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The Nazi Ancestral Proof

Genealogy, Racial Science, and the Final Solution

Eric Ehrenreich

Publication Year: 2007

How could Germans, inhabitants of the most scientifically advanced nation in the world in the early 20th century, have espoused the inherently unscientific racist doctrines put forward by the Nazi leadership? Eric Ehrenreich traces the widespread acceptance of Nazi policies requiring German individuals to prove their Aryan ancestry to the popularity of ideas about eugenics and racial science that were advanced in the late Imperial and Weimar periods by practitioners of genealogy and eugenics. After the enactment of Nazi racial laws in the 1930s, the Reich Genealogical Authority, employing professional genealogists, became the providers and arbiters of the ancestral proof. This is the first detailed study of the operation of the ancestral proof in the Third Reich and the link between Nazi racism and earlier German genealogical practices. The widespread acceptance of this racist ideology by ordinary Germans helped create the conditions for the Final Solution.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I am indebted to many persons without whose help this book simply would not have been possible. It is a pleasure to be able to thank them here. first and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to David Sorkin who was an invaluable source of advice and support during my work on this book. David exemplifies all the best qualities of a scholar, and I can only hope that this work lives up to the high standard ...

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pp. xi-xviii

In the first third of the twentieth century, Germany was arguably the most technologically sophisticated and scientifically advanced nation in the world. Long acclaimed as “the land of poets and thinkers,” it had also developed within the European traditions of Christianity and the enlightenment, with their respective emphases on love and reason. How could such a nation have produced the Third ...


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pp. xix-xx

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1. Racial Science

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pp. 1-13

The primary basis on which the Nazi regime justified imposing the ancestral proof requirement on virtually the entire population of the Reich was as a public health measure. As will be shown repeatedly throughout this work, proponents of the racial laws most frequently explained them as necessary to prevent infiltration of damaging, “alien-type” (Artfremd  ) hereditary traits into the German ...

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2. The Origins of Racist Eugenics in Imperial Germany

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pp. 14-32

Germany’s quick industrialization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries caused profound changes in German society. Germans became citizens of a newly unified and increasingly wealthy world power. But industrialization, in addition to creating wealth and might, also caused great social instability. The demand for labor encouraged massive migration to urban centers. This, in turn, caused traditional ...

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3. The Spread of Racist Eugenics in Weimar

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pp. 33-57

During the Weimar era, traditional social and political barriers increasingly broke down in Germany. This collapse was exemplified by the promulgation of a democratic constitution, the hitherto unprecedented power of the Social Democratic and Catholic Center parties, and the growing role of women in public life.1 In the cultural sphere, some formerly elite practices such as dueling began to disappear. ...

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4. Making the Ancestral Proof in Nazi Germany

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pp. 58-77

The Nazi regime imposed the ancestral proof requirement on a massive scale. During the twelve years of the Third Reich, state and Party authorities together issued approximately two thousand statutes, ordinances, and regulations establishing legal rights on the basis of “racial” status.1 Those falling under the provision of one or another of these laws had to prove their racial acceptability through an ancestral ...

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5. The Reich Genealogical Authority and Its Tasks

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pp. 78-93

While only a small office (or, more accurately, a succession of two small offices), the Reich Genealogical Authority’s files provide great insight into the institutionalization of racism in Nazi Germany. The ancestral proof process was the office’s raison d’être: its primary task was to determine a person’s “racial composition” when that was in question, and its officials consistently stated that the maintenance of ...

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6. The Reich Genealogical Authority and the Ancestral Proof

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pp. 94-120

All of the Genealogical Authority’s functions described up to this point centered on the concept of racial purity. But the so-called ancestral decision—an official determination of race, valid as a full-fledged ancestral proof—was the Authority’s raison d’être.1 In the course of its existence, it probably produced more than 160,000. The Authority based most of these decisions on genealogical evidence, ...

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7. Three Beneficiaries of the Ancestral Proof

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pp. 121-149

Three nongovernmental, nonparty groups worked particularly closely with the Reich Genealogical Authority: the scientists who performed biological investigations for purposes of the ancestral decision; the genealogists who were not only regulated by the agency but also provided it with manpower and data; and both the Catholic and Protestant churches, which constituted a primary source of genealogical ...

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8. Other Means of Generating Acceptance of Racism

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pp. 150-164

The primary means by which proponents of racist polices in Nazi Germany made their ideas more palatable both to themselves and to other Germans was through racial-scientific ideology. Especially during the Third Reich, however, another important mechanism in generating acceptance for such policies, and for racial scientific ideology itself, was through a process of “familiarization.” A state-...

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9. Racial Scientific Ideology and the Holocaust

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pp. 165-172

The virulent antisemitism of the Nazi era is rightly regarded as one of its hall-marks. No one who studies the Third Reich is unfamiliar with the regime’s widely promoted propaganda images: hook-nosed or frog-faced Jews engaged in conspiracies to dominate the world; killing “Aryan” children; destroying European culture through Bolshevism, “money” capitalism, parliamentarianism, and race-mixing; or ...

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pp. 173-176

The case of Alice G. and Margarette K., discussed in chapter 6, illustrates the uneasy nature of the effort in Nazi Germany to provide a rational gloss over the irrational Jew hatred that fueled the Holocaust. Margarette, it will be remembered, claimed to the Genealogical Authority that her biological father was an “Aryan.” With only ambiguous documentary and testimonial evidence available, however, and after a ...


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pp. 177-214


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pp. 215-224


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pp. 225-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780253116871
E-ISBN-10: 0253116872
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253349453

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 9 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2007