On January 1, 1934 the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring came into affect. It decreed that:
- Anyone who is suffering from a hereditary disease can be sterilized by a surgical operation if, according to the experience of medical science, there is a high probability that his offspring will suffer from serious physical or mental defects of a hereditary nature.
- Anyone who suffers from any of the following diseases is considered hereditarily diseased under this law: congenital mental deficiency, schizophrenia, manic-depression, hereditary epilepsy, inheritable St. Vitus’ dance (Huntington’s Chorea), hereditary blindness, hereditary deafness, serious hereditary physical deformity.
- Furthermore, anyone suffering from chronic alcoholism can be sterilized (GHDI).
The enactment of this law attempted to create a civilization free of “Undesirables” by sterilizing 400,000 people the courts deemed hereditarily ill or had the potential to pass on a genetic illness. This law led to the sterilization of thousands of victims in Nazi concentration camps. This paper will explore how forced sterilization became a method of genocide and the means to a pure Aryan society through racial cleansing.
Eugenics is the “science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed”, by eliminating the unfit through selective breeding. Allowing procreation between only those genetically well will ensure that unwanted genes will not be passed down to future generations. Therefore, to create a superior race, those unfit should be denied the ability to reproduce. The Nazis attempted to achieve this by using a form of racial cleansing.
Racial cleansing is the elimination of an unwanted racial group from a society, as by genocide or forced emigration. Originally, the Nazis wanted to rid society of those hereditarily unfit, but eventually expanded to include individuals not considered part of their Aryan race: Jews, gypsies, commonly referred to as “asocials”, and homosexuals. The purpose was to enact the creation of a perfect society composed of pure Aryan Germans.
Adolf Hitler strove to create a perfect society through sterilization before the enactment of the “Final Solution”. The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring commonly referred to as the “Sterilization Law” forced all those deemed hereditarily ill to undergo sterilization in order to prevent the passage of unwanted genes to the next generation. Those typically targeted include patients in mental hospitals, whom were mostly Aryan Germans. However, gypsies and homosexuals became targets for being “asocials”. Hereditary health courts were created in order to determine which individuals were genetically unfit and qualified for a procedure. Psychiatrists and geneticists, because of their expertise on the matter, served on these courts. Those deemed unfit by the courts usually underwent a vasectomy or tubal litigation. It became the common procedures for men and women at this time.
Politics of Population
Along with preventing procreation of the unfit, the Nazis attempted to control the population of pure Aryan Germans. The Nazi movement undertook natalism, which is a policy that favors or encourages population growth. During this period Germany experienced a decreasing birthrate. The need to reverse this decline produced the Lebensborn program in December of 1935 by Heinrich Himmler. The program’s primary goal involved a way to increase the German population by offering Aryan girls an opportunity to give birth to a “racially pure” child with a SS officer. This program involved a screening process to ensure both the mother and the father could produce a “racially pure” child. The program worked in secret because most mothers involved were unmarried and giving birth to a child out of wedlock was looked down upon.
Homes or nurseries were built for selected mothers to birth their babies in safety and provide natal childcare for one year afterwards. The first house was built in 1936. Eventually, ten homes established in Germany, as well as houses in other countries. This image is of an unidentified Lebensborn Nursery home. After birth, the SS organization became responsible for the education and adoption of the child.
In 1939, Himmler became unpleased with the results of the program. The SS officers did not father enough children to counteract those lost in the war. Because of this native women were introduced to the program. Racially fit women that conceived from officers were invited to stay in the houses to give birth.
After 1939 the German government began kidnapping children considered to be “racially good”. This image was found on a German soldier. It shows the kidnapping of a child. The amount of children kidnapped as a result of this remains undetermined, although it is known that around 100,000 children were kidnapped from Poland. Children kidnapped were brought to the Lebensborn centers to learn German teachings. Children that refused Nazi education were beaten, and eventually transferred to concentration camps. In 1945, the program ended and most children kidnapped returned to their birth families. However, some children believed in the Nazi propaganda and refused to return.
The forced sterilization of those hereditarily ill relates to the impregnation of young unwed mothers because it is another means of creating a perfect society. During this time, the Nazis treated population control like politics. Seeking the increase of “racially good” and Aryan children, while forcing a decline of genetically and racially unfit children. People who learn about the Nazi’s propaganda today have become aware of the flawed thinking and logic, but what caused people in the 1930s and 1940s to stand behind the Nazis?
Propaganda is designed by the government to influence public opinion. “Propaganda tries to force a doctrine on the whole people… Propaganda works on the general public from the standpoint of an idea and makes them ripe for the victory of this idea.” This quote is an excerpt from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf describing the effect government propaganda can have on the public. The Nazi movement succeeded in conveying their message and rallying support for the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring by establishing a Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in 1933. The goal of this ministry was to guarantee the Nazi message be communicated through all forms of media such as movies, radio, books, newspapers, art, theater, and music.
Another way of generating support for the movement was through the use of posters. This image was taken from Nazi Exhibitions. It is a poster that was displayed in 1936 in order to establish public support for the Nazi Eugenics program. It states “Sterilization is liberation, not a punishment.” Portraying that through sterilization, the government’s purpose of this program was to free future generations of a burden such as a deaf child or one with any other hereditary illness. The poster also shows three handicapped children. Below them the caption reads, “Who would want to be responsible for this?” Through posters like this, the Nazis attempted to convince the German citizens that the movement helped the community in the long run by ridding the burden of taking care of disabled and hereditarily ill people.
During this period, the German economy experienced a depression, leaving most families struggling financially. Because of financial strives, posters like this appealed to many German people. In this poster, it shows that a healthy family of five can live on the same amount of money as one genetically ill person. Posters similar to this informed citizens that at least from a financial standpoint, people like this man were a burden to society, and it would be much easier to rid the world of them.
These posters as well as ones similar served their purpose in generating support for the movement. Along with convincing many German families to support the movement, most German protestant churches stood by it as well. Only the Roman Catholic Church outwardly opposed it (Nataupsky).
By 1938, the Nazis decided to forcibly emigrate all Jews in order to continue their racial cleansing. It was not enough to ban all marriages between those considered ill or Jewish with non-Jewish Germans. It became necessary to completely remove all non-Aryans from German society and place them in camps. Once in different concentration camps, the forced sterilization continued on a larger scale to create the perfect Aryan society.
Dr. Carl Clauberg was a research gynecologist that was authorized by SS chief Heinrich Himmler to develop a process for mass sterilization. Though there are many doctors associated with the mass sterilization of men and women during the Holocaust, Clauberg is one of the most well known. In 1942 he began experiments in Block 10 of Auschwitz, shown in this image. His experiments strove to find an inexpensive and efficient way of sterilizing men and women. Means of sterilization previously used for those with a genetic disease were no longer possible. Vasectomy and tubal litigation procedures took too much time and were far too expensive for the amount of individuals that would be sterilized.
During his time in Block 10, Professor Clauberg performed a wide range of experiments. One experiment he performed included the injection of acidic substances into the uteruses of women causing excruciating pain, bursting spasms, and bleeding in the stomach. Another experiment involved the x-raying of genitals in men. He radiated their genitals and then castrated them to study the changes in their testes. It was also a customary practice to sterilize women by administering an overdose of x-rays. More experiments included the removal of one or both ovaries and the artificial insemination of women. “The main purpose of this research was to find the fastest ways of limiting and eventually exterminating ‘inferior races,’ and to raise the birth rates of the ‘pure’ Nordic race,” (Laska 181). By 1943 Clauberg had perfected his techniques and declared that he could sterilize “several hundred, possibly a thousand women in a single day,” (181). His methods of sterilization continued in Auschwitz and progressed to other concentration camps like Ravensbrück.
Ravensbrück became the largest concentration camp designated specifically for women. In the first week of January 1945, Carl Clauberg arrived at Ravensbrück and “sterilized some 120 to 240 Sinti and Roma women and young girls” (Saidel 40). Women and young girls were encouraged to agree to medical experiments with the promise of freedom for themselves or for their children. Unfortunately, these promises were not kept. Many forced into the experiments, mostly younger girls, died of the surgery. This image was taken from the Federal Archives, and it is of Amalie Schaich, a Ravensbrück camp survivor. She witnessed the horrors of the forced sterilizations on women. She explained, “they were picked up from the blocks to be ‘operated’ on-it was like being in a slaughterhouse. The girls screamed so much that I had to cover my ears, because I couldn’t bear it any more,” (Dokumentations-und Kulturzentrum). She goes on to state that girls often lied about their age in fear that they would have to return to Auschwitz. She recalls a 7-year old girl forcibly sterilized as a result of Clauberg’s methods. Records of how many women and young girls sterilized at Ravensbrück remain unknown.
After Clauberg successfully created an inexpensive and efficient way of sterilization, through radiating the genitals of men and women, the amount of sterilizations that occurred increased to thousands of individuals a day. This caused physical and psychological pain to many of those affected by it. It became a common practice to sterilize individuals without their knowledge, by simply passing them through the Roentgen or x-ray machines. Only after the liberations of camps and the media reports about Nazi experiments began to develop did some survivors discover their lack of reproductive abilities.
An example of this is the case of Simon Rozenkier. Simon became a victim of medical experiments in Auschwitz-Birkenau because of his “unusual genes” that caused his red hair. Dr. Mengele, a famous Nazi doctor notorious for his work with twins during the Holocaust, performed experiments on Simon that included administering shots into his testicles. He was told the shots “[would] give [him] muscles to work,” (Greenhouse). In a testimony with the United States Holocaust Memorial Simon explains, “When they grab you in the testicles and give you a shot, you must not scream, you scream you’re dead.” He continues to declare that he saw many children die next to him from a shot to the heart, and he tried to live in hope of seeing his family in the future. The image below was taken in 1945 at the Buchenwald concentration camp on the day of liberation. Simon is pictured the second from the left in a dark cap.
In the 1950s Simon was unable to conceive with his wife. He went to several doctors, but did not find any answers. One day he read in the papers “how people were sterilized by the Germans, and they showed pictures and this and that”. It then occurred to him that he may have been a victim to this as well, “and [he] said to [his] wife, you know something, I think they did it to me and I didn’t realize it,” (USHMM). After some tests it was confirmed that he was sterile because of the experiments the Nazis had conducted on him.
“Sterilization is perhaps the clearest illustration of how the Germans tormented the Jews before destroying them altogether, until their victims, ground down and crushed in mind and spirit, would bow to the inevitable,” (Hedgepeth 164). This quote explains the emotional toll on those affected by force sterilizations. Those that survived the camps went home and attempted to create a new life. Unfortunately, many like Simon, could not move on because years later the former 12-year old girl or boy sterilized, still remained unable to become a parent.
This image (Photograph #05430) is of a 23-year old mother of twins, Elizabeth Killiam. She was sterilized before being transferred to the Hadamar Institute. An American military photographer took this photo of her after liberation. One would think that after hearing news of the liberation she would be relatively happy or excited because she is finally safe. She knows she will survive, but the damage is done. She will never return back to the way she was before the Nazis tried to create a pure society. No information is found where she speaks about this picture or what she felt. Like many other men and women affected by forced sterilizations, Elizabeth remained silent.
The United Nations defines genocide as an act “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. This includes “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”. The Nazis used forced sterilization as a means to create a genetically superior society by ridding the world of individuals they viewed as racially dissimilar. In other words they sought to racially cleanse society of all Non-Aryans Germans. By ensuring that those deemed unfit were unable to reproduce, but also certifying those fit will be able to reproduce, the Nazi regime could have achieved the creation of a perfect society in just a few decades if the movement had not ended.
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Greenhouse, Steven. “Capping the Cost of Atrocity; Survivor of Nazi Experiments Says $8,000 Isn’t Enough.” The New York Times. 19 Nov. 2003. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/19/nyregion/capping-the-cost-of-atrocity-survivor-of-nazi-experiments-says-8000-isn-t-enough.html?pagewanted=3.
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