- Weimar Germany & the Nazi Rise to Power
- The Nazi State & German Society
- The Nazi Racial State
- Nazi Germany at War
- Writing the History of Nazi Germany
Eugenics & Nazi Population Policies
The racial ideology of the Nazi state divided the population between the “valuable” and the “Other” based on their belief in “pure” blood and the inferior. The asocial, diseased, and inferior were then subjected to compulsory sterilization and later euthanasia to “purify” the population in the eyes of the Nazis. In addition to the eugenics program the Nazis enacted pronatalist policies to promote the birth of “pure” blooded children. Under Heinrich Himmler Nazi racial ideology became militarized through the SS with its aim to be the epitome of the “Aryan race.” Together, these policies and the SS were meant to create the strongest possible “race” that would ensure the prosperity of the thousand year reich. However, the regime’s racial policies ultimately weakened the state by placing the “best” blood at the war front while reducing the manpower needed for reinforcements to sustain the prolonged war.
One of the main goals of Hitler and the Nazis was the “purification” of the German population by promoting the “Aryan” race and eliminating the racially inferior and the “weak” within the German population. In July 1933, his first year as leader of Germany, Hitler enacted the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases, which made legal the compulsory sterilization of Germans with diseases that were believed at the time to be hereditary. Hitler framed the sterilization of these Germans as necessary for the health and protection of the nation by eliminating supposedly defective genes from the gene pool. In theory the sterilization of the diseased would leave only the best genes to be passed on resulting in only healthy offspring, thus achieving a “pure” German population. A healthy, strong, and “pure” population was critical to Hitler’s claim of “Aryan” superiority and to the impending racial war in the East. According to Hitler the “Aryan” race would create the ultimate soldier and an unstoppable army that would reclaim Germany’s lost land and expand its territory in the East to create lebensraum, or living space, for Germans.
The institution of the SS serves as an image of the “pure Aryan” in the eyes of Hitler. Herbert Ziegler writes that the SS embodied the idea of a “racially determined elite” (38) and that Himmler declared the SS as the guard of the Nordic race (53). The SS’s strict entry requirements that forced one to prove their “Aryan-ness” created a sense of elitism among the members of the SS that served as justification for their persecution of those deemed racially “inferior.” In addition their elite racial and military status supported Himmler’s claim of the SS as the protector of the Nordic race. The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor” opens with the claim that the “purity of the German blood is the necessary condition for the continued existence of the German people” (190). Through the language of this law the SS and their persecution of “inferiors” become the guard against the infection of “Aryan” blood by the “inferior” and essential to the existence of Germany. Furthermore, the SS persecuted its own members to maintain the elite status as the ideal “Aryan” and guard of the Nordic race. For example, in response to claims of homosexuality within the SS, the Führer's Decree on Preserving the Purity of the SS and the Police of 1941 made homosexuality in the SS punishable by death. The Nazis believed homosexuality was a crime and a violation of public morality, one that weakened the nation by not contributing to the procreation of pure blood (Himmler 1937). Homosexual activity within the SS therefore tainted the “Aryan” blood and was partially responsible for the degeneration of the German population.
The SS also became the embodiment of the Nazi racial ideology through pronatalist policies. According to Jill Stephenson, “NSDAP ideologists claiming that the ‘Aryan’ race was ‘dying out’ and in danger of being overwhelmed by its enemies” motivated Nazi pronatalist policies (104). To combat this perceived problem, Hitler needed to encourage procreation as well as prevent abortions among “valuable” Germans to increase the “Aryan stock.” One method to achieve this goal were marriage loans given to “Aryan” couples that forgave one quarter of the loan per child born (Usborne, 152). In addition, Hitler attempted to eradicate abortion among the “valuable” Germans by imposing longer prison terms to aborting women, banning advertisements for abortion services, and making contraception more difficult to get before eventually outlawing it in 1941 (Usborne, 152). The SS being the image of the Nazi racial policies meant that members had a duty to contribute to the “Aryan stock.” In a document announcing the founding of the Lebensborn program in September 1936, Himmler stated that the “minimum number of children for a good sound marriage is four” (Himmler 1936). Himmler’s statement not only encouraged SS couples to procreate but more importantly it aligned with the terms of the marriage loans; by having four children the couple would have their entire loan forgiven. The marriage loans and Himmler’s statement also discouraged abortions by making large families the ideal and providing economic incentives to having multiple children. In addition, Himmler issued the “SS Order for the entire SS and Police” in October 1939, which encouraged soldiers to father children before heading to the front and promised the care of illegitimate children of “Aryan” women as a necessity of war. These documents reveal the ideal the SS were meant to fulfill and their importance to the success of the thousand year reich. The SS family served as a model for the rest of the population and strived to ensure the survival and future prosperity of the nation. However, while the pronatalist policies did result in an increase in the birthrate, Leo Martin argues that the majority of the increase can be attributed to the anti-abortion measures, not the marriage loans (78-79). Martin writes that marriages of ten to fifteen years showed the highest increase in births (79). This would prove marriage loans fairly ineffective since the majority of couples having children were married before the loans took effect. Most importantly, Nazi pronatalist polices, while effective, did not ensure the future prosperity of the reich since these children were not able to contribute to the state until after the fall of Nazi Germany. The racial war Nazi Germany undertook required a swift victory so that the loss of the “best” blood could replenish. Consequently, the prolonged war eliminated much of the “best” blood and created a need for men of inferior blood on the front.
Despite their portrayal as the defender of the Nordic race and the decrees to preserve its purity, the ideal of the SS never met reality. While the Nazi racial ideology gave the impression of being concrete, in reality it was a fluid organism that was adjusted to suit the needs of the moment and to achieve the long-term objective of Lebensraum. Germany had expected a quick war in the East and was not prepared for the lengthy battle that ensued. As the war dragged on, became a two front affair, and the tide of the war switched, more men were needed to continue the fight for racial supremacy and living space. Since the “best” blood had been sent to fight at the onset of the war, the demand for men translated into the acceptance of less than superior men in the eyes of the Nazis. Ziegler writes, “young men who were nearsighted or had lost their vision in one eye through accident were no longer automatically rejected” (56). These men clearly did not fit the mold of the ideal “Aryan” man or the protector of the Nordic race but in war sacrifices are made to serve a greater goal. Once the war switched against the Nazis, desperation and a lack of soldiers forced further ideological flexibility evident in the use of teenage Germans as soldiers at the end of the war. The Nazi racial ideology therefore weakened the state and contributed to its failure by limiting the men able to fight through the strict requirements of the SS and the exclusion and encampment of “inferior” groups of the population.
In conclusion, the eugenics and racial hygiene policies of the Nazi state divided the German population between the “valuable” Aryans and the “Other.” The valuable were encouraged to do their duty and were rewarded with marriage loans while the inferior and unwanted Germans were forcefully sterilized to prevent the passing on of their blood. In theory these measures “purified” Germany and left only the strong and healthy to lead and protect the state. However, the measures weakened the state by limiting the manpower to fight the extended war. The “best blood” of the nation was sent to fight what the Nazis hoped would be a short war for living space and racial superiority but as the casualties mounted, more men were needed. As a result, the Nazis altered their racial ideology to permit the previously inferior to join the elite SS and defend the nation from the Soviets to the East and the Allies to the West. What once was believed to be a concrete ideology now showed its weakness and its flexibility in crisis. This flexibility is the symbol of the change in the tide of the war and the slow collapse of the Nazi regime until its ultimate downfall in 1945.
Alexander Jacobsen, Senior Film & Television Production, Loyola Marymount University