Photo of the porthole of the M.S. St. Louis as it docked in Antwerp. It carried 900 Jews refused entry into Cuba, the United States and Canada.
There is a new documentary premiering tonight on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) by Ken Burns entitled The United States and the Holocaust.
It is indeed timely, given the recent efforts to rewrite or obliterate history so our school children won’t feel uncomfortable. Given his past work, I’m sure Burns will uncover the whole unvarnished truth. And there is much to tell.
“To get to the core of race in America today, read this new book “Hitler’s American Model” by James Whitman. Whitman is the Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law at Yale Law School. Prepare to be as startled as this respected legal scholar was when he came upon a meticulous record of a meeting of top lawyers in Nazi Germany after Hitler’s rise to power. Not only did those lawyers reveal a deep interest in American race policies, the most radical of them were eager advocates of using American law as a model. Scholars and historians have argued for years about whether American’s own regime of racial oppression in any way inspired the Nazis. Not only does Whitman throw a bright light on the debate, to this reader he settles it once and for all. Carefully written and tightly reasoned, backed up every step of the way with considered evidence and logic, Whitman reminds us that today is yesterday’s child, and that certain strains of DNA persist from one generation to another.”
One year after being appointed Chancellor, Hitler called on his Minister of Justice to begin drafting the Nuremburg Laws. The most noted lawyers in Nazi Germany attended the first meetings with the most radical calling for the creation of a new racist state.
And how did they commence discussions?
The fact is that they began by discussing American law. The minister of justice presented a memorandum on American race law that included a great deal of detailed discussion of the laws of American states. American law continued to be a principal topic throughout that meeting and beyond. It’s also a startling fact that the most radical lawyers in that meeting — the most vicious among the those present — were the most enthusiastic for the American example.
In fact, Adolph Hitler greatly admired America’s racism and considered it the most racist state in the world.
America was the leader in a whole variety of realms in racist law in the first part of the 20th century. Some of this involved American immigration law, which was designed to exclude so-called “undesirable races” from immigration. In 1924 American immigration law in particular was praised by Hitler himself, in his book Mein Kampf.
But it wasn’t just about American immigration law. There was also American law creating forms of second-class citizenship — for African-Americans of course, but also for other populations including Asians, Native Americans, Filipinos and Puerto Ricans. Not least, there were statutes in 30 American states forbidding and sometimes criminalizing interracial marriage. Those were of special interest to the Nazis.
To Hitler and his lawyers, America’s “negro problem” was similar to their “Jewish problem.” There was “concern” in the American south about the rapidly growing “negro population” vs. white population (read replacement theory) akin to the Jewish population growth and immigration in Germany.
The Nazi lawyers loved the segregation laws in the American south and the means by which black Americans were denied the vote. One of the great demands of the Nazis — and again, especially of the radical Nazis — that interracial marriage should be not only prohibited but criminalized. When they looked for models around the world for the criminalization of interracial marriage, though, they only found one example — well, really 30, because there were 30 American states with anti-miscegenation statutes. And it was to these statues that the Nazi lawyers turned.
To these German lawyers, American blacks were not “a desperately oppressed and impoverished people, but a menacing alien race of sub-human invaders that threatened to get the upper hand and therefore had to be thwarted.” There were Americans who believed the same thing in that regard as those German lawyers believed — that blacks were a threat to white rule. Still do.
The Nazis warmly embraced the eugenics beliefs held among such prominent Americans, Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, Helen Keller, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell; and the eugenics laws that existed in 33 states. The principles of eugenics went on to be used by the Nazis to justify mistreatment and oppression of Jews and other groups.
There was the antisemitism of carmaker Henry Ford. Ford owned the Dearborn Publishing Co., which produced an antisemitic booklet series, The Internal Jew.” which won Ford a medal from the Third Reich. The anti-immigration, pro-white and antiwar sentiments held by pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh earned him invitations to party with the Nazi elite.
The 1924 Johnson-Reed act, signed into law by Calvin Coolidge, which established immigrant quotas didn’t spare the Jews fleeing Hiler’s Germany. American companies continued to do business with the Nazis while American skepticism doubted the reality of increasing cruelty by the Nazis, dispelling “myths that Americans either were ignorant of the unspeakable persecution that Jews and other targeted minorities faced in Europe or that they looked on with callous indifference.”
Although some 200,000 Jews ultimately found refuge in the United States, hundreds of thousands more were denied entry as the U.S. tightened its borders to refugees. Said Senator Robert Reynolds of North Carolina, “If I had my way, I would today build a wall about the United States so high and so secure that not a single alien or foreign refugee from any country upon the face of this earth could possibly scale or ascend it.”
Seems little has changed.
The Nuremburg Laws stripped Jews of their German citizenship. It was modeled after our early 20th century law concerning native Americans. The “Indians” were members of their tribal “nation” and, while they lived here, were not American. So it was to be with the Jews of the Reich.
The Nazi lawyers needed to identify who exactly is a Jew. In this situation they thought they were actually being more lenient than America where “one drop of negro blood” was the rule. The Germans decided on 3 Jewish grandparents or two if you practiced Judaism.
And they copied our inter-marriage laws, as well as criminalizing relations between Aryans and Jews Here the radical Nazis went further than us. While some 30 states forbid inter-racial marriage, relations were not a criminal offense. We left the Klan to take care of those situations extra-judicially, where discovered.
The ghetto eventually segregated Jews from the rest of the population as we refused visas to millions, defining where they could live and where they could go.
“The institutions of our civilization are under tremendous stress. The fragility of civilized behavior is the one thing you really learn, because these people, who we now see in these sepia photographs, they’re no different from us. You look at your neighbors, the people at the dry cleaner, the waiters in the restaurant. That’s who these people were. Don’t kid yourself.”
Do you honestly think an authoritarian government here would have any difficulty in finding guards for the camp watch towers?
Wake up and smell the coffee. You need to get out more.