical science was coming to the fore. This is connected to huge medical advancements such as finding the TB bacteria etc. Medical science became not only about combating individual sickness, but it made the leap of looking at the population as a whole, questions such as ‘are our people healthy’ entered into the public forum. The fear of the deterioration of one’s people came to the fore. This is not necessarily a bad thing, this can have both negative and positive effects, social welfare, poor relief policy’s sprung from this, or it could go the other way speaking about eradication rather than treatment.

            As well as being an international scientific trend, eugenics spanned conventional political divides, and attracted enthusiasts from both sexes. It is important to note there were many Jewish Racial Hygienists but these were later purged after the Nazi’s came to power. Although eugenicists included extreme anti-Semitic fringes, bent on creating blonde hair blue eyed races, they also numbered socialists. Even Churchill had introduced a euthanasia bill into Britain which failed. However this indicates that Eugenics can come from the far left not just from the far right. Richard J Evans argues that eugenics was multifaceted, alternately presenting hard and soft faces tempering itself depending on national circumstances. For example if Christians did not like the idea of reducing the cost of institutional care through sterilization, they would find it hard to disagree with a more moderate campaign suggesting careful thought about marriage partners, the preservation of the family, and the virtues of a temperate lifestyle. Eugenics could be seen as a type of unifying policy in which the Nazi’s could claim to be creating an Aryan state or master race, the apparatus or means of creating this master race was camouflaged/justified to the public via propaganda. 

            The social rise of eugenics in popular society was a matter of being at the right place at the right time. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time rapid social and economic change in Europe and Germany. As cities became more industrial, millions sought jobs within their boundaries leaving the rural areas behind. This mass exodus from the rural regions created friction as people faced merciless competition for the ever-decreasing number of city jobs. The white middle and upper classes began to fear the ultimate consequence of the social changes. Eugenics provided an answer to maintaining the level of respectability they had grown accustomed to. Eugenics was the “new science that would combine advances in the field of genetics with desired efficiency in the assembly line.

            In the early years of the Reich sterilization although carried out in greater numbers than anywhere else, was not primarily racial in character in the sense of being based on the identification of inferior races, the people who were being sterilized were usually Aryan Germans who were criminals, mentally ill etc. These reasons were not much different from those given by Swedish authorities at that time. The real difference would emerge much later, when the war broke out, as the Nazi’s turned from sterilizing social deviants to murdering them. Sterilization would play an important in cost cutting as many patients who were institutionalized were realised back into society as they could no longer reproduce ‘degenerate offspring which would damage German society. Sterilization would play a role in creating a racially pure Aryan society.

Adolf Hitler always intended that a large-scale negative eugenics program become an integral part of his future State. On July 14, 1933 the Cabinet passed the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseases in Future Generations. This law, called for the sterilization of “lives unworthy of life”. These “unworthy lives” included those persons suffering from congenital mental retardation, schizophrenia, manic-depressive insanity, epilepsy, Huntington’s chorea, hereditary blindness, hereditary deafness, grave bodily malformation, and severe alcoholism. One purpose of the Compulsory Sterilization law of 1933 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. An additional statute provided for the compulsory sterilization of those committing sexual crimes. 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. Sterilization played a role in creating a ‘racial hygienic state’ as well as being economically positive

By 1939 high ranking German officials said it was necessary to kill a proportion of psychiatric patients in order to create bed space for anticipated military casualties. These patients represented for the Nazi’s a burden on the collective future. Killing became a form of cost saving for the third Reich. The Nazi’s reason that welfare capital would be better spent on the healthy than on unproductive cripples. Practical policies were not long coming, from the very beginning they announced they were going to reduce expenditure by only focusing on the racially sound healthy people. They were not only going to reduce expenditure on criminals and the mentally insane they also wished to prevent the reproduction of the severely handicapped and in 1933  the law for the ‘prevention of hereditary diseased offspring’ came in to action. This made sterilization compulsory for these people compulsory.

            A concern existed with regard to economically burdensome and biologically damaging people to the health of the collective racial organism was heightened by the loss of the first world war, and the effects of the great depression allowed such ideas to be justified on economic grounds. Ideas of Euthanasia and sterilization were gaining ground all around Europe, however what was uniquely German was the zeal and efficiency in which it was carried out. Also the carrying out of compulsory sterilization on ‘racial grounds’ was where the Reich really became unique. However criticism of Sterilization was tempered by the belief that state directed eugenics was entirely rational, because of the need to reduce carriers of so called bad genes in national socialist community life. Sterilization was viewed as a means of preventing future anti-social behaviour, and it occupied an important ideological role in the Third Reich.


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