Leading Nazis, and early 1900 influential German biologists, revealed in their writings that Darwin’s theory and publications had a major influence upon Nazi race policies. Hitler believed that the human gene pool could be improved by using selective breeding similar to how farmers breed superior cattle strains. In the formulation of their racial policies, Hitler’s government relied heavily upon Darwinism, especially the elaborations by Spencer and Haeckel. As a result, a central policy of Hitler’s administration was the development and implementation of policies designed to protect the ‘superior race’. This required at the very least preventing the ‘inferior races’ from mixing with those judged superior, in order to reduce contamination of the latter’s gene pool. The ‘superior race’ belief was based on the theory of group inequality within each species, a major presumption and requirement of Darwin’s original ‘survival of the fittest’ theory. This philosophy culminated in the ‘final solution’, the extermination of approximately six million Jews and four million other people who belonged to what German scientists judged as ‘inferior races’.
Of the many factors that produced the Nazi holocaust and World War II, one of the most important was Darwin’s notion that evolutionary progress occurs mainly as a result of the elimination of the weak in the struggle for survival. Although it is no easy task to assess the conflicting motives of Hitler and his supporters, Darwinism-inspired eugenics clearly played a critical role. Darwinism justified and encouraged the Nazi views on both race and war. If the Nazi party had fully embraced and consistently acted on the belief that all humans were descendants of Adam and Eve and equal before the creator God, as taught in both the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures, the holocaust would never have occurred.
Expunging of the Judeo-Christian doctrine of the divine origin of humans from mainline German (liberal) theology and its schools, and replacing it with Darwinism, openly contributed to the acceptance of Social Darwinism that culminated in the tragedy of the holocaust.1 Darwin’s theory, as modified by Haeckel,2,3,4,5,6 Chamberlain7 and others, clearly contributed to the death of over nine million people in concentration camps, and about 40 million other humans in a war that cost about six trillion dollars. Furthermore, the primary reason that Nazism reached to the extent of the holocaust was the widespread acceptance of Social Darwinism by the scientific and academic community.1,8,9,10
The very heart of Darwinism is the belief that evolution proceeds by the differential survival of the fittest or superior individuals. This requires differences among a species, which in time become great enough so that those individuals that possess advantageous features—the fittest—are more apt to survive. Although the process of raciation may begin with slight differences, differential survival rates in time produce distinct races by a process called speciation, meaning the development of a new species.
The egalitarian ideal that ‘all people are created equal’, which now dominates Western ideology, has not been universal among nations and cultures.11 A major force that has argued against this view was the Social Darwinian eugenics movement, especially its crude ‘survival of the fittest’ worldview.10,12 As Ludmerer noted, the idea that the hereditary quality of the race can be improved by selective breeding is as old as Plato’s Republic but:
Nazi governmental policy was openly influenced by Darwinism, the Zeitgeist of both science and educated society of the time.10 This can be evaluated by an examination of extant documents, writings, and artefacts produced by Germany’s twentieth century Nazi movement and its many scientist supporters. Keith concluded the Nazi treatment of Jews and other ‘races’, then believed ‘inferior’, was largely a result of their belief that Darwinism provided profound insight that could be used to significantly improve humankind.14 Tenenbaum noted that the political philosophy of Germany was built on the belief that critical for evolutionary progress were:
The theory of evolution is based on individuals acquiring unique traits that enable those possessing the new traits to better survive adverse conditions compared to those who don’t possess them. Superior individuals will be more likely to survive and pass on these traits to their offspring so such traits will increase in number, while the ‘weaker’ individuals will eventually die off. If every member of a species were fully equal, natural selection would have nothing to select from, and evolution would cease for that species.
These differences gradually produce new groups, some of which have an advantage in terms of survival. These new groups became the superior, or the more evolved races. When a trait eventually spreads throughout the entire race because of the survival advantage it confers on those that possess it, a higher, more evolved form of animal will result. Hitler and the Nazi party claimed that one of their major goals was to apply this accepted ‘science’ to society. And ‘the core idea of Darwinism was not evolution, but selection. Evolution … describes the results of selection’.16 Hitler stressed that to produce a better society ‘we [the Nazis] must understand, and cooperate with science’.
As the one race above all others, Aryans believed that their evolutionary superiority gave them not only the right, but the duty to subjugate all other peoples. Race was a major plank of the Nazi philosophy; Tenenbaum concluded that they incorporated Darwinism:
In the 1933 Nuremberg party rally, Hitler proclaimed that ‘higher race subjects to itself a lower race …a right which we see in nature and which can be regarded as the sole conceivable right,’ because it was founded on science.15
Hitler believed humans were animals to whom the genetics laws, learned from livestock breeding, could be applied. The Nazis believed that instead of permitting natural forces and chance to control evolution, they must direct the process to advance the human race. The first step to achieve this goal was to isolate the ‘inferior races’ in order to prevent them from further contaminating the ‘Aryan’ gene pool. The widespread public support for this policy was a result of the belief, common in the educated classes, in the conclusion that certain races were genetically inferior as was scientifically ‘proven’ by Darwinism. The Nazis believed that they were simply applying facts, proven by science, to produce a superior race of humans as part of their plan for a better world: ‘The business of the corporate state was eugenics or artificial selection—politics as applied biology.’18,19
As early as 1925, Hitler outlined his conclusion in Chapter 4 of Mein Kampf that Darwinism was the only basis for a successful Germany and which the title of his most famous work—in English My Struggle—alluded to. As Clark concluded, Adolf Hitler:
And Hickman adds that it is no coincidence that Hitler:
Furthermore, the belief that evolution can be directed by scientists to produce a ‘superior race’ was the central leitmotif of Nazism and many other sources existed from which Nazism drew:
The Nazi view on Darwinian evolution and race was consequently a major part of the fatal combination of ideas and events which produced the holocaust and World War II:
Terms such as ‘superior race’, ‘lower human types’, ‘pollution of the race’, and the word evolution itself (Entwicklung) were often used by Hitler and other Nazi leaders. His race views were not from fringe science as often claimed but rather Hitler’s views were:
The philosophy that humans can control and even use Darwinism to produce a ‘higher level’ of human is repeatedly mentioned in the writings and speeches of prominent Nazis.25 Accomplishing the Darwinian goal for the world required ruthlessly eliminating the less fit by open barbarian behavior:
Hitler once even stated that we Nazis ‘ … are barbarians! We want to be barbarians. It is an honorable title [for, by it,] we shall rejuvenate the world ….’26 Hitler, as an evolutionist, ‘consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution’.27 Keith adds that:
The German eugenic leadership was originally less anti-Semitic than even the British leadership. Most early German eugenicists believed that German Jews were Aryans, and consequently the eugenicist movement was supported by many Jewish professors and doctors both in Germany and abroad. The Jews were only slowly incorporated into the German eugenic theory and then laws.
The Darwinian racists’ views also slowly entered into many spheres of German society which they had previously not affected.9 The Pan German League, dedicated to ‘maintaining German Racial Purity’, was originally not overtly anti-Semitic and assimilated Jews were allowed full membership. Many German eugenicists believed that although blacks or Gypsies were racially inferior, their racial theories did not fit Jews since many Jews had achieved significant success in Germany. Schleunes adds that by 1903, the influence of race ideas permeated the League’s program to the degree that by 1912, the League declared itself based upon ‘racial principles’ and soon excluded Jews from membership.29
In spite of the scientific prominence of these racial views, they had a limited effect upon most Jews until the 1930s. Most German Jews were proud of being Germans and considered themselves Germans first and Jews second. Many Jews modified the German intelligentsia’s racial views by including themselves in it. Their assimilation into German life was to the extent that most felt its anti-Semitism did not represent a serious threat to their security. Most Jews also were convinced that Germany was now a safe harbour for them.30 Many still firmly held to the Genesis creation model and rejected the views upon which racism was based, including Darwinism. What happened in Germany later was obviously not well received by Jewish geneticists, even Jewish eugenicists and certain other groups:
Nazi policies resulted less from a ‘hatred’ toward Jewish or other peoples than from the idealistic goal of preventing ‘pollution’ of the superior race. Hitler elaborated his Darwinian views by comparing the strong killing the weak to a cat devouring a mouse, concluding that ultimately the Jews must be eliminated because they cause:
Hitler then argued that for this reason, governments must understand and apply the ‘laws of Nature’, especially the ‘survival of the fittest’ law which ‘originally produced the human races and is the source of their improvement’. The government must therefore aid in the elimination, or at least quarantine, of the inferior races. Hitler argued:
Hitler was especially determined to prevent Aryans from breeding with non-Aryans, a concern that eventually resulted in the ‘final solution’. Once the inferior races were exterminated, Hitler believed that future generations would be eternally grateful for the improvement that his programs brought to humanity:
Individuals are not only far less important than the race, but the Nazis concluded that certain races were not human, but were animals:
As a result, the Darwinist movement was ‘one of the most powerful forces in the nineteenth–twentieth centuries German intellectual history [and] may be fully understood as a prelude to the doctrine of national socialism [Nazism]’.35 Why did evolution catch hold in Germany faster, and take a firmer hold there than any other place in the world?
Schleunes noted, rather poignantly, that the reason the publication of Darwin’s 1859 work had an immediate impact in Germany, and their Jewish policy, was because:
The Darwinian revolution and the works of its chief German spokesman and most eminent scientist, Professor Haeckel, gave the racists something that they were confident was powerful verification of their race beliefs.37 The support of the science establishment resulted in racist thought having a much wider circulation than otherwise possible, and enormous satisfaction ‘that one’s prejudices were actually expressions of scientific truth’.36
And what greater authority than science could racists have for their views? Konrad Lorenz, one of the most eminent animal-behavior scientists then, and often credited as being the founder of his field, stated that:
Lorenz’s works were important in developing the Nazi program designed to eradicate the ‘parasitic growth’ of inferior races. The government’s programs to insure the ‘German Volk’ maintained their superiority made racism almost unassailable. Although King claimed that ‘the holocaust … pretended to have a scientific genetic basis’,39 the position of the government and university elite of the time was so entrenched that few contemporary scientists seriously questioned it. The anti-Semitic attitudes of the German people were only partly to blame in causing the holocaust—only when Darwinism was added to the preexisting attitudes did a lethal combination result.
The first step in an eugenic program was to determine which groups were genetically superior; a judgment that was heavily influenced by culture. The ideal traits were:
Although superficial observations enable most people to make a broad classification of race, when explored in depth, race status is by no means easy to determine, as the Nazis soon found out. Many of the groups that they felt were inferior, such as the Slovaks, Jews, Gypsies, and others, were not easily distinguishable from the pure ‘Aryan’ race. In grouping persons into races to select the ‘best’, the Nazis measured a wide variety of physical traits including brain case sizes. The Nazis relied heavily upon the work of Hans F.K. Günther, professor of ‘racial science’ at the University of Jena. Although F.K. Günther ’s ‘personal relationships with the party were stormy at times, his racial ideas were accepted’. They received wide support throughout the German government, and were an important influence in German policy.41 Günther recognized that, although ‘a race may not be pure, its members share certain dominant characteristics’, thus paving the way for stereotyping.41
Günther concluded that all Aryans share an ideal Nordic type which contrasted with the Jews, whom he concluded were a mixture of races. Günther stressed a person’s genealogical lineage, anthropological measurement of skulls and evaluations of physical appearance, were all used to determine their race. Even though physical appearance was stressed, ‘the body is the showplace of the soul’ and ‘the soul is primary’.42 Select females with the necessary superior race traits were even placed in special homes and kept pregnant as long as they remained in the program. Nonetheless, research on the offspring of the experiment concluded that, as is now known, IQ regressed toward the population mean and the IQs of the offspring were generally lower than that of the parents.
Darwinism not only influenced the Nazi attitude toward Jews, but other cultural and ethnic groups as well. Even mental patients were included later, in part because it was then believed that heredity had a major influence on mental illness (or they possibly had some Jewish or other non-Aryan blood in them), and consequently had to be destroyed. Poliakov notes that many intellectuals in the early 1900s accepted telegony, the idea that ‘bad blood’ would contaminate a race line forever, or that ‘bad blood drives out good, just as bad money displaces good money’.43 Only extermination would permanently eliminate inferior genetic lines, and thereby further evolution.
Darwin even compiled a long list of cases where he concluded bad blood polluted a whole gene line, causing it to bear impure progeny forever. Numerous respected biologists, including Ernst Ruedin of the University of Munich and many of his colleagues such as Herbert Spencer, Francis Galton, and Eugene Kahn, later a professor of psychiatry at Yale, actively advocated this hereditary argument. These scientists were also the chief architects of the German compulsory sterilization laws designed to prevent those with defective or ‘inferior’ genes from contaminating the Aryan gene pool. Later, when the ‘genetically inferior’ were also judged as ‘useless dredges’, massive killings became justified. The groups judged inferior were gradually expanded to include a wide variety of races and national groups. Later, it even included less healthy older people, epileptics, both severe and mild mental defectives, deaf-mutes, and even some persons with certain terminal illnesses.1,44
The groups judged ‘inferior’ were later expanded to include persons who had negroid or mongoloid features, Gypsies, and those who did not pass a set of ingeniously designed overtly racist phrenology tests now known to be worthless.45 After Jesse Owen won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, Hitler chastised the Americans for even permitting blacks to enter the contests.46
Some evolutionists even advocated the view that women were evolutionarily inferior to men. Dr Robert Wartenberg, later a prominent neurology professor in California, tried to prove women’s inferiority by arguing that they could not survive unless they were ‘protected by men’. He concluded that because the weaker women were not eliminated as rapidly due to this protection, a slower rate of evolution resulted and for this reason natural selection was less operative on women than men. How the weak were to be ‘selected’ for elimination was not clear, nor were the criteria used to determine ‘weak’. Women in Nazi Germany were openly prohibited from entering certain professions and were required by law to conform to a traditional female role.47
Darwinism not only offered the Germans a meaningful interpretation of their recent military past, but also a justification for future aggression: ‘German military success in the Bismarkian wars fit neatly into Darwin categories … in the struggle for survival, [demonstrating] the fitness of Germany.’ 48 War was a positive force not only because it eliminated ‘weaker’ races, but also because it weeded out the weaker members of the ‘superior’ races. Hitler not only unabashedly intended to produce a superior race, but he openly relied heavily upon Darwinian thought in both his extermination and war policies.25 Nazi Germany, partly for this reason, openly glorified war because it was an important means of eliminating the less fit of the highest race, a step necessary to ‘upgrade the race’. Clark concludes, quoting extensively from Mein Kampf, that:
German greatness, Hitler stressed, came about primarily because they were jingoists, and thereby had been eliminating their weaker members for centuries.50 Although Germans were no stranger to war, this new justification gave powerful support to their policies. The view that eradication of the weaker races was a major source of evolution was well expressed by Wiggam:
In other words, war is positive in the long run because only by lethal conflicts can humans evolve. Hitler even claimed as truth the contradiction that human civilization as we know it would not exist if it were not for constant war. And many of the leading scientists of his day openly advocated this view: Haeckel was especially fond of praising the ancient Spartans, whom he saw as a successful and superior people as a consequence of their socially approved biological selection. By killing all but the ‘perfectly healthy and strong children’ the Spartans were ‘continually in excellent strength and vigor’. 52 Germany should follow this Spartan custom, as infanticide of the deformed and sickly was ‘a practice of advantage to both the infants destroyed and to the community’. It was, after all, only ‘traditional dogma’ and hardly scientific truth that all lives were of equal worth or should be preserved.18,53
However, the common assumption that European civilization evolved far more than others, primarily because of its constant warmongering in contrast to other nations, is false. War is actually typical of virtually all peoples, except certain small island groups who have abundant food, or peoples in very cold areas.54 Historically, many tribes in Africa were continually involved in wars, as were most countries in Asia and America.
Much of the opposition to the eugenic movement came from German Christians. Although Hitler was baptized a Catholic, he was never excommunicated, and evidently ‘considered himself a good Roman Catholic’ as a young man, and at times used religious language. He clearly had strong, even vociferous, anti-Christian feelings as an adult, as did probably most Nazi party leaders. As a consummate politician, though, he openly tried to exploit the church.55 Hitler once revealed his attitude toward Christianity when he bluntly stated that religion is an:
His beliefs as revealed in this quote are abundantly clear: the younger people who were the hope of Germany were ‘absolutely indifferent in matters of religion’. As Keith noted, the Nazi party viewed Darwinism and Christianity as polar opposites. Milner said of Germany’s father of evolution, Ernst Haeckel, that in his Natural History of Creation he argued that ‘the church with its morality of love and charity is an effete fraud, a perversion of the natural order’.57 A major reason why Haeckel concluded this was because Christianity:
The opposition to religion was a prominent feature of German science, and thus later German political theory, from its very beginning. As Stein summarized Haeckel in a lecture titled On evolution: Darwin’s Theory:
Martin Bormann, Hitler’s closest associate for years and one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany, was equally blunt: the church was opposed to evolution and for this reason must be condemned, but the Nazis were on the side of science and evolution. Furthermore, Nazi and Christian concepts are incompatible because Christianity is built:
Bormann also claimed that the Christian churches have long been aware that:
As Humber notes, Hitler believed that Blacks were ‘monstrosities halfway between man and ape’ and therefore he disapproved of German Christians:
A literature review shows that German racism would have had a difficult time existing if the historical creation position, void of race curse theories, had been widely accepted. One of these biblical theories was the claim that Genesis teaches that ‘two types of men’ were originally created; Adam and Eve, the superior race line, and the ‘beasts of the earth’, the inferior black race line.62,63 Few people, though, accepted this idea.
Relatively few scientific studies exist which directly deal with Darwinism and Nazism—and many evolutionists avoid the subject because evolution is inescapably selectionist. One of the best reviews of Darwinism and Nazism documents clearly that Nazism felt confident that their programs of extermination was firmly based on evolution science.64 Recently, a number of popular articles have covered this topic in a surprisingly candid and honest way.65 The source of the worst of Nazism was in Darwinism and we must first understand history to prevent its repeat. Paraphrasing the words of Hitler, those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.66 Admittedly, some persons who did not accept evolution espoused non-evolution theories which accommodated or even espoused racism. Nonetheless, these persons were few and the theories that were developed seem to be mostly in response to preconceived ideas or to justify existing social systems.
From our modern perspective, many persons have concluded that World War II and its results ensued from the ideology of an evil madman and his equally evil administration. Hitler, though, did not see himself as evil, but as humanity’s benefactor. He felt that many years hence, the world would be extremely grateful to him and his programs which lifted the human race to genetically higher levels of evolution by stopping race pollution by preventing mixed marriages with inferior races.
Hitler’s efforts to put members of these inferior races in concentration camps was not so much an effort to punish but, as his apologists repeatedly stated, was a protective safeguard similar to quarantining sick people to prevent contamination of the rest of the community. In Haas’s words, the Nazis believed that ‘killing Jews and others was in fact a scientific and rational way of serving an objectively greater good’.68 Or, as Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz, adds, ‘such a struggle, legitimized by the latest scientific views, justifies the racists’ conceptions of superior and inferior people and nations and validated the conflict between them’.69 Many in Germany recognized the harm of Darwinism, and Nordenskiöld claimed the Prussian Minister of Education, even for a time in 1875 banned, its teaching:
An interesting question is, would the Nazi holocaust have occurred if this ban had remained in effect? Haeckel was at the center of this fight and garnered much support from:
A biologist writing the above today would certainly drop ‘as they deserve’ because Haeckel is today acknowledged as an unscrupulous forger who played no small role in the horrible events that occurred in the 1930s and 1940s.
The well documented influence of Darwinism on the Holocaust has been greatly downplayed by the mass media. Current writers often gloss over, totally ignore, or even distort the close connection between Darwinism and the Nazi race theory and the policies it produced, but as Stein admonishes:
He adds that there is also little doubt that this contemporary self-protecting attitude is based on a:
Darwin was not just responding to his culture as often alleged. In Hull’s words ‘we have all heard, time and time again, that the reason Darwin’s theory was so … sexist, and racist is that Darwin’s society exhibited these same characteristics’. Hull answers this change by noting that Darwin was not ‘so callow that he simply read the characteristics of his society into nature’.72
Nazism is often used as a warning example of the danger of religious zeal, yet only occasionally is the key role of the eugenics of Francis Galton, based on the theory of natural selection espoused by his cousin, Charles Darwin, mentioned. Eugenics is still alive in the world today. As late as 1955, a Canadian professor of zoology, notes that ‘possibly the most significant fact is that he [Darwin] finally freed humanity from a great measure of … church proscription and won his fellow men a freedom of thought that had been unknown for centuries’. 73 He then argues that reducing the churches’ influence in society allowed the discovery of, not only the means of evolution, but the knowledge that man had the means and that we can either direct evolution or let it take place on its own or, worse, stop it by counteracting the forces which propel it, causing devolution.
Rowan argued that man has, tragically, chosen the latter ‘selection is still as vital to human progress as it has ever been. The great Darwinian principle remains…’. Then he added, ‘When man acquired intellect, he started on an entirely new path without precedent in the animal world, the course of which now depends, not on further physical changes, but on intellectual and equally intellectual selection.’74 Unfortunately, he concludes, humans are ‘saving’ the intellectually inferior and have failed to order their affairs according to the laws of biology.74 This discussion, although tactful, is clear: those whom evolutionists judge as less fit need to be eliminated, or at the least our efforts in saving them, should be limited and we should let nature do its work. Not to do so will result in the eventual doom of the human race.
Firmly convinced that Darwinian evolution was true, Hitler saw himself as the modern saviour of mankind. Society, he felt, would some day regard him as a great ‘scientific socialist’, the benefactor of all humankind. By breeding a superior race, the world would look upon him as the man who pulled humanity up to a higher level of evolutionary development. If Darwinism is true, Hitler was our saviour and we have crucified him. As a result, the human race will grievously suffer. If Darwinism is not true, what Hitler attempted to do must be ranked with the most heinous crimes of history and Darwin as the father of one of the most destructive philosophies of history. An assessment by Youngson concluded that the application of Darwinism to society, called eugenics, produced one of the most tragic scientific blunders of all time:
I wish to thank Wayne Frair, Ph.D., John Woodmorappe, M.A. and Paul Humber, M.A. for their insight and comments on an earlier draft of this paper.