In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism
  • Sheila Faith Weiss
Stefan Kühl. The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. xviii + 166 pp. $22.00.

Scholars preoccupied with the history of eugenics have frequently noted, if often only perfunctorily, that the contours of the various national eugenics movements cannot be understood without examining the international network of eugenic practitioners. Stefan Kühl’s slim volume admirably documents an important segment of this international network: the professional ties between American and German eugenicists, primarily during the 1930s. The author argues that the continued support given by American eugenicists to their German colleagues prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, and (more specifically) their endorsement of most aspects of Nazi racial policy, constituted a critical source of scientific legitimation for Hitler’s “racial state.” In advancing his thesis, the German historian and sociologist Kühl takes issue with much of the historiography of American eugenics. He is also at pains to point out that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it was not merely a small handful of extremist and marginalized American eugenicists who were initially impressed by the rhetorical initiatives of Nazi race hygienists, and that this substantial (in Kühl’s opinion) group of American eugenicists did not dampen their enthusiasm for German race hygiene once the Nazis began turning rhetoric into reality.

Kühl is at his best in exploring the changing reciprocal relationship between the American and German eugenics communities between the two world wars. Before 1933, he argues, American eugenics served as a model for its German counterpart. He does a good job in discussing the various means by which German race hygienists kept abreast of developments in the United States, and in particular, of the success American eugenicists had in getting sterilization laws enacted. During the troubled Weimar years, when public health officials, social workers, and others were concerned with lowering burgeoning welfare costs, German race hygienists paid particular attention to American sterilization practices as a means of curtailing state expenditures for the “defective.” Yet the teacher-pupil relationship existing between the two eugenics communities would soon experience an about-face. If, before the Nazi seizure of power, eugenics in the United States served as a model for German race hygienists, with Hitler at the helm American eugenicists relinquished their role as intellectual tutors to their [End Page 333] German brethren as they watched, with a combination of admiration and amazement, the “Germans . . . beating us [Americans] at our own game” (p. 37).

The largest portion of the book is devoted to an examination of the means by which American eugenicists legitimized Nazi racial policies, as well as an analysis of the set of shared intellectual assumptions held by both American and German eugenic enthusiasts that account for this support. Throughout the text, Kühl alternates between a sense of shock that so many American eugenicists supported the Nazi eugenics program and the view that, given the German and American eugenicists’ shared community of interests, the latter’s support of race hygiene under the swastika is not surprising. There is an assumption made, although Kühl undermines it at various points in his text, that American eugenicists supported all racial policies initiated by the Nazis. The author’s own evidence, however, suggests that the only initiative that received anything like widespread approval by American eugenicists (and even here the documentation is ambiguous) was the German sterilization law. American eugenicists appear not to have been especially enamored with overtly anti-Semitic Nazi racial policies such as the infamous Nuremberg Laws, although they refrained from openly condemning them. My contention that American eugenicists’ support of Nazi racial policies was largely limited to Nazi Germany’s draconian sterilization law is not, of course, intended to excuse them, or to suggest that their actions were not morally reprehensible. For me, it raises the larger question of what was specifically “Nazi” about Nazi racial policies. As Kühl himself points out, the German Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring may have been milder than the sterilization laws on the books in some of the American states...