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Racial Science in Hitler’s New Europe, 1938–1945 ed. by Anton Weiss-Wendt and Rory Yeomans (review)
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Keywords

eugenics, Nazi, scientific racism, nationalism, genocide

Anton Weiss-Wendt and Rory Yeomans, eds. Racial Science in Hitler’s New Europe, 1938–1945. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2013. xiv, 394 pp., $50.00.

This work makes an important contribution to the debate about whether and to what extent Nazi Germany was a “racial state,” while also exploring the involvement of non-Germans in formulating racial ideology or implementing racial policy in other parts of Europe. While some of the thirteen essays discuss Nazi racial ideology or policies, others focus on the way that racial theorists and eugenicists responded to Nazi racism. [End Page 682]

The editors provide a handy introduction to the volume, providing a brief discussion of the historical context of racial science and a useful summary of the historical contribution of these essays. They use the term racial science to include both racial anthropology and eugenics. As much recent historiography has demonstrated, and as these essays confirm, the Nazi regime integrated both racism and eugenics into their project of rejuvenating the German people. These essays also demonstrate that the ordering of the racial hierarchy was not self-evident. One of the thorny issues confronting racial scientists, not only in Germany, but also in other parts of Europe, was how to differentiate the racially desirable or racially superior from the racially inferior. Who was Nordic enough to be “Germanizable”? Though this volume rightly stresses the primacy of race in Nazi ideology and policies, it also features disputes among racial scientists about who was Nordic and who was not, who was racially superior and who was inferior.

Some readers might want to read the final essay by Wolfgang Bialas first (after the introduction), because it provides an overview of the way that Nazi racism fits into the Nazi worldview. Bialas notes that after the war many Nazis, including highly educated physicians, insisted that what they were doing— killing the disabled or even allegedly inferior races—was morally justified. Bialas confirms my own position, expressed in From Darwin to Hitler (2004) and Hitler’s Ethic (2009), that the Nazi worldview was informed by a racist form of evolutionary ethics. In this view, it is one’s moral duty to advance the human species by helping the strong and healthy rather than the weak, who have no value.

Isabel Heinemann’s opening essay on SS policies in the Occupied East summarizes parts of her massive study on SS racial policies, “Rasse, Siedlung, deutsches Blut” (2003). She demonstrates that the SS employed racial experts to screen the population in occupied territories in the East to determine their racial fitness. She argues that forced population transfers and ultimately genocide were part of a larger program of racial homogenization. SS experts categorized most non-Jewish Europeans either as Nordic, and thus capable of being “Germanized,” or non-Nordic, who were relegated to helot status. The following essay by Amy Carney on the racial and eugenics purposes of SS marriage policies largely confirms Heinemann’s point that the SS was driven by a racial agenda. Another essay by Thomas Mayer shows the drive by Nazis after Austrian annexation in 1938 to infuse Austrian universities with eugenics.

After Carney’s essay, the next three essays deal with the Netherlands (Geraldien von Frijtag Drabbe Künzel), Norway (Terje Emberland), and Denmark (Steffen Werther), countries the Nazis considered primarily Nordic in racial composition. In all three examples, the Nazi regime, especially the SS, strove [End Page 683] to build racial solidarity with fellow Nordic peoples. The Nazis encouraged them to join the SS, to settle in the Eastern territories, and to intermarry with Germans. In Denmark, the German regime even snubbed the ethnically German National Socialist Party in southern Denmark, who wanted to move the German border north to include them. The German regime favored racial solidarity over a revision of national borders. However, in this case, and in many others discussed in this book, the Nazi pursuit of racial identity was not able to overcome deep-seated nationalist aspirations.

Three essays dealing with Germany’s allies—Italy (Elisabetta Cassina Wolff), Hungary (Marius Turda), and Romania...