Eugenics was by no means a NAZI creation. The principle that the white race was superior was widely accepted in both intellectual and mainstream thought in America and Europe during the 19th and early 20th century. After Darwin published his land mark principles of evolution, important writers in America and Europe began to develop a new science which they called eugenics. Many eugenic laws were passed in America and other countries, especially Protestant counties, aimed at sterilizing retarded individuals--often youths. The NAZIs in fact used American laws to justify their program, but built a much expanded program aimed at not only retarded children and adults, but physically handicapped children as well. At first the NAZI program focused on sterilization, but eventually it evolved into the T4 euthanasia program--state scantioned murders by medical personnel.
Charles Darwin's land mark work on natural selection had been widely accepted by the turn of the 20th century by scientists if not by the general public. This an increasingly sophisticated understanding of genetics gave rise to the Eugenics Movement in the early 20th century. Eugenics has been described as the science of
improving the human race through the careful selection of parents. As practiced in the early 20th century it is probably best described as a movement than a science. Those with "good" characteristics would be encouraged to have children. Those with "bad" characteristics would be sterilized. The problem was in defining just what constituted an improvement. Many promoting the program focused on outward physical characteristics which usually resembled themselves.
Eugenics gained an enemas following in America and European countries. There was also an eugenics program in Australia which took half-caste children away from aboriginal mothers.
No where were the principles of eugenics more accepted than America. The first American eugenics law was passed in Indiana in 1907 and by 1936 there were 35 states that had such laws. As a result, large numbers of individuals in America were forcibly sterilized--primarily poor children taken in by state institutions. I do not have an estimate yet of the actual number of people sterilized. The mental ill and retarded were the most frequent victims if this program. There were also, however, children and youths sterilized. These included unwed mothers and boys in reformatories and orphanages, especially if they were judged to be retarded. The extent of the sterilizations varied widely from state to state, but was most pronounced in states that were largely Protestant because of the opposition of the
Important NAZIs were strong propnents of eugenics. Many believd it should be a major tennant of state policy.
Richard Walther Darré popularized the 'Blut und Boden' phrase as the NAZIs were rising to power. He wrote a book titled Neuadel aus Blut und Boden (A New Nobility Based On Blood And Soil) in 1930. He was a major roponent of eugenics. He saw breeding as the solution to the problems of the German Volk. Darré was an influential NAZI and and played a key role in developing race theory. Darré helped popularize the NAZI Party in rural areas. Hitler chose him for Minister of Food and Agiculture. The seizure of power by the NAZIs in 1933 meant that eugenics would be adopted as a important national program by a totalitarian state. A whole new science was created in Germany by eugenicist Dr. Alfred Ploetz--rassische Hygiene (racial hygiene). The NAZIs believed that the German people had been weakened by the contamination of the Jews and other reasons who carried hereditary diseases. The pursuit of racial hygiene was at the center of the NAZI program for a new Germany.
T he NAZI Cabinet on July 31, 1933, only a few months after seizing power, ordered compulsory sterilization for blind, deaf, and deformed people as well as individuals suffering from mental disorders. One of the first new laws passed by the NAZIs in 1933 was "The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Deformed Offspring". These laws were not aimed at Jews, but at Aryan children and adults. Institutionalized individuals were the most ready targets, but children still in their parents care were also affected by this order. Here the retarded were special targets. Hereditary Courts were set up all over Germany to considerate cases of individual reported, often by the family doctor. The NAZIs with the often enthusiastic assistance of German doctors and health-care wooers. Doctors were asked to help identify the carriers of hereditary disorders. NAZI laws gave doctors the right to order compulsory sterilization. Patients files were no longer confidential and could be used against a person in NAZI courts. German health care workers proceeded to sterilize both the physically
disabled and mentally ill in an effort to eliminate hereditary diseases. One estimate suggests that by the beginning of World War II in 1939, about 320,000 Germans had been sterilized. There were not only compulsory sterilizatiins, but some NAZI officials also offered sterilization to Jewsish mischling children as a way of leading normal lives in Germany. One example here is Steven Muller whose family managed to escape from Germany just before World War II broke out.
The Catholic Church was the leading voice objection to the NAZI sterilization program. The NAZI sterilization program was pursued openly. The Center Party newspaper Germania published an article supporting the program, the Vatiican condemned it and urged Catholics to follow a Papal Encyclical which stated that "public magistrates have no direct power over the bodies of their subjects ... they can never directly harm or tamper with the integrity of the body, either
for the reasons of eugenics or for any other reason". [Gilbert, pp. 15-16.] This did not stop the NAZIs, but it was one reason that the later T4 euthanasia program was conducted without the openness of the sterilization program.
The NAZI also financed a vast research program to determine why the Aryan race was superior and the Jews genetically dangerous. This was administered by Dr. Ernest Rüdin. Other researchers addressed other issues such as how to promote favorable racial characteristics. Himmler was especially interested in methods of sterilizing large numbers of individuals rapidly and at low cost. Many of these efforts resulting in horrific experiments in the NAZI death camps located in Poland. There an SS doctor doctor, Josef Mengele, at Auschwitz experimented on Jewish twins, mostly children. The twins provided a ready made genetic control to assess the results of the experiments. Other German researchers worked at other concentration camps.
Hitler saw the medical profession as central to the NAZI mission. The advent of the NAZIs, as a result, provided a great opportunity for German doctors and scientists. Government funding for biological research increased 10 fold. Many SS officers were, in fact, doctors. A large number of German doctors and university professors in Germany were Jews. Thus the expulsion of Jews from university positions and government jobs restrictions on Jewish doctors created many job opportunities for young German doctors, creating considerable sympathy for the NAZIs within the profession. The NAZIs began holding sessions for selected doctors and health workers at the NAZI Party Leadership (Führer) School at Alt Rhese. The School was opened by Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess in 1935. Doctors, nurses, an midwives selected by Party health organizations were trained there in NAZI philosophy, eugenics, and practices like sterilizations. An entire new
campus complete with lecture halls and laboratories at the Leadership School was built for doctors and health workers. The public was told that it was a center for sports medicine. The training program was at first published, but in 1937 as the Germans began to move toward World War II the program began to be conducted in secrecy. It was doctors who attended the Leadership School program that were involved in some of the most terrible medical experiments at the World War II
concentration camps. The program at the Leadership School was that the medical profession must assist in a national program to eradicate hereditary disease. The initial tool was to be sterilization. Doctors in effect were being asked to give up the Hippocratic Oath. Doctors were help Germany embark on a great social experiment to create a new master race of disease free Germans. Doctors and other health workers were to be biological soldiers in a new national racial mission.
To the modern mind this sounds an outrage. In part German doctors went along to advance their careers. But there was also an element of idealism--no matter how misguided it may have been. The NAZIs convinced many doctors that the old one-to-one personal relationship with a patient was selfish. Their responsibility
was to be to the German folk. Doctors were given the responsibility of presiding over the national genetic heritage.
The NAZIs set up over 100 Hereditary Health Courts to conduct sterilization hearings. Children were referred to these courts by their teachers and doctors. German doctors were expected to identify those considered to be genetically unfit. Especially sinister, school children were made to draw up family trees to help identify handicapped individuals and thus trace subject family lines. Parents were required to bring their children to the Hereditary Health Courts where doctors would decide if a child should be sterilized. Their parents had no say in the matter. Over 0.3 million Germans, mostly children, were ordered sterilized by these courts. One example of how these courts operated was a Rolf Thurm, a boy with deformed hands and feet. He explains that as a boy he had many friends. After the NAZIs took power, however, his friends eventually joined the Hitler Youth which he could not join. He thus
became very lonely. At age 16 he was reported by a to the Hereditary Health Courts. His parents had to bring him for a hearing. They reported that there was no history of hereditary deformations in their family. Despite this, he was ordered sterilized. He later found that there wa no hereditary component to his handicap. Genetics was still a very basic science in the 1930s. Other children were reported teachers. In many
cases, the role of heredity was not well understood. NAZI doctors in many cases ascribed hereditary causes to disorders on the basis of only sketchy or inaccurate information or in many cases mere suspicions. Here as feeble-mindedness and learning disabilities was one of the concerns of these courts, there was some concern
among poorly educated NAZIs that heir children might not do well in intelligence assessments. Intelligence tests at the time were crude. As a result, it was decided to exclude Party members from these measures. We have noted reports that the NAZI used the Hereditary Courts as a political weapon against their political enemies. We do not yet have evidence to confirm this, ut the exemption of Part members suggest this may have happened. Certainly it is likely that the children of
parents who had been critical of the NAZIs or involved in the Communist Party or labor unions might be more likely to have an adverse ruling than children of other families. We have noticed that such charges appeared in several films. The most notable was Hitler's Children (U.S., 1943). Montgomery Clift movingly portrayed a man who claimed that he was ordered to be sterilized by a Hereditary Court for political reasons in
Judgement at Nuremberg (U.S., 1961). To what extent this actually occurred, we can not yet confirm.
NAZI propaganda not only promoted "racial hygiene", but the cost to society of supporting handicapped individuals. This principles wee promoted both in schools and the popular media. School children were doing math problem calculating the cost of caring for such individuals.
The NAZI eugenics programs at first focused on sterilization to prevent hereditary diseases and handicaps. Gradually the NAZI program shifted from hereditary disease to disorders for which there were clearly no hereditary basis including physically and mentally handicapped and mentally ill patients, even those
suffering from non-hereditary disorders. Here it must be mentioned that in the 1930s the science of genetics (a real science instead of the pseudo science of eugenics) was in its infancy. It many instances the genetic components of disease or other disorders was not well understood.
Unlike the sterilization program, the T4 euthanasia program was conducted in secrecy from the public by the German medical establishment. NAZI planners were concerned that a sterilization program would take not only generations, but centuries to eradicate hereditary disease and build a new Nordic Germanic race.
Thus they adopted euthanasia, doctor-ordered killings, to support the sterilization program. The Euthanasia program was designed to eliminate any German assessed to be "incurably ill". Hitler signed secret orders authorizing the program on September 20, 1939 while staying in a resort hotel at Zoppot. It was called the T4 program because the headquarters was located at No. 4 Tiergartenstrasse in Berlin. This was not a NAZI program carried out behind barbedwire by the SS in secret. German doctors in large numbers participated in the program. [Aly, Chroust, and Pross]
Census forms were immediately sent out requesting for "statistical purposes" to list patients who were senile, criminally inane, or of non-German blood. The T4 staff would determine which patients would be euthanized. NAZI
officials wanted the program written into German law, but Hitler did not think this advisable. [Gilbert, pp. 273-274.] The categories of people subject to the program was gradually expanded. Dr. Karl Brandt, head of NAZI medicine and Hitler's physician, was deeply involved in the program. The NAZI program not only involved the mentally ill and retarded, but also the physically handicapped. This involved a program of killing the disabled--often children. Here the parents
wishes were not considered. Parents would be told to being disabled children to residential homes. Many were then killed by the doctors. Estimates suggest that 0.1 million Germans, many children, were murdered in this program. The actual murders were conducted both individually and in groups. Truck exhaust, for example, was used to gas groups of patients. A handicapped child might be taken from is parents and "cared for" in a boarding facility. It did not matter that the
parents wanted to care for the child. His parents would be told later that died, but never that he was murdered by doctors. Hitler was, however becoming uneasy about the program. The Chancellery had received written protests. Some of the individuals protesting had been arrested. There were also clandestine protests. Himmler on December, 1940 called the architects of the program, Dr. Brack and Dr. Brandt, to his office to reprimand them--of course not about the program, but
allowing information about the program to leak. He told them. "If Operation T4 had been entrusted to the SS, things would have have happened differently. When the Führer entrusts us with a job, we know how to deal with it correctly, without causing useless uproar among the people." After killing 50,000 Germans, including many children and babies, the euthanasia program was abandoned. [Gilbert, p. 354.] After the War, a "doctors trial" was held at Nuremberg for 23 NAZI
doctors. Six of these doctors, including Brandt, were hanged and five given life sentences.
The NAZI idea was the Nordic racial type of tall, blond, blue-eyed people. Many Germans, however, did not fit that ideal--including of course Hitler himself. That was a topic, however, the NAZI racial purists did not touch. For the NAZIs, the German people had been contaminated with other racial groups from Jews to
Mediterranean groups. There was also an Alpine group, I'm not sure yet just where that fit into the NAZI racial scheme. They conceived the idea of "purifying" the German people by excluding Jews and promoting the birth of racially pure children. The Jews were not just different, but accused of being the carriers of hereditary
diseases. After World War II began, the opportunity arose to kidnap children with Aryan characteristics to improve the racial stock of the Reich. Eventually the NAZIs hoped to breed out the impure strains. NAZI racial experts estimated that this process might take 1,000 years. As a result, NAZI officials were anxious to
add more Aryan blood to the German racial stock. Before the War, however, this was not possible.
The NAZIs upon gaining control of the schools began a far-reaching racial education program. It was conducted at all levels of the school. A teacher might bring a child with Aryan characteristics up in front of the class. He would then carefully measure his characteristics, length of the ear lobes, nose shape, cranial
capacity, ect. Then a Jewish child would be asked to come to the front of the class and be measured. The class would then compare the characteristics. The NAZI racial education program was not just designed to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race, but to show that Jews and Gypsies Jews, Roma (Gypsies)
and the mentally and physically handicapped were serious biological threats to the purity of the Aryan race and the German folk. Other races, especially the slavs, portrayed as inferior, but ot as biologically threatening.
I believe that all Germans had to have a study done of there ancestry and carried a document of some kind to prove they were of Aryan descent. One example has "Bescheinigung" at the top. [Ungerer, Tomi, p. 83.] This I have to obtain more information about. No where was this more important than in the SS. Until the War created a demand for more recruits, the SS required proof of pure Aryan ancestry back to 1800. Officers had to demonstrate pure Aryan ancestry back to 1750. SS members had to get permission from their commanders to marry. Himmler personally vetted many of these requests for officers. The purpose was to ensure that they had chosen a racially acceptable woman.
The NAZIs upon coming to power were greatly concerned not only about racial purity, nut also about overall population trends. Germany had a rapidly falling Geburtenstatistik (birth rate). Since World War I the German birthrate had rapidly fallen from 894,978 in 1920 to only on 516,793 in 1932. The birthrate had not
fallen so drastically in any other important industrial country. In no other industrialized country there was a such break-down in the [Statistisches Jahrbuch nur das Deutsche Reich 1941/42, S. 66.]
The NAZIs pursued a variety of legal policies designed to increase the birth rate, including changes in the criminal code. Divorce was made more difficult. A valid exception was to allow a marriage that might lead to more children. Abortion was made illegal except for limited circumstances. Financial support was offered
The SS encouraged members to have as many children as possible. It was anticipated that each SS member would have at least four children, either as part of their family or father illegitimate children. This quota was referred to as their "voelkischen" obligation. There were financial incentives for those who complied and fines for those who failed to do so. not. Even so, this policy was a failure. SS men averaged only about one child per family. We are unsure at this time just why this was.
The NAZIs had a very paternalistic view of women. There job was stay at home, have babies and care for them. Mothers received awards for having children, the more children the higher the award. NAZI propaganda exhorted to "Give a baby to the Führer". This view was promoted in the Bund Deutscher Maedchen (BDM--League of German Girls), the Hitler Youth unit for girls. BDM girls were taught that to lead a healthy, athletic life. They were told that it was a patriotic duty to have children for the Fatherland. The BDM and NAZI controlled schools
stressed to the girls that they had an obligation to select a racially acceptable husband. The BDM was thus a rich source of healthy, racially acceptable stock for the Lenbesborn program. The NAZI view of women one reason why the German war effort never mobilized women for war industries as was done in America, Britain, and the Soviet Union. And one of the reasons that German industry could not match Allied production levels. Instead the Germans turned to slave labor.
Lebensborn is difficult to translate precisely, but it means something like "fountain" or "source" of life". The "Lebensborn" project was a secret program conceived by SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. He founded the Lebensborn Eingetragener Verein (Registered Society Lebensborn or Lebensborn Foundation) on December 12, 1935. The Lebensborn Program was originally part of Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt until 1938 at which time it was transferred to the Persönlicher Stab RFSS. At first the purpose of the Lebensborn Foundation was to provide "racially pure" young German women a place to have birth in private away from their homes. During World War II it developed into an extraordinarily sinister program, for some reason rarely mentioned in modern discussions of the
Modern readers have difficulty understanding the NAZIs and what caused them to commit such atrocious acts of barbarity in our supposedly civilized world. The murder of Jews was an act of hatred. Regrettably such acts of ethnic and racial hatred are all too common in history, although not on the scale and ruthless efficiency pursued by the NAZIs. The murder of children at first selected and then rejected from the Lebensborn Eindeutschung (Germanisation) program seems incomprehensible. For Himmler the elimination of these children was necessary because their racial makeup would pose a threat to the NAZI New Order. A HBC reader has compiled information on NAZI cosmology and the occult which provide further insights on Hitler and the NAZI mindset.
The Holocaust was in essence the logical outcome of the early NAZI eugenics program sterilizing handicapped children and adults. As the Jews and were judged to have "bad" genetic characteristics, the NAZIs after the start of World War II decided to murder an entire people and pursued this terrible task with a
vengeance, if not moral fervor, as a major War goal.
Abe, R. "Lebensborn e.V." Shoa.de website, (retrieved May 3, 2002).
Albrecht, Jörg. "Rohstoff für Übermenschen", Artikel in Zeit-Punkte 3/2001 zum Thema Biomedizin, S. 16-18.
Aly, Gotz, Peter Chroust, and Christian Pross. Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene (Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 2004).
Bleuel, H. P., Das saubere Reich. Theorie und Praxis des sittlichen Lebens im Dritten Reich, Bern u.a. 1972, S. 192.
Clay, Catrine and Michael Leapman. "Herrenmenschen", Das Lebensborn-Experiment der Nazis, Heyne-TB (1997, vergriffen).
Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.
Hillel, Marc and Clarissa Henry, "Of Pure Blood" (1976).
Lilienthal, Georg. "Der Lebensborn e. V.", Fischer Verlag (1993, vergriffen)
Schmitz-Köster, Dorothee. "Deutsche Mutter bist du bereit", Alltag im Lebensborn, Aufbau-Verlag (1997, vergriffen)
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main World War II displaced children page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]