Nazi Germany and Universities– A warning from history.
‘Despite the views of today's educated & cultured social progressives, being a modern, educated, & highly cultured society doesn't necessarily leave you any more moral than a simpler traditional society, & when man's beastly impulses are awakened, there's no limit to his possible destructiveness.’
“The medical crimes of the Third Reich were the result of a dynamic triad involving the state, the medical profession, and an academic enterprise comprising the universities and the research institutes.” (Seidelman, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 2000)
“German universities and research institutes played a decisive role in the dehumanization, exploitation, and destruction of human life during the Hitler period.” (William Seidelman. . Whither Nuremberg? Medicine’s Continuing Nazi Heritage, Medicine and Global Survival, 1995)
Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany
May 10, 2012
"Licence to kill" - this was the message given to the German people during the era of the Third Reich by the two most morally authoritative groups in society, the churches and the universities, Robert Ericksen claims in Complicity in the Holocaust. In confronting just why brutality was legitimised in this way, Ericksen takes us on a tour of German universities and churches from the First World War to the rise of Hitler and beyond.
In spite of its harrowing subject matter, the book is written in a calm, fluent style, easy to read and brimming with careful research, accessible to the general reader. But Ericksen doesn't spare our feelings. His aim is not to shock or provoke anger: that has already been achieved during the six decades or so since the uncovering of the atrocities of the Holocaust. He wants us to understand who perpetrated the Holocaust and how. First, he points out, at some discomfort to the reader, how similar the Germans were to us: they were "rooted in the modern, educated, technologically advanced West". They were not beasts or aliens. Second, he shows how easily overwhelming brutality appeared to arise in the context of 1930s Germany, with its background of economic depression, political disenchantment and frustrated nationalist sentiment. Easily, he claims, due to the endorsement of the moral voice of the nation. His focus is on two institutions that usually enjoy broad respect. "Churches aspire to spiritual and ethical insight. Universities cultivate intellectual acuity."
Another factor that is rarely acknowledged, is described in detail by Dr. Michael Grodin, a psychiatrist and American medical ethicist at Boston University:
“physicians are experts at compartmentalization, who deal with life and death every day and whose profession carries a sense of power. The motivation for choosing a career as a physician is often a fantasy of power, either sadistic or voyeuristic, as medicine gives license to look, touch, and control. Doctors medicalize and dehumanize their patients so that they can more easily process what they have to do…using science to objectify their work, they heal by attacking and killing disease with surgery or therapy or whatever tools they have available.”
“Medicine as a profession contains the rudiments of evil, and some of the most humane acts of medicine are only small steps away from evil.”
“During the Holocaust, the paradigm of the Nazi Doctor was Josef Mengel [who] often assumed a dual role with his victims—acting like a parent, playing games, and giving sweets before brutally killing children in his twin experiments…fixating on cleanliness and perfection in his experiments even when the patients [.. ] would shortly be consigned to death.”
For the doctors in the Nazi party, omnipotence merged with sadism – they took pleasure in domination and control…In the mental struggle to maintain their professional identity, Nazi doctors medicalized, technicalized, and professionalized their activities…they became absorbed in the technical aspects of medical work, examining inmates as a criterion for sending them to the gas chambers…identifying themselves as part of a larger machine working to ‘heal’ society…
SS doctors would kill and then have a meal, flog and then dress for dinner, torture and then listen to the opera and return to the camp.
“Three of its institutes that were beneficiaries of the Rockefeller Foundation [K-W Psychiatry (Munich); K-W Brain Research (Berlin-Buch); K-W Anthropology, Genetics, Eugenics (Berlin-Dahlem)] played an important role in the development, implementation and exploitation of the racial programs of the Third Reich including murderous experiments and the exploitation of the dead. Kaiser-Wilhelm scientists joined with the Nazi state in pursuit of the goal of improving the people’s health (Volksgesundheit), the major emphasis being on eugenic and racial purification.
The resulting collaboration between science and the Nazi state not only legitimized the policies and programs of the Hitler regime but it resulted in the exploitation and mutilation and murder of untold thousands of innocent victims by physicians and scientists associated with some of the world’s leading universities and research institutes. The participation of scientists associated with the Kaiser-Wilhelm Society enhanced the credibility of the Nazi state’s program of scientific terror and murder.” (William E. Seidelman, MD. Science and Inhumanity, 2001)
This book is the accumulation of a lifetime's study and with his erudite scholarship and superb linguistic skills, he surveys the Protestant and then the Roman Catholic churches for their role in the Holocaust. He first notes "widespread enthusiasm for Adolf Hitler among both Protestants and Catholics in 1933". Then he presents an array of damning detail of support in both religious groups for Aryanisation and war, interspersed, he acknowledges, with the occasional protest - for example, Pope Pius XI's complaint to the Nazis. But, as Ericksen points out, this consisted mostly of "ecclesiastical" issues, the Church jockeying for position with the State. His main point is that "when no major Christian institution, from the confessing church to the German Catholic bishops to the Vatican, could find itself willing to condemn Nazi mistreatment of Jews, why would Christians be held back in their participation?" He concludes: "I am not certain ordinary Germans would have participated so willingly and ruthlessly without what appeared to be religious sanction to do so."
From uncovering Church collaboration, Ericksen moves on to assess university academics. In a tour ranging through student activism, Nazi policies of removal of non-Aryans, book burning, hiring policies, curriculum change and governance of the universities, he uncovers a train of Hitlerite policies, but he is at pains to find a single instance of resistance from any university academic (besides the White Rose movement). Personal stories abound, such as that of Karl Brandi, a conservative historian at the University of Gottingen with an aggressive nationalism and "heavy overlay of anti-Semitism", and the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who hailed the authoritarianism of Hitler. All in all, Ericksen shows how the universities provided engineers, administrators, medics and biologists with the skills to enable the mass extermination of 6 million Jews and 5 million other human beings.
Post-war scholarship vindicated many aspects of German society and the image of an oppressed people under the yoke of tyranny arose. In Ericksen's words: "They were only following orders, and they were acting under the extreme duress of a totalitarian state." Ericksen's work opposes that view and contributes to a recent body of scholarship, such as John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII and Hitler's Scientists: Science, War, and the Devil's Pact, that depicts the full extent of various sectors' collaboration with the Third Reich.
This book deserves to be celebrated for its moral courage, lucid prose and splendid craftsmanship - in spite of its complex and emotive content, it reads with beguiling simplicity. Ericksen presents a damning case against the German Church and academy. And by pointing the finger so consistently at educational and moral leaders, he raises questions pertinent to today. Are there evils in 21st-century society that universities and the Church could do more to speak out against?
Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany
By Robert P. Ericksen. Cambridge University Press. 280pp, £55.00 and £18.99. ISBN 9781107015913 and 7663336. Published 30 March 2012
Considering the response of Universities at home
Norwood sums up the situation at American universities in the 1930s thus:
“The leaders of American colleges and universities remained for the most part uninvolved as others in this country forcefully protested the Nazis’ barbaric treatment of Jews. The Nazis anti-Semitic terror in 1933 precipitated demonstrations and boycotts (of Germany) on an unprecedented scale… But although academicians were the Americans most conversant with European affairs, few engaged in public anti-Nazi protest…. American universities maintained amicable relations with the Third Reich, sending their students to study at Nazified universities while welcoming Nazi exchange students to their own campuses. America’s most distinguished university presidents willfully crossed the Atlantic in ships flying the swastika flag, openly defying the anti-Nazi boycott, to the benefit of the Third Reich’s economy. By warmly receiving Nazi diplomats and propagandists on campus, they helped Nazi Germany present itself to the American public as a civilized nation, unfairly maligned in the press.” (Norwood, page 34)
Psychology and NAZI EUGENICS
Nazi Eugenics poster 1935
Nazi social policies were strongly influenced by the eugenics movement which was started by the British and American Psychological Associations originally. Eugenics was a social theory popular with many scientists, philosophers, academics and writers in the early 20th century. Their fundamental belief was that human populations could be improved through manipulation of their genetic make-up. In other words, a society could achieve positive outcomes – like increased productivity or reductions in crime – if it removed unhealthy or ‘undesirable’ genetic elements. Many governments had experimented with eugenics-driven policies long before the Nazis came to power. More than 64,000 Americans with mental illnesses were forcibly sterilised between the 1890s and 1924. Other countries – such as Japan, Canada, Australia, Sweden, France and Switzerland – also dabbled in eugenics-based policies in the 1920s and 1930s.
Hitler, other Nazis and some German academics were also avid believers in eugenic pseudo-science. They thought of German society as a sick organism, its bloodstream contaminated by degenerate and undesirable elements. Those ‘contaminating’ Germany were the racially impure, the physically disabled, the mentally infirm, the criminally minded and the sexually aberrant. The Nazis believed the state should intervene to improve the health of its society – first to identify its contaminating elements, then to restrict their growth, then to eliminate them. This required difficult and unpalatable policies – but the Nazis justified it with eugenics theories and references to social Darwinism (the ‘survival of the fittest’).
The first Nazi eugenics policy, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily-Diseased Offspring, was passed in July 1933, six months after Hitler became chancellor. It required German doctors to register all genetically-related illnesses, in all patients other than women over 45. Examples of reportable cases were mental retardation, schizophrenia, manic-depression, blindness and deafness, or other severe physical deformities. Even chronic alcoholism could be considered a genetic disorder, at the doctor’s discretion. The law also set up ‘hereditary health courts’, comprised of two physicians and a lawyer. These courts examined individual cases and ruled whether patients should be “rendered incapable of procreation” (surgically sterilised).
When the law came into effect on the first day of 1934, the ‘hereditary health courts’ were swamped with cases. In their first three years the ‘health courts’ ruled on almost 225,000 patients, ordering compulsory sterilisation for around 90 per cent. Sterilisation orders were handed down so rapidly that state hospitals did not have the operating theatres or staff to keep up. The vast majority of sterilised patients were suffering from mental illness or deformity. Of the patients sterilised in 1934, 53 per cent were intellectually disabled or ‘feeble-minded’, 25 per cent schizophrenics and 14 per cent epileptics. In total, the Nazi ‘health courts’ approved the forced sterilisation of more than 300,000 people between 1934 and 1945.
In October 1935, a month after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, the Nazis introduced the Law for the Protection of the Genetic Health of the German People. This reform was chiefly concerned with preventing marriages which might produce ‘genetically unhealthy’ children. Couples wishing to marry had to first obtain a certificate from the public health office, declaring the proposed marriage would not produce genetically impure offspring. Germans with genetic disorders or disabilities were only given permission to marry if they volunteered for sterilisation. The law also allowed the Nazi bureaucracy to collect a considerable amount of information about the racial and genetic make-up of its citizens. Its long-term plan was to compile a racial and genetic blueprint of the entire nation (a project never completed because of World War II).
The final, most drastic phase of the Nazi eugenics program was euthanasia. Killing the unhealthy to protect public health had been proposed as early as 1920, by two German writers: psychiatrist Alfred Hoche and philosopher Karl Binding. The mentally disabled, Hoche and Binding argued, possessed only lebensunwertem lebens (‘life unworthy of living’); legalised euthanasia would end the “burden for society and their families”. While many Nazis supported introducing euthanasia, Hitler was wary, because he knew approving the medical killing of the disabled would generate considerable public opposition. In 1936 Hitler told his inner circle that euthanasia was a policy that would have to wait until wartime, when it could be introduced with less fuss. By 1939 Hitler was confident enough to authorise a trial euthanasia program. This may have been triggered by an emotional letter, written to the fuhrer by a Herr Knauer the previous year. Knauer’s baby son had been born blind, intellectually disabled, missing one arm and one leg. Knauer begged Hitler to allow doctors to carry out a mercy killing of his deformed son; after a few weeks’ thought the Nazi leader approved this request. In mid-1939 Hitler ordered a hand-picked group of doctors to prepare a euthanasia schedule for similarly deformed children.
“Nazi eugenic policies were not the creations of ignorant, evil politicians. The German eugenics program was constructed and implemented by physicians, scientists, who were professors at major universities, heads of departments, writers of established textbooks, research institutes. They were joined by legal experts, also at the top of their profession. What distinguished Germany from Britain or the US was that the political climate under the Nazis made it possible for [them] to put together and implement programs that could not be put forward elsewhere.”
Ruth Hubbard, biologist
On September 1st 1939 – the day German tanks rumbled into Poland – Hitler signed an informal memo allowing specially-appointed doctors to deal with “incurable” patients by “granting [a] mercy death after a discerning diagnosis”. This memo unleashed Aktion T4: a program to clear hospitals and free up resources by euthanasing the mentally disabled. Aktion T4 was preceded by a vigorous propaganda campaign, intended to prepare the public and lessen sympathy for its victims. Posters depicted cripples and lunatics as drains on the state; they took up valuable resources needed for front-line soldiers and hungry children. Each disabled person, these posters claimed, cost the state 60,000 Reichmarks, a burden carried by the German taxpayer.
Aktion T4 began with the killing of disabled children, who were dispatched by starvation or cocktails of lethal drugs. The euthanasing of adult patients began in hospitals in occupied Poland, then spread into Germany proper. In places where Catholic doctors and nurses refused to carry out the killings, special T4 squads were sent in to take over. The Nazis initially attempted to keep Aktion T4 a secret, listing phoney causes of death on official paperwork – but most Germans were aware of what was occurring. Aktion T4 continued until August 1941, when Hitler suspended it, largely because of a chorus of public complaints. The program had taken the lives of between 80,000 and 100,000 patients. The killing of the infirm continued to be carried out in German hospitals on an ad hoc basis.
1. Eugenics is a movement that believes societies can be strengthened by genetic management and refinement.
2. The Nazis were strong adherents of eugenics, though they neither invented it nor were the first to implement it.
3. In July 1933 they authorised a program of compulsory sterilisation for those with ‘hereditary illnesses’.
4. There were also close restrictions on marriage, with government certification for ‘genetic viability’.
5. The Nazi euthanasia program, Aktion T4, ran for two years and saw as many as 100,000 patients murdered.
“all researchers followed the intrinsic logic of their scientific disciplines and used the legally and ethically unrestricted access to human beings created by the context of the political system and the conditions of war.
Rather than being the result of a coercive state, Nazi medicine illustrates how medical researchers and their representative bodies co-operated with and even manipulated a totalitarian state and political system relying on expert opinion, in order to gain resources for the conduct of research without any moral and legal regulation.” (Twentieth Century Ethics of Human Subjects Research: Historical Perspectives, Edited by Volker Roelcke MD, PhD and Giovanni Maio, MD, PhD , 2004)
Einsatzgruppen (German for "task forces", "deployment groups"; singular Einsatzgruppe; official full name Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD) were Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting, during World War II. The Einsatzgruppen had a leading role in the implementation of the Final Solution of the Jewish question (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) in territories conquered by Nazi Germany.
Under the direction of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and the supervision of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the Einsatzgruppen operated in territories occupied by the German armed forces following the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union) in June 1941. Historian Raul Hilberg estimates that between 1941 and 1945 the Einsatzgruppen and related auxiliary troops killed more than two million people, including 1.3 million Jews. The total number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust is estimated at 5.5 to six million people.
After the close of the World War II, 24 senior leaders of the Einsatzgruppen were prosecuted in the Einsatzgruppen Trial in 1947–48, charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. Fourteen death sentences and two life sentences were among the judgements. Four additional Einsatzgruppe leaders were later tried and executed by other nations.
Invasion of Poland
Seven Einsatzgruppen of battalion strength operated in Poland. Each was subdivided into four Einsatzkommandos of company strength.
Invasion of the Soviet Union and other countries
Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker
(until 23 March 1942)
· Sonderkommandos 1a and 1b (German for special forces; not to be confused with the Sonderkommandos in the concentration camps)
· Einsatzkommandos 2 and 3. Attached to Army Group North
(until October 1941)
· Sonderkommandos 7a and 7b
· Einsatzkommandos 8 and 9
Dr. Otto Rasch
(until October 1941)
· Sonderkommandos 4a and 4b (Sonderkommando 4 a was commanded by Paul Blobel)
· Einsatzkommandos 5 and 6. Attached to Army Group South
Prof. Otto Ohlendorf
(until June 1942)
· Sonderkommandos 10a and 10b
· Einsatzkommandos 11a, 11b, and 12. Attached to 11th Army
SS-ObersturmbannführerLudwig Teichmann, SS-Standartenführer Günther Herrmann, SS-Standartenführer Wilhelm Fuchs
SS-Standartenführer Dr. Josef Kreuzer
Einsatzkommandos 11 and 12
SS-Oberführer Dr. Emanuel Schäfer
SS-Standartenführer Dr. Ludwig Hahn
SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Ludwig Hahn
SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel
SS-Oberführer Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker
SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei
Karl Eberhard Schöngarth
Dr. Franz Six
· Proposed. Six Einsatzkommandos would have been located in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, and either Edinburgh or Glasgow. These death squads would have been charged with the elimination of civilian resistance members and Jews in the United Kingdom. Due to the cancellation of the planned invasion of Britain (Operation Sealion), the units never saw active service.
· Einsatzgruppe A (commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Franz Stahlecker) was assigned to the Baltic area,
· Einsatzgruppe B (SS-Brigadeführer Arthur Nebe) to Belarus,
· Einsatzgruppe C (SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Rasch) to north and central Ukraine, and