Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Sterilization and the Nazi Biomedical Vision 
No wonder that Fritz Lenz, a German physician-geneticist advocate of sterilization (later a leading ideologue in the Nazi program of “racial hygiene”), could, in 1923, berate his countrymen for their backwardness in the domain of sterilization as compared with the United States. Lenz complained that provisions in the Weimar Constitution (prohibiting the infliction of bodily alterations on human beings) prevented widespread use of vasectomy techniques; that Germany had nothing to match the eugenics research institutions in England and the United States (for instance, that at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, led by Charles B. Davenport and funded by the Carnegie Institution in Washington and, by Mary Harriman); and that Germany had no equivalent to the American laws prohibiting marriage both for people suffering from such conditions as epilepsy or mental retardation, and between people of different races. Lenz criticized America only for focusing too generally on preserving the “white race” instead of specifically on the “Nordic race” — yet was convinced that "the next round in the thousand year fight for the life of the Nordic race will probably be fought in America.”¹* That single reservation suggests the early German focus on a specific racial entity, the “Nordic” or “Aryan race,” however unsupported by existing knowledge.

There had been plenty of racial-eugenic passion in the United States, impulses to sterilize large numbers of criminals and mental patients out of fear of “national degeneration” and of threat to the health of ”the civilized races,” who were seen to be “biologically plunging downward.” Associated with the American eugenics movement was a biomedical vision whose extent is suggested by the following quotation from a 1923 book by A. E. Wiggam: “The first warning which biology gives to statesmanship is that the advanced races of mankind are going backward; ... that civilization, as you have so far administered it, is self-destructive; that civilization always destroys the man that builds it; that your vast efforts to improve man’s lot, instead of improving man, are hastening the hour of his destruction.”³ †

(A clear distinction must be made between genetics and eugenics. Genetics was, and is, a legitimate science, though one with limited development at the time [it began as a science with the recognition of Mendel’s laws in 1900]; its principles were crudely, often falsely, applied by the
* Lenz did not at this point infer anti-Semitism from his belief in racial differences. Citing him, among others, George L. Mosse has argued that “there is no warrant for the claim to seem the ... doctrine of ‘racial biology and hygiene’ an immediate forerunner of the Nazi Policy against the Jews.”² But once the Jews came to be viewed as a race, the connection was readily made.

† In a 1932 study of the sterilization movement in the United States, J. P. Landman spoke of “alarmist eugenics” and of “over zealous and over ardent eugenicists” who “regard the socially inadequate persons, i.e., the feeble-minded, the epileptics, the mentally diseased, the blind, the deformed and the criminals as inimical to the human race ... [because] these peoples perpetuate their deficiencies and thus threaten the quality of the ensuing generations. It should be our aim to exterminate these undesirables, they contend, since a nation must defend itself against national degeneration as much as against the external foreign enemy.”4
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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