Monday, October 19, 2015

What Might Have Been Avoided If The German Genocide Against the Herero and Nama People Had Been Assigned Significance?

It's clear that I should use more of the research I've done on the topic of Darwinian eugenics and its myriad horrors, though I don't have the schedule that will allow a daily post on the topic.

One of the worst things about the common discourse of the genocides of the Nazis is that it seals off those crimes committed from 1941 through the end of the war,  the Holocaust, as if it were unrelated to the other programs of genocide, though those murdered were killed in the same gas chambers and burned in the same crematoria, shot by the same soldiers and murdered by the same doctors and medical units.  When the Nazis began murdering people, officially, legally, in 1939 they began with the disabled, the same people and institutions who murdered them were also involved with the larger program of murder.

And the required identification of the Nazis as a singular and peculiar instance of crime and depravity exempts far too many people and institutions and intellectual establishments who were not only as guilty but were fully involved with the Nazis.

One thing that has developed in the past seventy years is the false distinction between eugenics in the United States, Canada, in other countries and the Nazis' eugenic program which brought things written in the 1870s to its logical conclusion as legal, social and military policy.   The fact is there is no wall of separation between eugenics done in English and eugenics done in German, the mainstream of eugenics science in the English speaking world was in constant contact with German eugenicists, in the period before the Nazis passed those first German eugenics laws.  The Nazis learned a lot from the eugenics programs in the United States and elsewhere.  As I wrote before, when the eugenics program in Vermont was being studied they found that the Nazis kept better and more systematically filed records than the Americans who were in the process of trying to destroy the Abenakis in that state, in the same years that the Nazis were building their base and had taken power..

Because the German and American wings collaborated so closely, the German archives clearly traced the development of German race hygiene as it emulated the American program. More importantly, because the American and German movements functioned as a binary, their leaders bragged to one another and exchanged information constantly. Therefore I learned much about America’s record by examining Reich-era files. For instance, although the number of individuals sterilized in Vermont has eluded researchers in that state, the information is readily available in the files of Nazi organizations. Moreover, obscure Nazi medical literature reveals the Nazis’ understanding of their American partners. Probing the prodigious files of Nazi eugenics took my project to the Bundesarchiv in Berlin and Koblenz, the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, Heidelberg University and many other repositories in Germany.

When it was finished, the journey to discover America’s eugenic history had taken me from an austere highway warehouse in Vermont, where the state’s official files are stacked right next to automotive supplies and retrieved by forklift, to the architectonic British Library, to the massive Bundesarchiv in Berlin—and every type of research environment in between. Sometimes I sat on a chair in a reading room. Sometimes I poked through boxes in a basement.

The American intellectual establishment was up to its neck in involvement with German eugenics, even modern American eugenicists and scientific racists, such as James Watson admit that.  You can hear him say it here, the transcript of his remarks say:

Well this was the bigger version of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor. The building was built with money from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1927, when eugenics was generally thought to be a good thing. And the German geneticists thought it was a good thing and had a proposed program of sterilization for a large number of genetic conditions. And, but it wasn't voted in, they couldn't get it through the German democracy at the time. But the moment Hitler came into power a eugenics law was passed within a month, which prescribed sterilization for a large number of conditions including for say, being schizophrenic and in a mental hospital. So very soon afterwards they started a program of sterilization which went on until the war started, with about 600,000 people sterilized, it was a very thorough program and they had records on all these people.

A more explicit statement to that effect is found at the Eugenics Archive.

Alfred Ploetz founded the German Society of Racial Hygiene in 1905. However, a eugenic social agenda only gathered support after the humiliating loss of WWI, when Germans felt beset by adversaries both outside and inside their borders.

In 1927, the Rockefeller Foundation provided funds to construct the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin, which came under the directorship of the appropriately named Eugen Fischer. Adolf Hitler read Fischer's textbook Principles of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene while in prison at Landsberg and used eugenical notions to support the ideal of a pure "Aryan" society in his manifesto, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).

When Hitler came to power in 1933, he charged the medical profession with the task of implementing a national program in race hygiene. The first key element was the enactment, in 1934, of a law permitting involuntary sterilization of feebleminded, mentally ill, epileptics, and alcoholics. ERO Superintendent Harry Laughlin's model sterilization law was closely modeled, and his contributions to race hygiene were recognized with an honorary degree from the University of Heidelberg. The "marriage laws" of 1935 prohibited unions between "Aryans" and Jews, as well the eugenically unfit.

By the outbreak of WWII, in 1939, an estimated 400,000 people had been sterilized. However, in 1940 the need for hospital beds for wounded soldiers prompted a "final solution" for "lives not worth living." Psychiatrists and medical doctors identified more than 70,000 mental patients who were poisoned with carbon monoxide in extermination centers at psychiatric hospitals.

After gassing of mental patients ceased in 1941, medical and other personnel with euthanasia experience were reassigned to concentration camps in Poland, where hydrogen cyanide gas was used to kill Jews, gypsies, Slavs, and Social Democrats.

So, the history couldn't be clearer, the murder of Jews was not the only genocide the Nazis not only intended but were engaged in, they were on a list of groups of people, some of them as well based on ethnic heritage, who the Nazis intended to murder, the mass murder of the disabled was the practice genocide of the Nazis, ,or so it seems if you weren't, as I, in fact, was not, aware of before I had done a lot of research into the relationship of Darwinism to eugenics, an even earlier genocide that predated the Nazis.

Note that Hitler and the other Nazis who implemented the various genocide programs relied on information provided by Eugen Fischer whose work was supported by American philanthropy.  He did experiments on Roma and African-Germans murdered by the Nazis during the war, he had been writing on the biological disaster he considered the African-Germans since before the First World War, no doubt much of what the Nazis came to believe, after they organized after that war was based on Fischer's science.  You can read his publication history and if you have read much about who the Nazis murdered his titles are like lists in a a hit list.  Die Rehobother Bastards und das Bastardierungsproblem beim Menschen, 1913. and Das antike Weltjudentum: Tatsachen, Texte, Bilder. 1943.  Note the date on that second one,  from what I can make of it in the online edition of it, it was scientific anti-semetic propaganda published even as the genocide against Jews was being carried out, in the name of science.

Fischer being employed as a scientist at the Kaisar Wilhelm Institute is especially eye-opening because he had participated, scientifically, in an earlier, pre-Nazi era genocide by the German government in German South-West Africa, Namibia, today from 1904-1907.  He worked at the University of Freiberg at the time, where he continued and advanced in the science faculty, no doubt the hundreds of skulls he'd sent from that genocide were considered in his favor.  More than 100,000 people were believed to have been killed in it.  Fischer conducted experiments on children held in the concentration camps where native Herero and Nama peoples and African-Germans were held in horrendous conditions and often killed, outright.  The descriptions I've read of the practices and conditions there sound like a dress rehearsal for the death camps of the 1940s.  He and other scientists collected body parts, notably skulls from "freshly dead" bodies for scientific purposes.

His scientific studies informed his writing about the "Rehobother Bastards" children of African-German heritage fathered in the wake of the First World War, one of those groups early marked for death by the Nazis.  He also collaborated in coming up with the scientific scale used by the Nazis in determining race.  As an aside, reading about that reminded me of nothing more than "the references on negro‐white matings and skin color valuations" sought by Dr. Henry Farnham Perkins from Charles Davenport as an aid to his program to sterilize the Abenakis of Vermont, fully legally, even philanthropically, 20 years after Fischer was experimenting on children in concentration camps in Africa.  Oh, and it should be noted that Charles Davenport was James Watson's predecessor as the prestigious Cold Springs Harbor labs, he was in contact with German eugenicists even after the start of the war, before the United States became directly involved.

If, as Hitler is reported to have said, no one remembered the Armenian genocide, it is far more remembered than this genocide of Africans and African-Germans, why that is the case is important because if there is anything dangerous, it is the classification of genocides in order of significance.

Fischer lived until 1967, writing a memoir that white-washed his involvement with the Nazis, it was entitled, Begegnungen mit Toten: aus den Erinnerungen eines Anatomen, which translates as Encounters With The Dead: from the memories of an anatomist.

Before researching the history of eugenics and the eugenics that informed Hitler and the Nazis, I had never heard of the genocide of the Herero and Nama people and those of African-German heritage in the first decade of the 20th century.   In his book When Victims Become Killers:
Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda  Mahmood Mamdani notes reasons why genocides are ignored, undiscussed and untaught.

Accounts of the genocide, whether academic or popular, suffer from three silences. The first concerns the history of genocide: many write as if genocide has no history and as if the Rwandan genocide had no precedent, even in this century replete with political violence. The Rwandan genocide thus appears as an anthropological oddity. For Africans, it turns into a Rwandan oddity; and for non-Africans, the aberration is Africa. For both, the temptation is to dismiss Rwanda as exceptional. The second silence concerns the agency of the genocide: academic writings, in particular, have highlighted the design from above in a one-sided manner. They hesitate to acknowledge, much less explain, the participation--even initiative--from below. When political analysis presents the genocide as exclusively a state project and ignores its subaltern and "popular" character, it tends to reduce the violence to a set of meaningless outbursts, ritualistic and bizarre, like some ancient primordial twitch come to life. The third silence concerns the geography of the genocide. Since the genocide happened within the boundaries of Rwanda, there is a widespread tendency to assume that it must also be an outcome of processes that unfolded within the same boundaries. A focus confined to Rwandan state boundaries inevitably translates into a silence about regional processes that fed the dynamic leading to the genocide

I would say that that is only a partial list of silences and motives for silence, the racial, ethnic, national and class identity of the victims and the murderers is an important reason why genocides aren't considered of equal importance.   In this case, considering the country, the military, the establishment and even the individuals involved provides a definitive case as to why that is dangerous.  The unsavory fact is that even in death there are more favored and less favored victims assigned value posthumously even as they were assigned value by their murderers.   The assigning of value to people, of seeing them in terms of economic production and utility, cost effectiveness, as objects for use or disposal is where it begins.  That habit of thought is one that is guaranteed by materialism and, as such, is an easy habit of thought for those trained in the sciences to practice.   It is also an easy habit for militarists to fall into, the enemy are so frequently objectified as a means of preparing to kill them.  That it was easy for someone trained in anthropology and medicine is a lot less shocking than it should be.

The genocide of the Herero was the first genocide of the twentieth century. The links between it and the Holocaust go beyond the building of concentration camps and the execution of an annihilation policy and are worth exploring. It is surely of significance that when General Trotha wrote, as above, of destroying "African tribes with streams of blood," he saw this as some kind of a Social Darwinist "cleansing" after which "something new" would "emerge." It is also relevant that, when the general sought to distribute responsibility for the genocide, he accused the missions of inciting the Herero with images "of the bloodcurdling Jewish history of the Old Testament." It was also among the Herero in the concentration camps that the German geneticist, Eugen Fischer, first came to do his medical experiments on race, for which he used both Herero and mulatto offspring of Herero women and German men. Fischer later became chancellor of the University of Berlin, where he taught medicine to Nazi physicians. One of his prominent students was Josef Mengele, the notorious doctor who did unsavory genetic experiments on Jewish children at Auschwitz. It seems to me that Hannah Arendt erred when she presumed a relatively uncomplicated relationship between settlers' genocide in the colonies and the Nazi Holocaust at home: When Nazis set out to annihilate Jews, it is far more likely that they thought of themselves as natives, and Jews as settlers. Yet, there is a link that connects the genocide of the Herero and the Nazi Holocaust to the Rwandan genocide. That link is race branding, whereby it became possible not only to set a group apart as an enemy, but also to exterminate it with an easy conscience.

Again, Dr. Mengele was trained in anthropology and medicine, he was a student of Fischer, the man who, as part of his science, experimented on children and people in concentration camps, in Africa and in Europe and who had become an eminent member of scientific faculties in prestigious universities and scientific institutions as a result.

I have read the sometimes disputed quote in which Hitler said that no one remembered the genocide against the Armenians, I would like to know if he ever said anything about this genocide which Fischer never suffered for participating in.    It was a genocide that they not only got away with, but prospered from.  It would be useful to know how much the people who not only interacted as professional scientists with Fischer knew about his participation in that genocide upon which his scientific work was based, but how much those who hired him at the Universities he worked in, in Jena an Berlin, those who funded his continuing research knew about it.   It doesn't appear to have been unknown, only unremarked on.

The silence of the world, of Western post-war culture on the genocide in present day Namibia, shows how little we have learned about what was at the very bottom of motivations of the Nazis and, I would hold, all other instances of genocide, the thinking that turns people into objects to be evaluated in terms of utility, economic and other uses and lacking any real and effective rights that impose a moral obligation to them.

Bruno Bettelheim famously criticized the term "Holocaust" as used to name the Nazis genocide attempt against the Jewish people.  He was, rightly, I think, revolted that the term associated with the Hebrew Temple sacrifice would be given over to the actions of those who tried to destroy the Jewish people.  He also saw a danger in segregating that genocide from the others the Nazis attempted and planned.  That danger is highlighted by considering the role of Eugen Fischer in two genocides and the failure of those enlightenment institutions, science, academia, the philanthropic establishment, to even notice the first one or the obvious nature of what he was engaged in as he promoted the second one.  Obviously the lives of Africans were as little if not of less significance to those esteemed bodies of men than those of the Armenians.   If they had been, I don't think it's at all improbable that the second round of genocides carried out by German governments in the 20th century might have been prevented.

1 comment:

  1. "The first key element was the enactment, in 1934, of a law permitting involuntary sterilization of feebleminded, mentally ill, epileptics, and alcoholics."

    From the opinion in Buck v. Bell:

    "An Act of Virginia, approved March 20, 1924, recites that the health of the patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives, under careful safeguard, &c.; that the sterilization may be effected in males by vasectomy and in females by salpingectomy, without serious pain or substantial danger to life; that the Commonwealth is supporting in various institutions many defective persons who, if now discharged, would become [p206] a menace, but, if incapable of procreating, might be discharged with safety and become self-supporting with benefit to themselves and to society, and that experience has shown that heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity, imbecility, &c. The statute then enacts that, whenever the superintendent of certain institutions, including the above-named State Colony, shall be of opinion that it is for the best interests of the patients and of society that an inmate under his care should be sexually sterilized, he may have the operation performed upon any patient afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity, imbecility, &c., on complying with the very careful provisions by which the act protects the patients from possible abuse."

    Of course, Carrie Buck wasn't "mentally defective." Her "crime" was being poor, and the victim of a rape by her adoptive mother's nephew. Of course, when you make the rules, you can decide who people are, declare them what you want them to be, declare that status a danger to society, and behave accordingly.

    It took 10 years and Hitler for Germany to catch up with Virginia. According to Wikipedia:

    "The effect of Buck v. Bell was to legitimize eugenic sterilization laws in the United States as a whole. While many states already had sterilization laws on their books, their use was erratic and effects practically non-existent in every state except for California. After Buck v. Bell, dozens of states added new sterilization statutes, or updated their constitutionally non-functional ones already enacted, with statutes which more closely mirrored the Virginia statute upheld by the Court." That situation prevailed until the court ruled against such laws in 1942, and it wasn't until 1963 that all such laws were abandoned.

    And Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory performed the services of ALEC today, drafting a model eugenics law which Virginia, among other states, adopted.