When talking about Churchill’s eugenic ideas, I mentioned the first international eugenic congress in London in 1912. Among the speakers there was a representative of the American Breeders Association, Bleeker van Wagenen. His presentation was largely based on the “Preliminary Report” of the eugenic section of that Association “on the best practical means for cutting off defective germplasm in the human population.”
Among the possibilities under consideration was “euthanasia.” Don’t think that it was mentioned in the context of painless death of the terminally ill (although that’s also terrible in itself). Rather, it was mentioned as a method of “humane” disposal of people deemed unworthy of living. And the main such method, which was then widely discussed in Great Britain, the United States and many other countries, were “death chambers,” i.e. gas chambers.
Gas chambers were invented in Great Britain in the late 19th century as a “humane” method of killing stray cats and dogs. Almost immediately there were ideas to use them for the “humane” execution of criminals. And among eugenicists, to get rid of “unfit” people.
In 1905 the British proponent of birth control, the socialist Eden Paul, wrote that society must defend itself against those who “produce anti-social acts that may harm future generations. If it [society] rejects death chambers, what other alternative can a socialist state devise?”
The following year the British eugenicist Robert Rentoul included a large section titled ”Killing Degenerates” in his book Racial Culture or Racial Suicide? Rentoul, however, rejected the idea of mass murder, finding it too brutal. But George Bernard Shaw, the famous writer and eugenicist, did not reject it. In 1910 he stated, ”Part of the eugenic policy will eventually lead us to the widespread use of the death chamber. So many people would have to be exterminated simply because other people’s time is wasted in caring for them.” In general, not all British eugenicists but still quite a few of them seriously discussed such a ”final solution” to the problem of ”unfit” people.
The same thing was happening in America. But in that country with its pragmatic “business approach,” this path began to be considered normal and acceptable quite quickly. In 1900 the physician W. Duncan McKim published a book entitled Heredity and Human Progress, where he wrote:
“Heredity is the principal cause of human wretchedness… The surest, simplest, kindest and most humane means of preventing the procreation of those whom we deem unworthy of this high privilege [of reproduction] is a gentle and painless death.” And he added: “We have a substance–carbon dioxide–that will satisfy this need instantly.”
Such cannibalistic misanthropic ideas were frequently proposed, and practical projects for their realization were quite numerous. US lawmakers were also thinking about them.
In general, already around 1910 the idea of sending all “unfit” people to the gas chambers was widely discussed in the United States by many sociologists and eugenicists. For example, E. B. Sherlock, in his book The Demented: A Manual of Study and Practice (1911), testified, “The frivolous suggestions of erecting death chambers are quite common…”
New York urologist William Robinson, another advocate of eugenics and birth control, in his book Eugenics, Marriage and Birth Control (Practical Eugenics) suggested that the offspring of “unfit” people be killed by gas.
At the First National Conference on Race Improvement, a University of Wisconsin eugenicist, Leon J. Cole praised new eugenic approaches to breeding. He explained, “…instead of natural selection, it is now conscious selection by the breeder. Death is a normal process of elimination in the social organism, and we can go even further and say that by prolonging the life of defective individuals, we interfere with the kidneys of society!”
In his popular book Applied Eugenics, renowned eugenicist Paul Popenoe wrote about getting rid of “unfit” people: “From a historical perspective, the first method that comes to mind is execution…. Do not underestimate its importance in maintaining the level of racial standards.”
I think we have shared enough examples here. But let’s turn our attention to one more author.
The famous American author Madison Grant wrote a book The Departure of the Great Race: The Racial Basis of European History (1916), where he said:
“A misguided respect for what are considered divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life usually prevents both the destruction of defective infants and the sterilization of such adults who are of no value to society. The laws of nature require the destruction of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is useful to society or the race.”
As you can see, these are already full-fledged Nazi ideas that we would expect to see in Hitler’s books and speeches. And they were not only widely discussed in society, but some physicians used them in practice as well, deliberately withholding care to babies of “unfit” parents so that they would die. Institutions for the “feeble-minded” have often deliberately created conditions that caused a high mortality of patients.
The ideas of Americans had a serious influence on eugenicists in other countries, including Europe. Germany was no exception. At the same time, American “charities” generously sponsored “overseas” eugenicists.
For example, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Institute invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the development of German “racial biology.” It was not the Nazis, but the American eugenicists, the intellectual and political elite of the United States, who were the first to speak of people who are “hereditarily unfit” and “useless to society”, referring to them as “microbes,” “parasites,” “mongrels” and “subhumans.” This is the eugenic superiority of the “Nordic race.”
What became the theory of Rasse und Blut (race and blood) in Nazi Germany was in fact forged in the United States. American proposals, forced sterilization laws, eugenic studies and ideas were a source of serious inspiration for German theorists and practitioners.
Remember the words of Madison Grant, the eugenicist, supporter of the extermination of the “unfit” and the domination of the “Nordic race”? One day, in the early 1930s, he was visited by a representative of the leadership of the American Eugenic Association, Leon Whitney. Whitney showed Madison a letter he had just received from an enthusiastic reader of his articles from Germany. Madison responded by cheerfully showing a letter from the same German admirer praising his book, The Passing of a Great Race. The fan wrote that Madison’s book had become “his Bible.” The author of the letter was a successful German politician who would soon surpass his American teachers by destroying millions of racially and biologically “unfit” people in special institutions and concentration camps. This man’s name was Adolf Hitler.
This article is based on foreign publications, especially the American study Edwin Black, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race (2003).
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