October 16, 2003
20 Tishrei, 5764


Master race theories
developed in U.S.: author

Special to The CJN

Adolf Hitler’s quest for a master race was based on eugenics, a “pseudoscience” developed in the United States in the first three decades of the 20th century, says author Edwin Black.

Eugenics was a movement whose ultimate goal was the creation of “a Nordic, white, master, blonde and blue-eyed race,” said Black at a recent lecture at Shaare Zion Congregation.

A child of Holocaust survivors, Black is the author of the newly published War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race as well as IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation.

The early years of the last century were, he said, “a time of great racial conflict and ethnic upheaval.” Blacks had been emancipated from slavery, Jews began coming to America from Europe, Asians had been brought in to help build the railroads and Mexicans were present in great numbers as a result of being displaced during the Mexican-American War.

Black said at that time, the United States was run by “a post-Civil War era generation with its racist and ethnic baggage.” The goal of the eugenicists was to improve society by getting rid of all those who did not conform to the ideal Nordic stereotype. Targets included blacks, Jews, Asians, Indians, Latinos and those considered “mongrels or poor white trash.”

Many in the small crowd gathered in the synagogue’s main sanctuary were visibly shocked when Black said the eugenics movement received massive financial support from the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation and that scientists from some of the most respected universities, including Harvard, Yale and Princeton, manipulated and even faked their data in support of eugenics.

Black said a 1911 study, financed by the Carnegie Institution, identified 18 possible methods of implementing eugenics. Gas chambers were deemed to be the most effective method, but it was felt that American society was not yet prepared to accept them. Instead, a number of other methods were adopted, most notably mass sterilization. By continually identifying and sterilizing those deemed unfit for reproduction, it was estimated that the ultimate goal of the master race could be achieved over a period of generations.

According to Black, eugenics laws, which allowed forced sterilization, racial segregation and marriage restrictions, were passed in 27 states. Approximately 60,000 people were sterilized under those laws.

Eventually, a test case was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court when the state of Virginia wanted to sterilize Carrie Buck, a poor white woman, as well as her mother and daughter. In a 1927 decision allowing the sterilization, and thus upholding the constitutionality of eugenics laws, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

American eugenicists, said Black, cultivated relationships with like-minded scientists in Europe, most particularly in Germany, where the Rockefeller Foundation financially supported their work. One ardent disciple of eugenics was Hitler, who wrote about his eugenics-influenced racial and anti-Semitic theories in his 1924 book Mein Kampf.

Black said when the Nazis came to power, eugenics became a state priority under the direction of Otmar Verschuer of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Mass sterilization was quickly introduced, as was experimentation, particularly on twins. By 1943, with the war and the Holocaust underway, Verschuer dispatched his assistant, Dr. Josef Mengele, to Auschwitz, where he continued his horrible experimentation on twins.

After the war, Black said, eugenics was deemed a crime against humanity at the Nuremberg trials and “the American movement went underground.”  Eventually, it developed into the scientific study of human genetics. Black expressed concern about the consequences of modern genetic science, including “discrimination based on ancestry” in insurance eligibility. 

“We need to look back and make sure genetics does not return to from whence it came,” he said.

Black’s lecture was presented by the congregation’s Max and Raelene Routtenberg Institute of Adult Jewish Studies, the Ann and Max Bailey Centre for Human Rights and Cultural Diversity and the Montreal Centre for Genocide Studies at Concordia University. Black was introduced by Montrealer Phyllis Bailey of the Bailey Centre, who was one of the 50 researchers in four countries who helped Black gather material for War Against the Weak.