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The American Eugenics Movement and its Influence on Nazi Germany

By Caroline Sullivan, VI Form

The American Eugenics Movement and its Influence on Nazi Germany

It’s the early 1930s. A young woman, twenty years old, is out to lunch with her mother when all of the sudden she feels sharp stomach pains tearing through her abdomen. She dismisses them as merely an upset stomach, but they grow worse. Her driver rushes her to a hospital. When she arrives at the hospital, the doctors barely examine her before diagnosing her with appendicitis. They inform her that she must undergo emergency surgery to remove her appendix before it ruptures. However, upon waking up from the surgery she notices that something was different. All around her, doctors were whispering and acting suspiciously. New doctors, ones that she had never seen before, were coming in to observe her as if she was a sort of experiment. Confused, the girl begins searching for answers as to what had happened during surgery. She listened and overheard the doctors calling her offensive names such as “dumb,” “feebleminded,” and “idiot.” Finally, she connected the dots. While in surgery, the doctors had sterilized her, stripping her of her right to have children. 

It’s 1958, and the parents of a four-year-old child admit their son, Mark, to a mental hospital for Cerebral Palsy. His mother goes to the hospital every Wednesday to visit, but one week the hospital tells her she cannot come anymore. A few days later, the family receives a devastating call: their six-year-old boy has passed away. Upon requesting further information about his death, the hospital refuses to share anything. It even fails to provide a death certificate when the family asks for one. The family is destroyed, his parents lost a child, and his three sisters lost their little brother. Even worse, they struggle to find closure as the hospital gave them so little information about his death. Their quest for answers finally gets results decades later when the government declassifies records from the state hospital. The family is horrified to learn that their, innocent, six-year-old child died an excruciatingly painful death from radiation poisoning at the state hospital.

These two stories have more in common than their raw horror. They did not occur in some far away totalitarian country overseas. Instead, they took place within the United States, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. These tragedies occurred in the very country that idealizes its democracy, grounded in the ideal of freedom. These procedures were legal under the U.S. justice system, a system created to promote liberty. Instead, The Constitution allowed states to deprive the most vulnerable members of society of liberty under a program called eugenics.