In 1900 the founder of racial hygiene in Germany, Dr. Alfred Ploetz, participated in an essay contest. It was sponsored by the industrialist Alfred Krupp, who gave a prize for the best essay on the subject "What can we learn from the principles of Darwinism for application to Inner Political development and the laws of the state?"

Many people entered, and most essays agreed that a biological blue-print and a group of biologically fit must maintain a pure strain to ensure the further existence of the state.

Wilhelm Schallmeyer, who won first prize, interpreted culture society, morality, and even "right" and "wrong" in terms of the struggle for survival. He wanted all laws brought into line with these concepts to prevent the white races from degenerating to the level of the Australian Aborigines. Such a degradation would be unavoidable if society continued to pander to the physically or mentally weak. His colleague, Dr. Alfred Ploetz, endorsed the whole essay and supported the superiority of the Caucasian race from which, of course he excepted the Jews' while the Aryans were claimed as the apex of racial perfection. For instance, he suggested that in times of war in order to preserve the race, only racially inferior persons should be sent to the front. As the soldiers in the front lines are usually the ones who are killed, this would preserve the purer part of the race from being unnecessarily weakened. He further suggested that a panel of Doctors be present at the birth of each child to judge whether the child was fit enough to live, and, if not, kill it.

Eugenics Societies

In 1901 Galton delivered a lecture to the English Royal Anthropological Society stressing the various possibilities of improving human breeding under the present social, legal and moral conditions. In 1904 the first chair in Eugenics and working society in Eugenics were instituted at University College, London, and these led to the establishment of the Galton Laboratory of National Eugenics in 1907. Soon Eugenics groups began to spring up all around the world.

In 1908 the Eugenics Education Society (renamed the Eugenics Society in the 20's) was founded in England and in 1910 the Eugenic Record Office in the United States. Both institutes used the research results of the Galton Laboratory of National Eugenics to propose practical applications, and they made it their task to intensely propagandise the eugenic idea to the public.

Dr. Alfred Ploetz, the same man who had assisted Schallmeyer with his prize essay, in 1905 founded the "Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene" [Society for Racial Hygiene] in Germany. Later it changed its name to "Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene (Eugenik)", which means the Society for Racial Hygiene (Eugenics). This change of name took place after Galton's announcement that racial hygiene and eugenics were in fact synonymous terms. These terms used in the German language were not only interchangeable, but racial hygiene was taken to be the German translation of eugenics. As racial hygiene was closely connected with political anthropology - a pseudo-science developed by Gobineau - eugenics was used as the scientific basis upon which racialist and political ideas, especially those of the Nazis, were based.

In 1904 Dr. Alfred Ploetz founded the journal "Archiv für Rassen-und Gesellschaftsbiologie" [Archive for Racial and Social Biology] which after one year of existence became the official organ of the "Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene" [Society for Racial Hygiene], which Ploetz had created. A co-founder of this society was the later world-famous psychiatrist and racial hygienist, Professor Dr. Ernst Ruedin.

Eugenics Becomes a Mental Therapy

Psychiatry already had a strong physical, biological and organic foundation by this period. Emil Kraepelin, a pupil of Wundt, had earlier and in agreement with contemporaries suggested that mental and physical illnesses could be divided into two categories, those which are hereditarily caused and those due to the environment.

Psychiatrists Dr. Benedict Morel, Wilhelm Griesinger, Emil Kraepelin and Henry Maudsley in the 19th century had stressed the hereditary, biological and organic causes of mental illnesses. Their "scientific" principles had considerable influence on psychiatry and are found echoed throughout the psychiatric texts of the nineteenth century.

With the beginning of the 20th century the more brutal forms of psychiatric treatment had begun to be abandoned. The whirling stools, head-beating machines, whips, clubs and similar instruments had not proven successful, as so far no one had been healed. As more and more methods of treatment were being discarded, the profession suddenly became aware that no adequate treatment could be found to justify the existence of psychiatry as a profession. Who first had the brilliant idea is lost in the untraceable annals of endless psychiatric journals and texts, but the whole discipline gradually turned to the subject of heredity, as well as eugenics as a possible method of eliminating mental illness even if mental illness could not be cured.

Various principles developed from an attempt to prevent further mental illness, some championed by one group, others by another, but all of them attempts to solve the problem of mental illnesses while maintaining the facade of scientific theory and practice.

"The mentally ill should not breed with non-mentally ill." This slogan led to the establishment of colonies which separated the insane and mentally defective from the rest of society.

The supporters of eugenics also believed that the result of procreation of a mentally-ill person with a mentally healthy person would be mentally-ill offspring. If the offspring were not mentally ill, the danger of a recessive gene causing a mental defect in later generations was a much too serious a danger to be tolerated.

"The mentally-ill element in the population is increasing". This slogan led to measures which were directly intended to inhibit the birth of mentally ill children. This led to a series of principles, escalating in the force of their application: separation from society, restraint, separation of the sexes in defective colonies, and sterilizations.

Mental Hygiene

Clifford Beers, a former mental patient, campaigned heavily in America for better treatment of the mentally ill. A Swiss-German professor operating in America, Adolf Meyer, coined the term "Mental Hygiene".

In 1908 the Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene, the starting point of the Mental Hygiene movement as an organized body, was founded. Its aims were: improved treatment for the insane, and the safeguarding of the public's mental health.

In the 1920's groups were formed in other countries-Canada, France, Belgium, England, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Russia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia. By 1930 twenty-four countries had Mental Hygiene Associations.

Routinely these associations had as their medical specialists psychiatrists who espoused eugenic medicine and lay members who were simultaneously active in the Eugenics Societies which had by this time become very numerous.

In France one of the leaders of mental hygiene was Dr. Edouard Toulouse, in Great Britain it was Miss Evelyn Fox, Secretary of the Central Association for Mental Welfare. She had been an active member of the Eugenics Society before the foundation of the National Council for Mental Hygiene, of which she was an officer and founder, and finally was recognized as leader of the Mental Hygiene movement as a whole. Among the board members of the National Council for Mental Hygiene was Sir Cyril Burt, who had been a member of the Eugenics Society for eleven years before the foundation of the National Council. Later he was founder of MENSA, a high l.Q. group which espouses eugenic principles. From the annual reports of the National Council for Mental Hygiene one can see many names that are also common in the Eugenics Society, including:

The Mental Hygiene movement drew strongly from the Eugenic movements of whatever country they were in, and in fact the Mental Hygiene Movements were permeated with Eugenic thought.

In 1931 the publishing firm Walter de Gruyter and Co. published the "Handwoerterbuch der Psychischen Hygiene und der Psychiatrischen Fuersorge" [Handbook of Mental Hygiene and Psychiatric Care] as an official psychiatric reference work containing a high proportion of eugenically-oriented contributors. Frequent references are made throughout the book to Eugenics, Planned Marriages, Heredity, Degeneration, etc. and under the heading "mental hygiene" we find the following:

"Therefore the hereditary constitution of a personality is the first and most effective point of prophylactic intervention: in the sense of eugenic psychiatry it is necessary to hinder unfavorable hereditary combinations and bring about favorable ones, and especially to prevent the propagation of the hereditary traits of physical illness and the socially inferior psychopathies."

The principle that prevention of birth of the mentally-ill would eradicate mental illness became an operating principle for every mental hygiene group in the world.

In Germany, as in other countries, the theoreticians and practitioners of Mental Hygiene recruited mainly from eugenically oriented groups. Among them was the psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, a close friend of Dr. Alfred Ploetz and Dr. Ernst Ruedin, Professor of Psychiatry at Munich University, co-editor with Ploetz of the "Archiv for Rassen-und Gesellschaftsbiologie" and co-founder of the Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene (Eugenik) [Society for Racial Hygiene (Eugenics)]. In 1933 the Nazi Reichsminister of the Interior, Wilhelm Frick, nominated Rüdin as his honorary representative on the board of directors of two German racial hygiene unions. It is even more significant that Rüdin was appointed by Frick to work together with the Ministry in the reconstruction of the German race.

On the occasion of Ruedin's 65th birthday, Ploetz honored his achievements in the Archiv für Rassen-und Gesellschaftsbiologie:

"so just recently he received the Goethe Medal for Art and Science from the Fuehrer `in recognition of his achievements in the development of German Racial Hygiene.' The Reichsminister of the Interior Dr. Frick sent him the following telegram:

Also Dr. Luxenburger, a well known racial hygienist and colleague of Rüdin's in the Genealogical Department of the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Psychiatrie (German Research Institute for Psychiatry) at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Munich, and Dr. W. Wlassack, racial-hygienist and exponent of the Swiss Mental Hygiene movement, both mental hygiene theorists with a racial hygienic background.

These extreme views were not, however, limited to German Psychiatrists and Racial Hygienists. In the following examples an Englishman and Swiss Frenchman are representative of this type of thinking in other nations.

The English eugenicist Karl Pearson, first Professor for Eugenics at London University, published his thoughts at the turn of the century:

and also

In his book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, racist Houston Stewart Chamberlain quoted the Swiss professor August Forel with great admiration and approval:


Eugenics had been formulated and made known by Galton in 1883. During the following years the subject was popularized and shortly after the turn of the century eugenic organizations were set up throughout the world. The movement attracted an increasing number of supporters and adherents particularly in America and Germany. And to the extent that the organizations grew, they enlarged their sphere of political influence. The legislation of various countries started to orient itself to eugenic principles and parliaments began to enact many new laws of a purely eugenic nature. Although they varied in form and execution, they all were aimed at the same objective - the mentally deficient and the mentally ill.

Laws of a general nature provided for the establishment of institutions and colonies, enabling the mentally deficient or mentally ill to be segregated from the rest of the population, thus facilitating the control and prohibition of the procreation of the insane. Two such laws were Great Britain's Mental Deficiency Act, passed in 1913 and the South African Mental Disorders Act, passed in 1916.

Other laws were much more definite and aimed directly at the sterilization of the insane. It should be noted here that the term "sterilization" in the legislation of many American States includes castration and hundreds of such emasculations have already been carried out.

An examination of the dates of this legislation in the case of America shows it to have occurred in two waves. The first one began with the passing of a sterilization law in Pennsylvania in 1905, which the Governor immediately vetoed. However, other states followed this example and had more success. This first wave reached its peak in 1913, and then declined soon after [the War probably taking attention off domestic matters to some extent], and little activity can be traced until 1920. At this point it would appear that the pure eugenically-inspired "push" exhausted itself.

However, with the growth of the mental hygiene movement [starting in 1908 in Connecticut and spreading throughout the world in the 1920's] a second more vigorous phase was entered. The Mental Health movement in each country became the primary lobbyist for the Eugenic cause, frequently doing the front-line work of the Eugenics movements and generally acting as an authoritative pressure group with the result that eugenic principles began to appear again in legislation.
Gaining momentum throughout the 20's a second wave of enactments and amendments passed through the legislatures under the combined pressure of the interlocking eugenic and mental hygiene movements. By 1929 this had also reached its peak in America but with the added influence of the more broadly-based mental hygiene movement the surge continued throughout other parts of the world. As a result many countries had passed or were considering the passage of laws providing for compulsory and occasionally voluntary sterilization of the mentally ill or defective, alcoholic, or socially undesirable. Amongst these were Germany, Australia (various states), New Zealand, Canada (various provinces), Finland, Sweden and many of the American states. In addition Norway, Sweden and Switzerland included castration in their measures.

In 1932 the Minister of Health in England set up a committee to look into the whole question and the findings were published in 1936. However no law was passed probably because the public after seeing first-hand the glorious achievements of a eugenically and racially based state in Nazi Germany would have raised a tremendous outcry. With no popular support and often considerable opposition at the best of times it proved more difficult to get laws passed after 1935. As the original supposed purpose of the mental hygiene movement was improved care of the mentally ill, it is strikingly odd that the first laws passed on an international basis at the instigation of the mental hygiene movement were laws to sterilise the mentally ill and prevent them from reproducing.


While the whole world was being prepared by propaganda tot the sterilization of the insane the adherent of mental hygiene and eugenics were preparing their next step.

Euthanasia by definition means an easy death. It is usually understood that it should be in a painless peaceful fashion for someone who is incurable and dying. It is also known as "mercy-killing".

In 1895 Alfred Ploetz had, as we have seen, introduced Social Darwinism into Germany and founded Racial Hygiene. In his book "Fundamental Outline of Racial Hygiene" he calls for the elimination of counter-selective processes i.e. those processes which eliminate the strong and favor the weak. Amongst these he includes war and the protection of the weak and the ill. As an illustration he gives the example of a newly married couple who give birth to a weak or malformed child who would be given an easy death with a small dose of morphine by a Board of Doctors.

In 1922 Karl Binding a Jurist and Alfred Hoche a psychiatrist wrote: "The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Value". (Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens). They argued in favor of euthanasia that the unfortunate are a burden to themselves and society and their parting would cause no great loss, the cost of keeping these useless people was excessive and that the State could better spend the money on more productive issues. They felt that the physically and mentally defective should be painlessly eliminated and demanded the nullification of the religious and legal barriers which stood in the way. Hoche was an influential, authoritative psychiatrist and argued that the moral attitudes towards the preservation of life would soon drop away and the destruction of useless lives would become a necessity for the survival of society.

At a German medical conference in Karlsruhe in 1921 a proposal was put forward for the legalisation of Euthanasia but was rejected. At a psychiatric congress in Dresden in 1922 the same motion and report that had been presented in Karlsruhe was brought up again and again rejected. At about the same time the Monist League [one of its founders was Ernst Haeckel convinced supporter of Social Darwinism] made a similar suggestion to the Reichstag again without success. In the U.S.A. Dr. Alexis Carrel a French-American Nobel Prize winner who had been on the staff of the Rockefeller Institute since its inception published his book "Man the Unknown" in 1935 its message cannot be said to have been limited to home consumption for within three years it had been translated into nine other languages.

In his last chapter "The Remaking of Man", Carrel repeatedly looks to Eugenics as the solution to the ills of society. He suggests the removal of the mentally ill and the criminal by small euthanasia institutions which were to be equipped with suitable gases:

There remains the unsolved problem of the immense number of defectives and criminals. They are an enormous burden for the part of the population that has remained normal. As already pointed out, gigantic sums are now required to maintain prisons and insane asylums and protect the public against gangsters and lunatics. Why do we preserve these useless and harmful beings? The abnormal prevent the development of the normal. This fact must be squarely faced. Why should society not dispose of the criminals and the insane in a more economical manner? We cannot go on trying to separate the responsible from the irresponsible, punish the guilty, spare those who although having committed a crime, are thought to be morally innocent. We are not capable of judging men. However the community must be protected against troublesome and dangerous elements. How can this be done? Certainly not by building larger and more comfortable prisons, just as real health will not be promoted by larger and more scientific hospitals. In Germany the Government has taken energetic measures against the multiplication of inferior types, the insane and criminals. The ideal solution would be to eliminate all such individuals as soon as they proved dangerous. Criminality and insanity can be prevented only by a better knowledge of man, by eugenics, by changes in education and in social conditions. Meanwhile criminals have to be dealt with effectively. Perhaps prisons should be abolished. They could be replaced by smaller and less expensive institutions. The conditioning of petty criminals with the whip or some more scientific procedure, followed by a short stay in hospital would probably suffice to insure order. Those who have murdered, robbed while armed with automatic pistol or machine gun, kidnapped children, despoiled the poor of their savings, misled the public in important matters, should be humanely and economically disposed of in small euthanasic institutions supplied with proper gases. A similar treatment could be advantageously applied to the insane, guilty of criminal acts. Modern society should not hesitate to organize itself with reference to the normal individual. Philosophical systems and sentimental prejudices must give way before such a necessity. The development of human personality is the ultimate purpose of civilization."


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