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The Indoctrination of the Concept of Racial Hygiene: the Beginning of the End

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The Indoctrination of the Concept of

Racial Hygiene: The Beginning of the End

The idea of biological degeneration had been studied by doctors, psychiatrists, and scientists many decades before the 1930's and the Nazi regime were ever in power. The idea that the integrity of populations was being undermined by behaviors of alcoholism, criminality, or mental deficiency was a topic for researchers before anyone even knew who Adolf Hitler was. In this essay I will discuss the evolution of a concept that would become known as racial hygiene. In my examination of this idea I will explore the educational tools, the propaganda machine, and the eventual mobilization of a nation towards this ideological organization of a supreme race in Nazi Germany.

The aforementioned idea that nations were being undermined by increasing cohorts of unfit individuals has some scientific and political significance. Cell biologist August Weissman coined the term defective Ð''germ plasm' and contended that it was this defective plasm that was to blame for these unfit individuals' behaviors. In the early 1900's there were a rising number of eugenic pioneers that would try and continue the study of the ideas of Weissman. There was a Ð''gene race,' much like the more contemporary space race, that occurred between various countries around the turn of the century.

As these studies became better known, their political implications became magnified. In 1909 the world's first professorial chair in eugenics was established. Now as international scientists begin to explore the possibility of a defective germ plasm existing political divides begin to form. As the studies became more and more intense the idea that a nation could be improved by selective breeding became the focus. This would eventually become the premise for eugenics theorists.

The debate over the validity of the theory of eugenics was the question posed by "ethically aware and responsible" scientists to prove eugenics without using pseudo-scientific assumptions.2 Although the challenges to eugenics were strong the post World War I depression would bring the rise to more intense challenges against the conservation of people who were burdensome both biologically and economically to a nation. A number of nations that were suffering mass depression would look to eugenics as one of the reasons for their pain and suffering.

As the debate over eugenics continued to keep scientists on both sides of the argument hard at work, discussions of euthanasia would begin to surface. One of the main arguments that arose was that there could be an opportunity to reduce costs. This idea would be granted exposure in Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche's book Permission for the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life, which was published in 1920. Along with this book came quick dissent to his ideas. In May of 1920, the chairman of the German Psychiatric Association Karl Bonhoeffer stated:

It could almost seem as if we have witnessed a change in the concept of humanity. I simply mean that we were forced by the terrible exigencies of war to ascribe a different value to the life of the individual than was the case beforeÐ'...But in emphasizing the right of the healthy to stay alive, which is an inevitable result of periods of necessity, there is also a great danger of going too far: a danger that the self-sacrificing subordination of the strong to the needs of the helpless ill, which lies at the heart of any true concern for the sick, will give ground to the demand of the healthy to live.

The anxieties that were raised by Bonhoeffer had a great deal of validity. There definitely is a concern when we begin to challenge people's rights to live due to incapacities that exist within them.

As the complexities of this theory of eugenics were battled out by scholars, doctors, and politicians the conditions in German life were still in a state of depression. A depression is exactly what an idea that challenged the basic values of human life needed to be considered and granted any sense of legitimacy. The destitution of the German people was beginning to wear on the psyche of the nation. Ewald Meltzer who was an advocate of sterilizations would test the fate of the vulnerable. By the mid 1920s Meltzer had documented the desire of some parents to be disburdened of their mentally incapable children to relieve them of the emotional and financially responsibilities of raising such children. This introduced to Germany the idea that it could be considered a possibility to dispose of the less capable in order to free resources for the strong.

We start to see more exposure to this idea of eugenic infanticide as the post WWI decade of the 1920s nears a close. Hitler touched on the subject in a speech at the 1929 Nuremberg Party rally:

If Germany was to get a million children a year and was to remove 700-800,000 of the weakest people then the final result might even be an increase in strength. The most dangerous thing is for us to cut off the natural process of selection and thereby rob ourselves of the possibility of acquiring able people. The first-born are not always the most talented or strongest peopleÐ'...As a result of our modern sentimental humanitarianism we are trying to maintain the weak at the expense of the healthy.

This speech by Hitler would mark the beginning of a long public campaign in an attempt by Hitler to give salience to the idea of a necessity for racial cleansing in Germany. This campaign would be multifaceted. One of the most important facets for gaining legitimacy to this idea was gaining scholarly backing.

When the Nazis came to power they restructured the school system to try and instill some of this racial ideology in their students. In order to for this to be effective there needed to be a concerted effort to coordinate the teaching profession in order to gain political commitment and reliability to the Nazi ideology. A group called the national Socialist teachers' Association (NALB) was established in 1929 for the purpose of indoctrinating teachers into the ideological principles of such topics as eugenics. It was extremely important to the party to get as many teachers as possible to endorse the ideas of the party.

This effort was successful as by 1932 there were 320,000 members of the NSLB, which constituted 97 percent of all teachers. Most of the teaching guidelines were derived from Hitler's ideas on education where he professed that the "rearing of healthy bodies" was more important than the learning of "pure knowledge." The subject of German was altered to focus on "German awareness" and the importance

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