Is there a justification for eugenics

January 27th - Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism

Gernot Jochheim

Dr. Gernot Jochheim is a peace and conflict researcher and was a teacher. His work focuses on the social history, theory and practice of nonviolence and problems of political and social change as well as in the pedagogical field of violence prevention and culture of remembrance.

The racist worldview of the Nazi ideology is part of an ominous tradition in European intellectual and cultural history. Their ideas and mental images took their origin from the so-called race theory, which in earlier times most people in Europe should have seemed plausible. Race theory divided people into groups according to external characteristics and designated people with certain identical or similar characteristics as a "race", and the descendants of different "races" as "mixed race".

Race theory used methods to verify its claims that were considered scientific in their time. With the evaluation of such "scientifically" established groups of people as "superior" and "inferior", that is, with the assertion of inequalities between people, racism came into the world. As a rule, this was accompanied by the intention to establish relationships of domination and exploitation. For European societies, racism provided, among other things, the justification for the brutal subjugation of the indigenous peoples in their colonies and, in particular, for the slave trade and slavery. In the past and present it can also be observed that collective identities are often developed or stabilized by racially devaluing minorities or other large groups - people from neighboring countries, for example. Significantly, representatives of racist doctrines always count themselves among the "higher valued" ones.

Racist ideas were therefore part of the zeitgeist when in the course of the 19th century - especially in Germany - the Jews were increasingly included in this way of thinking. Jews were no longer regarded as a group of people who, because of their religion, had been pushed into an outsider role in the Christian majority societies and made objects of prejudice, but also of violent attacks, but they were now stylized as "race". The negative character traits that had always been projected onto Jews were now considered to be "blood-wise" - "genetic" in today's terminology.

The idea that people have different values ​​and different rights to life led the racists to further questions in all European countries that are considered civilized. It was asked, for example: Are there not also absolutely "inferior" people within a fundamentally "racially high-quality" people, for example people with innate or acquired physical, mental and psychological weaknesses? Should one not, especially in view of the supposedly increasing "degenerative symptoms" of modern life (e.g. "anti-social", "alcoholics" and "criminals") promote the reproduction of people who are considered to be "high quality" and make the reproduction of "inferior" people more difficult or even prevent it , perhaps through surgical interventions?

Such questions founded a new branch of biology, eugenics, in the second half of the 19th century. In Germany the subject was named "Racial Hygiene"; there was popular talk of "race care". With the requirement to fight alleged hereditary diseases and hereditary pathological dispositions, racism became a component of alleged "social policy". "Racial hygiene" set a momentous topic with the initiation of a discussion about the killing of "life unworthy of life", for example the incurably ill or incurably mentally damaged. With this in mind, a book by Professors Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche appeared in 1920 with the title "The release of the destruction of life unworthy of life".

Under the Nazi regime, racism became a constitutive state doctrine, a socio-political model. The National Socialists practiced the racist principle of action, according to which the fight against, even the eradication of certain groups of other people recognized as "inferior" would improve the world or the "national community". According to this, Nazi racism had two fields of action: "Ethnic" racism was directed against allegedly "alien", "foreign races" or "foreign ethnic groups" who were classified as "racially inferior". These basically included Jews, Roma and Sinti as well as most members of Eastern European peoples, the Slavs. The "social racism" could easily be directed against members of the own - self-defined - "Nordic race" if these people did not correspond to the image of the "Nordic master man" due to their lifestyle, their sexual orientation or their physical or mental condition. These people were not "alien" or "foreign race", rather they were considered "racially degenerate".

Social Darwinist ideas were linked to the racist worldview. According to this, there would be a “struggle for existence” between “races” and peoples and within human groups, in which the “stronger” could and must assert his claims against the “weaker”. Everything "weak" and "abnormal" should be "stamped out" in order to "upgrade" the "Nordic race" through selection and human discipline. In addition, the German "master people" are allowed to "secure living space" in Eastern Europe by displacing and exterminating millions and millions of "subhumans". Hatred, brutality and fanaticism in the implementation of these goals were propagated as positive values.

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Rejection of the "doctrine of the equality of all people"

Preliminary remark: The "Reich Citizenship Law" of 1935 was part of the so-called Nuremberg Laws, with which a. the legal equality of Jewish citizens was abolished. Later the regulations were also transferred to the "Gypsies".

"No law passed after the National Socialist Revolution is such a complete departure from the mental attitude and the state conception of the last century as the Reich Citizenship Law. National Socialism sets the toughest doctrines of the equality of all people and the fundamentally unlimited freedom of the individual vis-à-vis the state , but necessary knowledge of the natural law inequality and diversity of people. The diversity of races, peoples and people inevitably results in distinctions in the rights and duties of the individual. "

From the commentary on the "Reich Citizenship Law" by Wilhelm Stuckart and Hans Globke, Munich / Berlin 1936, p. 24 f.



According to the Nazi ideology, it was undisputed to be allowed to destroy the life or happiness of other people. The killing of people, interfering with their physical integrity, as well as oppression and exploitation were permissible without further ado if it served the well-being of the German "Herrenvolkes" and the "Volksgemeinschaft".

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The view of the nationalists on the German people

Then there is a leadership class, which makes up 20 percent of the population and which is rated as "particularly valuable". This layer, which is evidently the committed and active National Socialists, is compared with the "cream layer" of milk. People who are labeled as "anti-social" or "hereditary diseases" are considered to be the "sediment" of the milk pot. These are the "inferior" ones. They have a total share of 23.6 percent of the population, i.e. almost a quarter! If one assumes around 78 million inhabitants of the "Greater German Reich", then around 19 million of the Germans would have been "inferior".

Between the "leadership class" and the "inferior" there remains an "average" of 56.4 percent of the population, which is compared with the "skimmed milk", which undoubtedly amounts to a devaluation of the majority of the population. The diagram also reflects a disdain for large parts of the population.

* Josef Burgstaller: Hereditary teaching, racial studies and population policy: 400 drawing sketches for school use, Vienna 1941, p. 32



After the fall of the Nazi state, racist beliefs and attitudes lived on in everyday culture in German society. Recognition and processing of the racist crimes of the Nazi state were hampered and prevented in the old Federal Republic by the fact that officials and judicial staff from the Nazi era were active in all areas of the public service and the legal system, even in leading positions could stay.

In the second half of the 20th century, the results of population genetic studies promoted the realization that there is no scientific justification for using the term "race" with regard to humans. The idea of ​​the existence of human races turned out to be a conceptual invention and a social construct.

Nevertheless, the term is still used in politics and the media. In addition, the ideas, needs and feelings associated with a racist worldview apparently persist. There are no races, but racism does exist. New kinds of ideologies of exclusion and superiority can be found in the political and social discourses of the past decades. The term "race" is avoided and people talk about nation, society, population or religion, for example. The term "culture" is of central importance in this context. Human equality is no longer contested or - more skillfully - questioned with biological arguments. Instead, the alleged inequality is derived from cultural differences that allegedly define the essence of people and therefore represent, for example, obstacles to integration.

The myth of the "race struggle" finds a counterpart in the popular interpretation of a "struggle (it) of cultures" (Samuel Huntington). In the current socio-political conflicts, there are increasing forms of action that intend to "keep an" own (occidental) culture "clean. The objective is deliberately kept indefinite in terms of content in order to suggest a consensus ("consensus fiction"). In view of these phenomena, social sciences speak, among other things, of a "racism without races" or of a "culturalist racism" (Étienne Balibar).

Bibliography and Internet addresses

Brief introductions to all relevant aspects of National Socialism and Nazi rule can be found on the website of the German Historical Museum: In general, the Internet is indispensable for orientation on local and regional issues relating to the Nazi era, in particular on the practice of racist and political persecution. Simply specifying a place and a further keyword is usually expedient.
The following is an exemplary compilation of further information sources:

Culture of remembrance

Ahlheim, Klaus: Remembering and Enlightenment - Interventions for historical-political education. Hanover 2009, 156 pp.

Federal Agency for Civic Education: Series "Information on Civic Education", No. 271: "Prejudices", revised. New edition 2005 (PDF at

This: Dossier history and memory 2008-2011 (at:

Jureit, Ulrike / Schneider, Christian: Felt victims. Illusions of coming to terms with the past. Stuttgart 2010, 253 pp.

Young, James: Forms of Remembering. Holocaust memorials. Vienna 1997, 576 pp.


Balibar, Étienne (together with Immanuel Wallerstein): race, class, nation. Ambivalent identities.
3rd edition, Hamburg 2014, 280 pp.

Beutin, Heidi et al. (Ed.): Racial ideology. Her career in the German-speaking countries since 1815 and her academic dissolution in the present. Dehre 2015, 86 pp.

Gross, Raphael: Stayed decent. National Socialist Morality. Frankfurt a. M. 2010, 288 pp.

Hund, Wulf D .: Racism in context. Gender, class, nation, culture and race. (Available as a PDF file with the name of the author and the title.)

Pohl, Dieter: Persecution and mass murder in the Nazi era 1933-1945. 3rd bibl. actual Ed., Darmstadt 2010, 167 pp.