How the United States Inspired the Holocaust

AH, Baile Átha Cliath

The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law by James Q. Whitman is a fascinating comparative assessment that uses many solid primary sources to demonstrate how Nazi lawyers and jurists looked to US for a template for racist eugenics. Since the publication of Mein Kampf, Fascists and Nazi’s on the European continent held America up high in their list of states that handled ‘racial affairs well’. America, to them, was the greatest white state on earth, and to US President Woodrow Wilson, it existed to preserve “white civilisation and its domination of the planet”.

To the ignorant and petulant liberal, this will come as a surprise – to the well read historian and thinker, it won’t. The American state was founded by slave owners, who created a system that would maintain their highly advantageous position in society and advance it. A further read to how the constitution was developed and by who is found in an ‘Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States’ by Charles Beard. It clearly established how society would run and it wouldn’t be run according to the false romantic ideas that are spread about the Empire in school.

The purpose of the text being reviewed is to “chronicle the neglected history of Nazi efforts to mine American race law for inspiration during the making of the Nuremburg laws, and to ask what it tells us about Nazi Germany, about the modern history of racism, and especially about America”. What the text tells us about America is straightforward; America possesses and possessed a highly flexible legal system that facilitated the ingrained racism of the American people. The book places a special emphasis on the period leading up to the announcement of the Nuremberg Race Laws which codified structural discrimination against Jewish people.

For inspirational purposes, Hitler and his fellow Nazi’s used the mass extinction of native peoples as a reference point. In the book ‘American Holocaust’, the massacre and elimination of millions of Indians by the Americans is well catalogued and is worth a read, but most importantly it gives an accurate comparison, the Nazi’s saw the Jewish people and Slavic people as their ‘Indians’ that needed to be wiped out. As early as 1928 Hitler commented that Americans “had gunned down millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand, and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage”.

The policy of Lebensraum (living space) for the East through mass extermination and colonization was directly based on the American concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’. Manifest Destiny was based on the idea that God had granted the American people the right to massacre non-believers and colonise their lands. Not an entirely dissimilar concept to the one that the Conquerors of 15th and 16th Europe used when pillaging their way around the world.

The Nazis however were sticklers for creating a legalistic framework to codify and in a manner, justify what they were doing. If it was written in law it could be said to hold a level of legality in their eyes. According to the author, the central premise is to challenge the idea that the Nazi regime did not take inspiration from Jim Crow laws or various racist legislation in the United States. He does so excellently.

In the ‘National Socialist Handbook for Law and Legislation’ of 1934-1935 contains an essay by Herbert Kier. In this essay, a significant section is devoted to US legislation – focused around inter-racial marriages, strict immigration legislation, and legislation around second class citizenship. Various states took to utilising evasive legal techniques to avoid granting citizenship to Puerto-Ricans, African Americans, Native Americans and other ethnic minorities. On a practical basis, eugenics based law making prevailed, despite the 14th Amendment (which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former slaves—and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection of the laws.”). The Nazi’s loved these pieces of legislation, openly citing, quoting and studying them. Hitler referred to America as “the one state” making progress towards the creation of a kind of state he wanted in Germany.

The 1920 Nazi Party Program framed the basis for future legislation calling for limits on citizenship, restricting it only to persons of ‘German blood’, while fears of overpopulation (i.e. the growth of Slavs and Jews) reinforced the acceptance of sacrificing barbarised lessor races. In short, there was a pyramid structure that placed you in a certain position depending where you were from. Racism is always wildly contradictory – today is no different. Irish fascists specify who they’re racist against and who they aren’t on the basis of whiteness and religion. They draw their ideas from the same place Hitler drew his, the US.

Eight days after Hitler proclaimed the Nuremberg Laws at the ‘Party Rally of Freedom’, a delegation of forty-five Nazi lawyers gathered on board the luxury oceanliner SS Europa to the United States for a ‘study trip’. Many counter-protests were organised against them in New York, mostly led by Jewish people and backed by Communists. They still however managed to meet the City Bar Association and received a “warm welcome”. Naturally, they blamed the protests on Jewish participants and claimed that Jewish people were welcome in Germany, despite consciously spending the last few years building race laws into the German legal code.

Their trip was one of many examples of how the Nazi Order glorified the Anglo-Saxon philosophy of Empire, Whiteness and Power. One would be accurate in saying that the Nazi Order was Anglo-Saxon Imperialism embodied, but inflicted on Europe. Even throughout the war in Europe, we see that Germany treated France, Britain, America and their Nordic neighbours in a totally different way. From the moment they invaded the East, their goal was the widespread extermination of my ancestors, Slavic peoples.

This book perfectly places the Nuremberg Laws where they belong in the historiography of their development. It is a damning assessment of the American legal system, but an accurate one and a must read for anybody with an interest in law, justice and inequality. What is worth noting is that recent documentaries such as 13th demonstrate that the white supremacist system in America continues to prevail, and like in the 1930s, clever legal loopholes either theoretically or in practice are utilised to maintain the institutional discrimination of ethnic minorities.

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