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 ‘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 ‘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.