The Rockefeller Foundation helped found the German eugenics program and even funded the program that Josef Mengeleworked in before he went to Auschwitz.
Much of the spiritual guidance and political agitation for the American eugenics movement came from California’s quasi-autonomous eugenic societies, such as Pasadena’s Human Betterment Foundation and the California branch of the American Eugenics Society, which coordinated much of their activity with the Eugenics Research Society in Long Island. These organizations — which functioned as part of a closely-knit network — published racist eugenic newsletters and pseudoscientific journals, such as Eugenical News and Eugenics,
and propagandized for the Nazis.
Eugenics was born as a scientific curiosity in the Victorian age. In 1863,
Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, theorized that if talented people married only other talented people, the result would be measurably better offspring. At the turn of the last century, Galton’s ideas were imported to the United States just as Gregor Mendel’s principles of heredity were rediscovered. American eugenics advocates believed with religious fervor that the same Mendelian concepts determining the color and size of peas, corn and cattle also governed the social and intellectual character of man.
In a United States demographically reeling from immigration upheaval and torn by post-Reconstruction chaos, race conflict was everywhere in the early 20th century. Elitists, utopians and so-called progressives fused their smoldering race fears and class bias with their desire to make a better world. They reinvented Galton’s eugenics into a repressive and racist ideology. The intent: Populate the Earth with vastly more of their own socioeconomic and biological kind — and less or none of everyone else.
The superior species the eugenics movement sought was populated not merely by tall, strong, talented people. Eugenicists craved blond, blue-eyed Nordic types. This group alone, they believed, was fit to inherit the Earth. In the process, the movement intended to subtract emancipated Negroes, immigrant Asian laborers, Indians, Hispanics, East Europeans, Jews, dark- haired hill folk, poor people, the infirm and anyone classified outside the gentrified genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists.
How? By identifying so-called defective family trees and subjecting them to lifelong segregation and sterilization programs to kill their bloodlines. The grand plan was to literally wipe away the reproductive capability of those deemed weak and inferior — the so-called unfit. The eugenicists hoped to neutralize the viability of 10 percent of the population at a sweep, until none were left except themselves.
Eighteen solutions were explored in a Carnegie-supported 1911 “Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Sectionof the American Breeder’s Association to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population.” Point No. 8 was euthanasia.
The most commonly suggested method of eugenicide in the United States was a “lethal chamber” or public, locally operated gas chambers. In 1918, Popenoe, the Army venereal disease specialist during World War I, co-wrote the widely used textbook, “Applied Eugenics,” which argued, “From an historical point of view, the first method which presents itself is execution . . . Its value in keeping up the standard of the race should not be underestimated.” “Applied Eugenics” also devoted a chapter to “Lethal Selection,” which operated “through the destruction of the individual by some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency.”
Eugenic breeders believed American society was not ready to implement an organized lethal solution. But many mental institutions and doctors practiced improvised medical lethality and passive euthanasia on their own. One institution in Lincoln, Ill., fed its incoming patients milk from tubercular cows believing a eugenically strong individual would be immune. Thirty to 40 percent annual death rates resulted at Lincoln. Some doctors practiced passive eugenicide one newborn infant at a time. Others doctors at mental institutions engaged in lethal neglect.
Nonetheless, with eugenicide marginalized, the main solution for eugenicists was the rapid expansion of forced segregation and sterilization, as well as more marriage restrictions. California led the nation, performing nearly all sterilization procedures with little or no due process. In its first 25 years of eugenics legislation, California sterilized 9,782 individuals, mostly women. Many were classified as “bad girls,” diagnosed as “passionate,” “oversexed” or “sexually wayward.” At the Sonoma State Home, some women were sterilized because of what was deemed an abnormally large clitoris or labia.
In 1933 alone, at least 1,278 coercive sterilizations were performed, 700 on women. The state’s two leading sterilization mills in 1933 were Sonoma State Home with 388 operations and Patton State Hospital with 363 operations. Other sterilization centers included Agnews,
Mendocino, Napa, Norwalk, Stockton and Pacific Colony state hospitals.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed aspects of eugenics. In its infamous 1927 decision, Supreme Court 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.” This decision opened the floodgates for thousands to be coercively sterilized or otherwise persecuted as subhuman. Years later, the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials quoted Holmes’ words in their own defense.
Only after eugenics became entrenched in the United States was the campaign transplanted into Germany, in no small measure through the efforts of California eugenicists, who published booklets idealizing sterilization and circulated them to German officials and scientists.
Hitler studied American eugenics laws. He tried to legitimize his anti- Semitism by medicalizing it, and wrapping it in the more palatable pseudoscientific facade of eugenics. Hitler was able to recruit more followers among reasonable Germans by claiming that science was on his side. Hitler’s race hatred sprung from his own mind, but the intellectual outlines of the eugenics Hitler adopted in 1924 were made in America.
During the ’20s, Carnegie Institution eugenic scientists cultivated deep personal and professional relationships with Germany’s fascist eugenicists. In “Mein Kampf,” published in 1924, Hitler quoted American eugenic ideology and openly displayed a thorough knowledge of American eugenics. “There is today one state,” wrote Hitler, “in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception (of immigration) are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”
Hitler proudly told his comrades just how closely he followed the progress of the American eugenics movement. “I have studied with great interest,” he told a fellow Nazi, “the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.”
Hitler even wrote a fan letter to American eugenics leader Madison Grant, calling his race-based eugenics book, “The Passing of the Great Race,” his “bible.”
Now, the American term “Nordic” was freely exchanged with “Germanic” or “Aryan.” Race science, racial purity and racial dominance became the driving force behind Hitler’s Nazism. Nazi eugenics would ultimately dictate who would be persecuted in a Reich-dominated Europe, how people would live, and how they would die. Nazi doctors would become the unseen generals in Hitler’s war against the Jews and other Europeans deemed inferior. Doctors would create the science, devise the eugenic formulas, and hand-select the victims for sterilization, euthanasia and mass extermination.
During the Reich’s early years, eugenicists across America welcomed Hitler’s plans as the logical fulfillment of their own decades of research and effort. California eugenicists republished Nazi propaganda for American consumption. They also arranged for Nazi scientific exhibits, such as an August 1934 display at the L.A. County Museum, for the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.
In 1934, as Germany’s sterilizations were accelerating beyond 5,000 per month, the California eugenics leader C. M. Goethe, upon returning from Germany, ebulliently bragged to a colleague, “You will be interested to know that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought . . . I want you, my dear friend, to carry this thought with you for the rest of your life, that you have really jolted into action a great government of 60 million people.”
That same year, 10 years after Virginia passed its sterilization act, Joseph DeJarnette, superintendent of Virginia’s Western State Hospital, observed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The Germans are beating us at our own game.”
More than just providing the scientific roadmap, America funded Germany’s eugenic institutions.
By 1926, Rockefeller had donated some $410,000 — almost $4 million in today’s money — to hundreds of German researchers. In May 1926, Rockefeller awarded $250,000 toward creation of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry. Among the leading psychiatrists at the German Psychiatric Institute was Ernst Rüdin, who became director and eventually an architect of Hitler’s systematic medical repression.
Another in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute’s complex of eugenics institutions was the Institute for Brain Research. Since 1915, it had operated out of a single room. Everything changed when Rockefeller money arrived in 1929. A grant of $317,000 allowed the institute to construct a major building and take center stage in German race biology. The institute received additional grants from the Rockefeller Foundation during the next several years. Leading the institute, once again, was Hitler’s medical henchman Ernst Rüdin. Rüdin’s organization became a prime director and recipient of the murderous experimentation and research conducted on Jews, Gypsies and others.
Beginning in 1940, thousands of Germans taken from old age homes, mental institutions and other custodial facilities were systematically gassed. Between 50,000 and 100,000 were eventually killed.
Leon Whitney, executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society, declared of Nazism, “While we were pussy-footing around … the Germans were calling a spade a spade.”
A special recipient of Rockefeller funding was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics in Berlin. For decades,
American eugenicists had craved twins to advance their research into heredity.
The Institute was now prepared to undertake such research on an unprecedented level. On May 13, 1932, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York dispatched a radiogram to its Paris office: JUNE MEETING EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE NINE THOUSAND.