Home > Uncategorized > The American “contribution” to Nazi race law – posted 8/29/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/7/2020

The American “contribution” to Nazi race law – posted 8/29/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/7/2020

In her speech at the Republican National Convention, Nikki Haley made a point of saying that America is not a racist country. She proved she was no historian. Our tradition of liberty and equality has always been interwoven with our history of racism.

Contrary to Haley’s assertion, America has a history of having been an innovative world leader in the creation of racist law. Although little known or remembered, back in the 1930’s the Nazis looked to America as a source for racist legislation.

In his book, Hitler’s American Model, James Whitman explores this now-forgotten period. Initially, the Nazis did not see America as their enemy. They looked around for countries that could provide a model for how to discriminate and create second class forms of citizenship.

Whitman says the Nazis saw America as a laboratory for experimentation in diminished citizenship rights. They looked at examples like treatment of Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, African Americans and Filipinos. The Nazis particularly surveyed American state laws to see how states had diminished rights for Black people. They aimed to use similar-type legal restrictions on the German Jews.

The Nazis were obsessed with racial purity. They saw history as about race decay. They believed the superior race degenerated by mixing with inferior races. The Nazis saw Jews, Blacks, and all people of color as agents of pollution. They hated mongrelization.

Not surprisingly, the Nazis were most interested in laws about citizenship, immigration, mixed marriages and sexual liaisons. They were highly focused on preventing mixed marriages between so-called Aryans and Jews and wanted to criminalize extramarital sex between these groups.

In the early 1930’s, the Nazis had not yet arrived at their Final Solution ideas. They initially looked at emigration as the solution to the presence of German Jews. Anti-Jewish laws were designed to exclude Jews from government, universities, and the legal profession. The Nazis tightened the screws on the Jewish community to encourage an exodus. In evolving fashion, the Nazis changed course and it became harder for Jews to escape the country. Genocide ultimately replaced emigration.

The Nazis initially looked to the example of American immigration law. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1884 and the 1924 Immigration Act appealed to them. The 1924 Immigration Act favored Nordics of northern and Western Europe over the “undesirable races” of eastern and southern Europe. Such bias was right up their alley.

A New York incident in 1935 pushed the Nazis toward development of the Nuremberg Laws that codified their prejudice. 1000 anti-Nazi rioters stormed the SS Bremen, a German ocean liner, and ripped down the swastika flag. They threw the flag in the Hudson River. After rioters were arrested, they appeared before Louis Brodsky, a Jewish magistrate in New York City.

Magistrate Brodsky had a history of issuing civil libertarian opinions. In freeing the arrested rioters, he railed against the Nazis calling the swastika a “black flag of piracy” and saying Nazism represented a “revolt against civilization” and “an atavistic throwback to pre-medieval, if not barbaric, social and political conditions”.

Even though these words came from a police court magistrate, the Nazis took offense. Their Nuremberg Laws followed, depriving German Jews of the right to citizenship and full political rights. The Nazis looked at how the United States had deprived African Americans and Native Americans as a positive example justifying their treatment of Jews.

As early as 1928, Hitler had invoked the American conquest of the west as inspiration for the Nazi desire to acquire Lebensraum or “living space” to its east. Hitler expressed admiration how the Americans “had gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand, and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage”.

The new Nuremberg Blood Law forbid marriage between Jews and nationals of German blood. It also forbid extramarital intercourse between Jews and nationals of German blood. Jews were not allowed to employ female nationals of German blood under 45 in their households. Punishment for a violation was imprisonment at hard labor.

In the early twentieth century, anti-miscegenation law was pretty common in the United States. Thirty states had declared racially mixed marriages civilly invalid. Eugenics was influential and many Americans opposed marriage between “superior” and “inferior” races.

Anti-miscegenation law lasted in the United States until the 1967 case of Loving v Virginia when the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck it down. Even then, 16 states still had anti-miscegenation laws.

The Nazis saw the United States as the leader in models for laws opposing miscegenation. They had trouble finding countries that had laws criminalizing marriage. With the exception of bigamy and age limits, criminalization of marriage was rare.

Mongrelization was a related Nazi obsession. They wanted clarity on whom should be considered a Jew. They had questions like how much Jewish blood was enough to taint a child of part Aryan descent? Interestingly, even the more radical Nazis saw American law as too harsh.

The infamous Southern Senator, Theodore Bilbo from Mississippi, believed even “one drop” of blood was race-defiling. The Nazis generally believed this definition was too extreme.

There is no doubt that even without the American examples they leaned on to buttress their race law, the Nazis were on a road to becoming monsters. Still, it should cause pause to know that the Nazis looked to America both for racist law and racist inspiration.

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