Did American Racism Inspire the Nazis?

Roundup
tags: Hitler, Nazi, Hitlers American Model



Joshua Muravchik is the author of eleven books, including Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned against Israel, Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism, Exporting Democracy, and Trailblazers of the Arab Spring.

In 1934, a year and a half after Hitler came to power, Nazi Germany promulgated the so-called Nuremberg Laws. One of the two laws stripped Jews of their citizenship, leaving them instead as mere subjects. The other prohibited marriage or extramarital sex between Jews and persons of “German or related blood.”

Some months earlier, the Reich Minister of Justice had convened a meeting of lawyers to begin drafting the two laws. The lawyers left behind a stenographic record that has now been mined by James Q. Whitman, the Ford Foundation professor of comparative and foreign law at Yale University, to “ask what it tells us about Nazi Germany, about the modern history of racism, and especially about America.”

About America? Why America, and why “especially”? Because, as the lawyers convened, they had before them, among things, memoranda detailing American regulations outlawing miscegenation and imposing various forms of racial discrimination. Coming upon this transcript, Whitman proceeded to study it and several other sources to see where they might lead. His conclusion: the American “model” served as an “influence” and an “inspiration” to the Nazis.

This, in a nutshell, is the thesis of Whitman’s short new book: Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. Although, he writes, “no one wants to imagine” that America bears such a discomfiting responsibility—to the contrary, “we may wish to deny it”—there is no getting around it. “When we add it all up . . . American white supremacy . . . provided, to our collective shame, some of the working materials for the Nazism of the 1930s.”

Whitman pursues the quarry of American influence and inspiration in two lengthy chapters, respectively titled “Making Nazi Flags and Nazi Citizens” and “Protecting Nazi Blood and Nazi Honor.” Regarding the deprivation of citizenship that would become enshrined in the first Nuremberg law, the Nazis closely examined the American refusal to give blacks the right to vote in the South, the country’s restrictive and discriminatory immigrations laws, and its denial of citizenship to Filipinos. His finding is this: “throughout [the Nazis’] effort to degrade, demonize, and expel the Jews of Germany, American law remained a regular . . . point of reference.”

As for the proscription of miscegenation, the basis of the second Nuremberg law, the Nazis departed little from their American model except insofar as that they found it too severe. Some Southern states had adopted the so-called “one-drop rule,” which classified as non-white anyone with even a single Negro ancestor. This, says, Whitman, was “disturbing even to Nazi commentators, who shuddered at the ‘human hardness’ it entailed.” ...




comments powered by Disqus