Darwinism, Nazi race policies and the Holocaust


Of the many factors that produced the fatal blend that resulted in the Nazi Holocaust and World War II, one of the more important was Darwin’s notion that evolutionary progress occurs primarily as a result of the elimination of the weak in the struggle for survival. Although it is no easy task to assess all of the many conflicting motives of Hitler and his supporters, Darwinian-inspired eugenics clearly played a critical role.1

Darwinism also both justified and encouraged the Nazi views on race and war.2 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 God as taught in both the Old and New Testaments (the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures), it is probable that the Holocaust and World War II never would have occurred.

Expunging the Judeo-Christian-Muslim doctrine of human divine origins from mainline German theology and its schools, and replacing it with Darwinism, openly contributed to the acceptance of social Darwinism that culminated in the Holocaust.3 Darwin’s theory, as modified by biologist Ernst Haeckel,4 combined with the racist theories of Houston Stewart Chamberlain and others, clearly contributed to the death of over 9 million people in the concentration camps, and the approximately 55 million others, in a war whose economic toll for all countries was about $18.75 trillion American dollars (in 2012 dollars).5 Furthermore, a major reason that Nazism reached the extent of the Holocaust was the widespread acceptance of social Darwinism by the scientific and academic community.6

The very heart of Darwinism was the belief that evolution proceeds by the differential survival of the fittest individuals. This requires differences among a species that eventually became great enough that those individuals possessing them—the fittest—were more apt to leave more offspring. Although the process of forming new races may begin with slight differences, differential survival rates eventually produce distinct races, part of a process that evolutionists postulate leads to speciation, meaning the development of a new species.

The egalitarian ideal that all humans are created equal, which now dominates Western ideology, has not historically been universal among nations and cultures.7 A major force that worked against this view was social Darwinism, especially its crude survival-of-the-fittest worldview.8 The idea that the quality of the race can be improved by selective breeding is as old as Plato’s Republic but,

modern eugenic thought arose only in the nineteenth century. The emergence of interest in eugenics during that century had multiple roots. The most important was the theory of evolution, for Francis Galton’s ideas on eugenics—and it was he who created the term “eugenics”—were a direct logical outgrowth of the scientific doctrine elaborated by his cousin, Charles Darwin.9

That Nazi governmental policy was openly influenced by Darwinism, the Zeitgeist of both science and educated society of the time, is clear from an examination of extant documents, writings, and artifacts produced by Germany’s twentieth-century Nazi movement and its many scientist supporters.10 The Nazi treatment of Jews and other “races” then believed to be “inferior” was largely a result of their conclusion that Darwinism provided profound insight that could be used to significantly improve humankind.11 The political philosophy of Germany was built on the belief that critical factors for progress included chiefly

struggle, selection, and survival of the fittest, all notions and observations arrived at…by Darwin…but already in luxuriant bud in the German social philosophy of the nineteenth century.… Thus developed the doctrine of Germany’s inherent right to rule the world on the basis of superior strength…of a “hammer and anvil” relationship between the Reich and the weaker nations.12


Evolution is based on acquiring new traits through mutations and gene shuffling that enable those possessing the traits to survive better in adverse conditions, and therefore leave more offspring, than those who do not possess them. The source of the raw material for natural selection to select from is primarily genetic mutations. People who inherit a mutation that enables more of them to survive and reproduce compared with those without that trait will be more likely to pass that trait on to the next generation. Superior individuals will be more likely to survive, and as a result, their genetic information will, over a period of several generations, be present in increasing numbers of individuals, while genetic information of the “weaker” individuals eventually will become extinct.

This process, once called raciation but now labelled speciation, is the source of the putative evolutionary “progress” that can, in theory, continue forever. If every member of a species were fully equal, natural selection would have nothing from which to select. Consequently, survival would be a result of chance, and evolution would cease for that species.

According to Darwinian theory, genetic differences that aid survival gradually produce new races, some of which have a survival advantage. These new groups became the superior (i.e., more evolved) race. When that trait eventually spreads throughout the entire race, because of the survival advantage it confers on those that possess it, a higher, more evolved, human will result. Hitler and the Nazi party claimed that one of their major goals was to apply this orthodox science to improve society. Furthermore, the core idea of Darwinism was not evolution, but selection of the fittest.13 Hitler stressed that, to produce a better society, the Nazis must understand, and cooperate, with this science.

John Jay College historian Daniel Gasman concluded that in “no other country…did the ideas of Darwinism develop as seriously as a total explanation of the world as in Germany” and, as a result, the “literal transfer of the laws of biology” as interpreted by Darwin’s theory were applied to the social realm.14 The inequality doctrine, although an integral part of German philosophy for years, reached its apex under the Hitler regime and obtained its chief intellectual support from Darwinism and Darwin’s German disciple, Ernst Haeckel.15

Haeckel’s belief that “the morphological differences between two generally recognized species—for example sheep and goats—are much less important than those…between a Hottentot and a man of the Teutonic [Aryan] race” soon became German policy.16 Especially important in Nazi policy was the belief that the Germans had evolved the “furthest from the common form of apelike men [and outstripped]…all others” and it would be this race that must raise humans to a “new period of higher mental development.”17 This was true not only mentally but physically, because Haeckel believed evolution achieves a “symmetry of all parts, and equal development which we call the type of perfect human beauty.”18

The evolutionary superiority of Aryans, the race superior to all others, gave them not only the right, but the duty, to subjugate all other peoples. And race was a major plank of Nazi philosophy. The Nazis incorporated Darwinism

in their political system, with nothing left out…. Their political dictionary was replete with words like space, struggle, selection, and extinction (Ausmerzen). The syllogism of their logic was clearly stated: The world is a jungle in which different nations struggle for space. The stronger win, the weaker die or are killed.19

An important fact is that “biological racism had become entrenched in anti-Semitic discourse and also was becoming mainstream among German anthropologists.”20 The Nazi view of Darwinian evolution and race was a major part of the fatal combination of ideas and events that produced the Holocaust and World War II:

One of the central planks in Nazi theory and doctrine was, of course, evolutionary theory [and]…that all biology had evolved spontaneously upward, and that inbetween links (less evolved types) should be actively eradicated…that natural selection could and should be actively aided, and therefore [the Nazis] instituted political measures to eradicate…Jews, and the blacks, whom they considered [less evolved].21

Terms such as “superior race,” “lower human types,” “pollution of the race,” and the term evolution itself (Entwicklung), were often used by Hitler and other Nazi leaders. Their race views were not fringe science, as is often claimed, but rather were

straightforward German social Darwinism of a type widely known and accepted throughout Germany and which, more importantly, was considered by most Germans, scientists included, to be scientifically true. More recent scholarship on national socialism and Hitler has begun to realize that…[social Darwinism] was a specific characteristic of Nazism. National socialist “biopolicy,” [was] a policy based on a mystical-biological belief in radical inequality, a monistic, antitranscendent moral nihilism based on the eternal struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest as the law of nature, and the consequent use of state power for a public policy of natural selection.22

The philosophy that humans can control and even use Darwinian theory to produce a more highly evolved human is repeatedly mentioned in the writings and speeches of prominent Nazis.23 Accomplishing the Darwinian goal for society required ruthlessly eliminating the less fit by openly barbarian behaviour. Miami University professor George Stein noted that the core of German social Darwinism was developed by Haeckel and his colleagues. Specifically, the Darwinists argued on scientific grounds that humankind was

merely a part of nature with no special transcendent qualities or special humanness. On the other hand, the Germans were members of a biologically superior community…politics was merely the straightforward application of the laws of biology. In essence, Haeckel and his fellow social Darwinists advanced the ideas that were to become the core assumptions of national socialism…. The business of the corporate state was eugenics or artificial selection.24

Prior to 1933, German scientists published thirteen scientific journals devoted primarily to racial hygiene and established over 30 different institutions, many connected with universities or research centres devoted to “racial science.”25 In the Nazi era, close to 150 scientific journals, many of which are still highly respected today, covered racial hygiene and allied fields.26 Enormous data files were kept on the races, most of which were analyzed and used for research papers published in various German and other scientific journals. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics was established in 1927 to study eugenics and related areas, including venereal disease and alcohol.

The various eugenic institutes also researched the “persistence” of various “primitive racial traits” in certain races inside and outside of Germany. Eugenicists soon claimed that they found an abundance of evidence for the Cro-magnon racial type in inferior races, and also Neanderthal racial traits. Like their American and British counterparts, German racial hygiene institutes and researchers at various universities began to discover genetic evidence for virtually every human malady from criminality to hernias, even divorce and “loving to sail on water.” They saw their work as a noble effort to continue “Darwin’s attempts to elucidate the origin of species.”27

The central concept of the survival of the fittest philosophy, the observation that all animals and plants contain a tremendous amount of genetic variety and that some of these differences may have a survival advantage in certain environments, has been well documented. The best example is artificial selection in which breeders select males and females with the maximum amount of the trait they are concerned with, and then again select from their offspring those animals that display the maximum of that trait. As a result, a wide variety of modified plants and animals have been bred. Of course, artificial selection is not natural selection, a problem with which Darwin never fully dealt.

Breeding for certain traits, though, invariably is a trade off that usually results in the loss of other desirable characteristics. Because producing a plant or animal with certain traits usually results in the loss of other traits, cows are bred either as dairy cows or for meat, but not both. The Nazi’s theory inadequately considered this data and the implications of the tremendous amount of biological diversity that we now know exists.

The racist theories closely followed the spread of Darwinian evolutionary theory, which had a wide following in Germany almost immediately after the publication of the German edition of On the Origin of Species.28 As Harvard Professor Stephen Jay Gould concluded, “Biological arguments for racism…increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory” by scientists in most nations.29

Also used for the support of racism were comparisons of various cultures that were assumed to be the product of racial superiority. The Nazis concluded that inferior races usually produced inferior cultures, but only superior races could produce superior cultures.30 Hence, historian Dr. Karl Schleunes notes that racism came into scientific repute through its solid link with what he calls the third great synthesis of the nineteenth-century, the Darwinian theory of evolution and the survival-of-the-fittest worldview.31


Darwinists’ views about race existed not only in Nazi Germany but also in America, as is apparent from surveys of textbooks published from 1880 to around 1950. For example, Princeton biologist Edwin Conklin stated in his college text that comparisons

of any modern race with the Neanderthal or Heidelberg types shows that…Negroid races more closely resemble the original stock than the white or yellow races. Every consideration should lead those who believe in the superiority of the white race to strive to preserve its purity and to establish and maintain the segregation of the races.32

German eugenicists relied heavily on work completed in Britain and America, especially that research related to sterilization policies.33 For example, the national compulsory sterilization laws were quite literally based on the “model eugenical sterilization law drawn up by the supervisor and the eugenics record office of Cold Spring Harbor, New York.”34 Franz Bumm, the President of the Reich Health Office, noted that “the value of eugenics research had been convincingly demonstrated in the United States, where anthropological statistics had been gathered from 2 million men recruited for the American armed forces.”35

Soon after the American Supreme Court ruled that sterilization of minorities for eugenic purposes was constitutional, Adolf Hitler’s cabinet passed a eugenic sterilization law using the American ruling as an example.36 The 1933 German law was compulsory for all people, “institutionalized or not, who suffered from allegedly hereditary disabilities including feeblemindedness, schizophrenia, epilepsy, blindness, severe drug or alcohol addiction and physical deformities that seriously interfered with locomotion or were grossly offensive.”37

The German laws were then used to inspire even harsher laws in the United States—in Virginia, Dr. Joseph DeJarnette argued that the progressive and scientific-minded Americans should be shamed by the “enlightened” progressive German legislation, and that Americans should be taking the lead in this area instead of Germany.38 As a whole, the Germans and Americans shared information and ideas and influenced each other to develop eugenics programmes.

The next step in Germany was for the government to provide “loans” to couples that it concluded were “racially and biologically desirable” and therefore should have more children. The birth of each child reduced the “loan” indebtedness by 25 per cent. Later came sterilization laws and then, in 1939, euthanasia of certain mentally handicapped or diseased persons.

Ultimately, euthanasia was extended to include physically disabled persons, some with minor disabilities. These policies motivated American and British eugenicists to endorse the German programme as a model because it was “without [the] nefarious racial content” of American programmes.39

Conversely, German eugenicists repeatedly acknowledged their debt to the American and British researchers and periodically honoured eugenicists from British and American universities with various awards. Furthermore, many of the American eugenicists argued that the Nazis were outdoing them and were able to convince American courts (including the Supreme Court) of the validity of even some of the most outrageous eugenic claims.40 Some of these eugenic-based ideas became part of American law and practice until after World War II when the full horror of the German eugenics programmes became widely known.


The early German eugenic leadership moderated their anti-Semitic rhetoric in an attempt to attract Jews to the eugenics movement.41 Many early German eugenicists believed that German Jews were Aryans and, consequently the eugenic movement was supported by many Jewish professors and doctors both in Germany and abroad. The Jews were only gradually incorporated into the German eugenic theory, and later its laws.

The views of Darwinian racists only gradually entered into spheres of German society that they previously had not affected.42 The Pan-German League (Alldeutscher Verband), 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. By 1903, the influence of race ideas permeated the League’s programme to the degree that, by 1912, the League declared itself based on “racial principles” and soon excluded Jews from membership.43

In spite of the scientific support for these racial views, not until World War II did they have a major effect on most Jews. 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 so complete that most Jews felt the anti-Semitism of the eugenists did not represent a serious threat to their security.

Most Jews were also convinced that Germany was now a safe harbour for them.44 In fact, during World War II, an estimated 150,000 Mischlinge (part Jewish) men served in the German Army, many with distinction—and hundreds served at the rank of major or even higher as colonels or generals.45 It was later revealed that the “ideal” German soldier, whose picture was plastered everywhere, for Nazi propaganda purposes was half Jewish.46

Many German Gentiles still firmly held to the Genesis creation model and rejected the views on which racism was based, including Darwinism. What happened in Germany later was obviously not well received by Jewish geneticists, even non-Jewish eugenicists and certain other groups. As Greta Jones notes, the world

eugenics movement felt a mixture of apprehension and admiration at the progress of eugenics in Germany…[but] the actual details of the eugenics measure which emerged after Hitler’s rise to power were not unequivocally welcomed. Eugenicists pointed to the USA as a place where strict laws controlled marriage but where a strong tradition of political freedom existed.47

While ethnic Jewish persons were still held as an example of educational and professional achievement in much of American and British eugenic literature, German eugenicists began classifying Jews as evolutionarily inferior. Although intelligent, they were often seen as using their intelligence in crafty and underhanded ways for selfish gain, partly because they were seen as hereditarily immoral. Furthermore, although many American and British eugenicists objected to Germans judging certain groups as inferior, such as many Eastern Europeans, many American eugenicists also classified these groups as inferior.48


Dr. Karl Schleunes noted, rather poignantly, that the publication of Darwin’s 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, had an immediate impact in Germany’s Jewish policy. Once the social Darwinists raised the struggle from the biological to the social plane, “Darwin’s notion of struggle for survival…legitimized by the latest scientific views, justified the racist’s conception of superior and inferior peoples…and validated the conflict between them.”49

The anti-Semitic attitudes of the German people were only partly to blame for causing the Holocaust—only when Darwinism was added to the preexisting mix of attitudes did a lethal combination result. The Darwinian revolution and the writings of its chief German spokesman and most eminent scientist, Professor Haeckel, gave the racists what they were confident was powerful verification of their race views.50 The support of the scientific establishment resulted in racist thought having a much wider circulation than had been possible up to this time, and enormous satisfaction “that one’s prejudices were actually expressions of scientific truth.”51

And what greater authority than science could racists have for their views? Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz, a dedicated Nazi, one of the most eminent animal behaviour scientists at that time, and often credited as being the founder of his field, stated,

Just as in cancer the best treatment is to eradicate the parasitic growth as quickly as possible, the eugenic defense against the dysgenic social effects of afflicted subpopulations is of necessity limited to equally drastic measures…. When these inferior elements are not effectively eliminated from a [healthy] population, then—just as when the cells of a malignant tumor are allowed to proliferate throughout the human body—they destroy the host body as well as themselves.52

Lorenz’s works were important in developing the Nazi programme designed to eradicate the “parasitic growth” of inferior races. The government’s programmes to ensure the “German Volk” maintained their superiority made racism almost unassailable. Although some scholars, such as biologist James King, claim that the Holocaust pretended “to have a scientific genetic basis,”53 the position of Darwinism within the government and the university elite of the time was so entrenched that few contemporary scientists seriously questioned the direct application of social Darwinism to governmental policy.54


Most of the early American, Canadian and British eugenicists stressed volunteerism should be relied on for implementation of eugenic programmes. Francis Galton, though, concluded the problem of inferior races contaminating the gene pool “was so clear-cut, and so dire, as to warrant state intervention of a coercive nature in human reproduction.”55 Later, eugenicists increasingly supported directed government action in applying eugenic laws—natural selection may produce the most fit race but only artificial selection enforced by the government could ensure that the eugenically superior dominated.

Many social workers, psychiatrists and other mental health workers in Britain, the United States and Germany were convinced of genetic origin of social deficiencies, and they increasingly felt compelled to force the government to intervene.56 Discouraged by the lack of effectiveness of their science in influencing governmental policy, and fully convinced that eugenics had been empirically demonstrated by the brilliant scientific work of Charles Darwin, Karl Pearson, Francis Galton, and many others, Western eugenic proponents felt envy that only Germany was able to fully implement the programmes that many scientists in America and Europe were then strongly advocating.57

Nazi Germany, though, was not alone in applying science to government policy. In the United States during the early 1900s, “it came to be a hallmark of good reform government to shape policy with the aid of scientific experts…[and soon eugenic] experts aplenty were to be found in the biology, psychology, and sociology departments of universities or colleges.”58 Significantly, the German eugenics programmes elicited little opposition from the West. The United States policies also worked against saving the lives of those that Germany decided were racially inferior. The implications of its eugenic immigration acts, especially the American Johannson Quota Act of 1924, which was not repealed until 1941, had enormous consequences for human lives:

At least nine million human beings of what Galton and Pearson called degenerative stock, two-thirds of them the Jews…continued to be denied sanctuary at our gates. They were all ultimately herded into Nordic Rassenhygiene camps, where the race biologists in charge made certain that they ceased to multiply. And ceased to be.59

The first step in a eugenic programme was to determine which groups were genetically superior, a judgement that was heavily influenced by culture. Many Germans did not accept the American and British conclusions as to which races were inferior, and for this reason the Germans instituted their own programme. This meant that they must first determine what traits were superior. The ideal traits were

a human type whose appearance had been described by the race theorist Hans F.K. Günther as “blond, tall, long-skulled, with narrow faces, pronounced chins, narrow noses with a bridge, soft hair, widely spaced pale-coloured eyes, pinky-white skin-colour.”60

Although superficial observation enabled most people to make a broad classification of race, as the Nazis soon learned when they explored it in depth, race status is by no means easy to determine. Many of the groups that they felt were inferior, such as Slavic peoples (mostly the Poles, Russians and Ukrainians), Jews, Gypsies and others, were not easily distinguishable from the pure “Aryan” race. In grouping people 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 Günther’s “personal relationships with the party were stormy at times,” his racial ideas received wide support throughout the German government and were an important influence in German policy.61 Günther recognized that, although “a race may not be pure, its members share certain dominant characteristics,” thus paving the way for stereotyping.62

Günther concluded that all Aryans share an ideal Nordic face that contrasted with the Jews, whom he concluded were a mixture of races. Günther stressed that a person’s genealogical lineage, anthropological measurements of his skull, and evaluations of physical appearance were all important. Even though physical appearance was stressed, the Nazis believed, “the body is the showplace of the soul” and “the soul is primary.”63

Females with the traits—such as IQ—that eugenicists judged as superior Aryan race qualities, were even placed in special homes and kept pregnant as long as they remained in a programme called Lebensborn. Nonetheless, research on the offspring of the experiment have concluded that, as is now known, IQ regresses toward the population mean and the IQs of the offspring were generally lower than that of the high IQ parents.64


Darwinism was a major influence on the Nazi party’s conclusion that not only were certain races and ethnic groups inferior, but mental patients were also genetically inferior. Part of the reason was because it was then believed that heredity had a major controlling influence on mental illness (or that the mentally ill may have non-Aryan blood in them) and, consequently, those persons with “bad blood” had to be destroyed. Jewish historian Leon 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 [blood], just as bad money displaces good money.”65 Only extermination would permanently eliminate these inferior genetic lines, thereby furthering evolution. Darwin even compiled a long list of cases where bad blood polluted a white gene line, causing it, he concluded, to produce impure progeny forever.

Numerous respected biologists, including Ernst Rüdin, a professor at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Munich and also headed the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, and many of his colleagues—including Erwin Baur, Eugen Fischer, Fritz Lenz, Francis Galton and Eugene Kahn, later a professor of psychiatry at Yale—actively advocated this hereditary argument. These scientists either directly or indirectly influenced 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 eaters,” 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, persons with both severe and mild mentally defects, deaf-mutes, and even persons with certain terminal illnesses.66

The list of groups judged “inferior” was later expanded to include persons who had Negroid or monogoloid features, Gypsies, and those who did not pass a set of ingeniously designed overtly racist tests now known to be worthless. After Jesse Owen won several gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Hitler reportedly chastised the Americans for permitting blacks to enter the contests.67 How the weak were to be “selected” for elimination was not consistent nor were the criteria used to determine “weak.”68

The justification of these programmes was that “leading biologists and professors” advocated them. According to psychiatrist and author Frederic Wertham, Dr. Karl Brandt reasoned that since the learned professors were in support, the programme must be valid and “who could there be who was better qualified [to judge the programme] than they?”69


Darwinism not only offered the Germans a meaningful interpretation of their recent military past, but also justification for future aggression: “German military success in the Bismarckian wars fit neatly into Darwinist categories [and in]…the struggle for survival, the fitness of Germans had been clearly demonstrated.”70 In other words, war was a positive force not only because it eliminated the 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 on Darwinian thought in both his extermination and war policies.71

Partly for this reason, Nazi Germany 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

Hitler’s attitude to the League of Nations and to peace and war were based upon the same principles. “A world court without a world police would be a joke…the whole world of Nature is a mighty struggle between strength and weakness—an eternal victory of the strong over the weak. There would be nothing but decay in the whole of nature if this were not so. States which [violate]…this elementary law would fall into decay…. He who would live must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.” To think otherwise is to “insult” nature. “Distress, misery and disease are her rejoinders.”72

German greatness, Hitler stressed, came about primarily because Germans were jingoists, and had been eliminating their weaker members for centuries.73 Although Germans were no strangers 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 when he said the human race

had scarcely more brains than his anthropoid cousins, the apes. But, by kicking, biting, fighting, outmaneuvering and outwitting his enemies, and by the fact that the ones who had not sense and strength enough to do this were killed off, man’s brain became enormous and he waxed both in wisdom and agility if not in size and morals.74

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. Furthermore, 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.” 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.75

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.76 Historically, many tribes in Africa were continually involved in wars, as were most peoples in Asia and America.

Ironically, Hitler, as well as Haeckel, Ploetz and others, recognized that war also killed the strong and most fit simply because those unfit for military service were not drafted and consequently were less likely to die in combat and more likely to have families.77 This was only one of many contradictions in the Nazi movement.


From our modern perspective, many people 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. Richard Weikart concluded that Hitler was inspired by Darwinism to pursue a utopian project of biologically improving the human race, and this evolutionary ethic influenced most every major feature of Nazi policy including eugenics, racism, offensive warfare, racial extermination and even population expansion.78 Putting members of these inferior races in concentration camps was not so much an effort to punish but, as his apologists repeatedly claimed, was a protective safeguard similar to quarantining sick people to prevent contamination of the rest of the community.79

The Nazis believed that eliminating Jews and other “inferior races” was a scientific and rational way of serving an objectively greater good.80 Hitler felt that the world would eventually be grateful to him and his programmes that lifted the human race to genetically higher levels of evolution as a result of reducing race pollution by preventing marriages of Aryans with inferior races:

Hitler was influenced above all by the theories of the nineteenth-century social Darwinist school, whose conception of man as biological material was bound up with impulses towards a planned society. He was convinced that the race was disintegrating, deteriorating through faulty breeding as a result of a liberally tinged promiscuity that was vitiating the nation’s blood. And this led to the establishment of a catalogue of “positive” curative measures: racial hygiene, eugenic choice of marriage partners, the breeding of human beings by the methods of selection on the one hand and extirpation on the other.81

As Höss 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.”82

Many in Germany, early on, recognized the harm of Darwinism, and the Prussian Minister of Education for a time in 1875 forbade the “schoolmasters in the country to have anything to do with Darwinism…with a view of protecting schoolchildren from the dangers of the new doctrines.”83 A significant question is this: Would the Nazi Holocaust have occurred if this ban had remained in effect? At the entrance of this struggle was Haeckel who garnered much support from free thinkers and others who

gathered around him in spite of his many delusions, when such measure as the school regulations mentioned above were adopted…. All the more so as the outcome proved Haeckel’s justification; Darwinism might be prohibited in the schools, but the idea of evolution and its method penetrated everywhere…. And to this result, Haeckel has undeniably contributed more than most; everything of value in his utterances has become permanent, while his blunders have been forgotten, as they deserve.84

Many biologists today, writing the above, would drop “as they deserve” because Haeckel is regarded by his critics 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. Many current writers gloss over, totally ignore or even distort the close connection between Darwinism and Nazi racism and the policies it produced. But, as Stein admonishes, little doubt exists that the

history of ethnocentrism, racism, nationalism, and xenophobia has been also a history of the use of science and the actions of scientists in support of these ideas and social movements. In many cases it is clear that science was used merely as raw material or evidence by ideologically interested political actors as proof of preconceived notions.85

He adds that there is also little doubt that this self-protecting attitude is based on a willful misreading of history. He concludes that support for ethnocentrism and racism included many well-respected scientists who were very “active in using their own authority as scientists to advance and support racist and xenophobic political and social doctrines in the name of science.”86 He adds that the scientists of the day could not deny that they used science to advance racism, and it is historical whitewash to attempt to claim that the past abuse of science was not respected science but merely pseudoscience.


Significantly, Charles Darwin was not just responding to his culture: “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.” Professor David Hull answers this charge by noting that Darwin was not “so callow that he simply read the characteristics of his society into nature.”87 Clearly, Darwin played a major role in creating the society that scientists today claim was at fault for adversely influencing Darwin, excusing him for his contribution.

Relatively few scientific studies exist that directly deal with Darwinism and Nazism, partly because many evolutionists avoid the subject for the reason that evolution is inescapably selectionist. One of the most well-documented studies supporting this, using primary sources, is that of historian Richard Weikart.88 One of the best reviews of Darwinian and Nazi documents concludes the Nazis felt confident that their extermination programmes were firmly based on science.89

Recently, a number of popular articles have published surprisingly candid accounts of this topic.90 The source of the worst of Nazism was Darwinism, and we must first understand history to prevent its repetition because “those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.”91

After an extensive study of the “natural selection” homicides committed in German institutions, Dr. Frederic Wertham concluded that the psychiatric and medical professions were among the most enthusiastic supporters of Nazi race programmes.92 They not only willingly implemented Nazi policy, but often went well beyond what the law required. He relates the activities of numerous eminent psychiatrists and physicians from leading German universities. Many of these scientists who not only supported the Nazi policy of “artificial evolution” but eagerly implemented these policies and are still quoted today in the literature as experts.93 Highly respected scientific works published in Nazi Germany and elsewhere openly advocated elimination of those judged, not only a “foreign body in human [meaning Aryan] society” but people who were “below the level of beasts.”

Although the justification for extermination programmes included a desire to eliminate “hereditary diseases” that were a “drain on the German people,” most of those murdered did not have hereditary conditions.94 Nazism believed the state had a duty to provide “redemption from evil” in the form of a quick and painless drug to eliminate useless eaters.95


Even though Germany had been the leader in the Protestant Reformation, the so-called Enlightenment and Darwinian ideas rapidly replaced the Christian worldview. German society rapidly adopted a thoroughly secular worldview that relied on science and materialistic philosophy for values and morals. Nazis rationalized that forcing Jews and other “inferior races” into concentration camps was not cruel or even punishment, but similar to quarantining the sick to prevent them from spreading their disease to the healthy. Conditions in the camps later deteriorated but, certain Nazis claimed, the main concern at first was to quarantine inferior races so as to prevent race contamination of the Aryan gene pool. Actually, the largest number of Jews were exterminated before camp conditions had deteriorated.

These ideas were not opposed by most scientists then, but rather “most members of the scientific and academic communities” not only “did very little to oppose the rise of Hitler and national socialism” but in many cases they

lent their considerable prestige as scientists to the support of the ideas of the national socialist movement [The Nazis]. It is simply true historically that German academics and scientists did, in fact, contribute to the development and eventually success of national socialism, both directly through their efforts as scientists and indirectly through the popularization or vulgarization of their scientific work.96

Dr. Wertham, himself a German psychiatrist, notes that psychiatrists became so carried away with their Darwinism that they later actually reached into the outside community looking for victims for their death camps! They first convinced the parents or guardian that “such people [should] be placed under [their] guardianship and sent to an institution” and from there “they were quickly put into the gas chambers.”97

Wertham concluded that the whole procedure of determining those deemed “unfit” for mating (and even living) was characterized by an almost complete absence of compassion, mercy or pity for the victims. He judged that the most reliable estimate of the number of “psychiatric” and other patients killed in German institutions as part of the euthanasia programme was at least 275,000.98

One institution alone, Hadamar, celebrated in 1941 the “cremation of the ten thousandth mental patient…[p]sychiatrists, nurses, attendants, and secretaries all participated. Everybody received a bottle of beer for the occasion.”99 Dr. Wertham even claimed that the entire population of every institution in German-controlled territory would likely have been eliminated if the Allies had not defeated Germany. In many cases, the total population of many institutions—even large ones—was eradicated, and the institutions closed.100

Because certain church leaders and humanitarians protested these eugenic killings, Hitler himself finally intervened. While on leave, many soldiers learned that a mentally ill brother, grandparent, aged relative or a friend injured in the war had “disappeared.”101 The knowledge that their countrymen at home were being murdered by the hundreds of thousands was demoralizing. Wertham claims that the Nazi government realized that many soldiers became fearful that they may well end up in the gas chambers if they were wounded in the war.102

Hitler recognized that the expansion of the race “purification” programme to those who were not “economically able to contribute,” such as the war injured, hindered Germans’ motivation to fight for their fatherland. Wertham concluded that this latest expansion of killing “officially stopped” but in reality continued, though less blatantly and more hidden than before.

Nazism is often used as a example of the danger of “religious” zeal, yet only occasionally does popular literature mention the key role of the eugenics of Francis Galton, whose theories were based on the theory of natural selection espoused by his cousin, Charles Darwin. Firmly convinced that Darwinian evolution was true, Hitler saw himself as a benefactor of all humankind. By breeding a superior race, he thought he would, in the end, gain the world’s admiration as the man who pulled humanity up to a higher level of evolutionary development. What Hitler attempted to do must be ranked alongside the most heinous crimes of history, and Darwin as the father of one of the most destructive philosophies in history.


The writings of leading Nazis and early twentieth-century German biologists reveal that Darwin’s theory had a major influence on Nazi race policies. Hitler believed that the human gene pool could be improved by using selective breeding similar to how farmers breed for superior cattle. In formulating its racial policies, Hitler’s government relied heavily on Darwinism, especially the elaborations by biologist Ernst Haeckel.

As a result, a central policy of Hitler’s administration was the development and implementation of policies designed to produce a “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.103 The “superior race” belief was based on the theory of racial inequality, 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 6 million Jews and over 5 million other people who belonged to what German scientists judged were “inferior races.”104


1Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 1941–1944, trans. Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens; intro. H.R. Trevor-Roper (New York: Farrar, Straus and Young, 1953).

2William Bell Riley, Hitlerism or the Philosophy of Evolution in Action (Minneapolis: Irene Woods, 1941); W. Rowan, “Charles Darwin” in Architects of Modern Thought (Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1955); Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Richard Weikart, “The Impact of Social Darwinism on Anti-Semitic Ideology in Germany and Austria, 1860–1945” in Geoffrey Cantor and Marc Swetlitz, eds., Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006); Richard Weikart, Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009).

3 Allan Chase, The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1980).

4 Ernst Haeckel, The History of Creation: Or the Development of the Earth and Its Inhabitants by the Action of Natural Causes (New York: Appleton, 1876); Ernst Haeckel, The Riddle of the Universe (New York: Harper, 1900); Ernst Haeckel, The Wonders of Life: A Popular Study of Biological Philosophy (New York: Harper, 1905); Ernst Haeckel, Eternity: World War Thoughts on Life and Death, Religion, and the Theory of Evolution (New York: Truth Seeker, 1916); Ernst Haeckel, The Evolution of Man (New York: Appleton, 1920).

5 “The economic cost of the war is estimated at US$1500 billion” [Hermann Kinder and Werner Hilgemann, eds., The Penguin Atlas of World History, trans. Ernest A. Menze (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2003)]. In 2012 US dollars, $1.5 trillion converts to $18.75 trillion.

6 Pierre Aycoberry, The Nazi Question: An Essay on the Interpretations of National Socialism, 1922–1975 (New York: Pantheon, 1981); Alan D. Beyerchen, Scientists under Hitler: Politics and the Physics Community in the Third Reich (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); George Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism,” American Scientist 76, No. 1 (Jan–Feb 1988): 50–58.

7 Ethel Tobach, John Gianusos, Howard R. Topoff and Charles G. Gross, The Four Horsemen: Racism, Sexism, Militarism, and Social Darwinism (New York: Behavioral Publications, 1974).

8 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism.”

9 Marc Lappe, “Eugenics,” in Kenneth Ludmerer, ed., The Encyclopedia of Bioethics (New York: Free Press, 1978), 457.

10 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism.”

11 Arthur Keith, Evolution and Ethics (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1946), 230.

12Joseph Tenenbaum, Race and Reich (New York: Twayne, 1956), 211.

13 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism,” 53.

14 Daniel Gasman, The Scientific Origin of National Socialism (New York: American Elsevier, 1971), xiv.

15 Sheila Faith Weiss, Race Hygiene and National Efficiency: The Eugenics of Wilhelm Schallmayer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); Aycoberry, The Nazi Question.

16 Haeckel, The History of Creation, 434.

17 Haeckel, The History of Creation, 332.

18 Haeckel, The History of Creation, 321.

19Tenenbaum, Race and Reich, 211–212 .

20Weikart, “The Impact of Social Darwinism,” 110.

21 Beate Wilder-Smith, The Day Nazi Germany Died: An Eyewitness Account of the Russian and Allied Invasion of Germany (San Diego: Master Books, 1982), 27.

22 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism,” 51.

23 Eberhard Jäckel, Hitler’s Weltanschauung (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1972).

24 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism,” 56.

25 Robert N. Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 291.

26 Paul Weindling, Health, Race and German Politics Between National Unification and Nazism, 1870–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

27 Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis, 291.

28 Karl A. Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi Policy toward German Jews, 1933–1939 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970); Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (New York: Scholow Press, 1981).

29 Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), 127.

30 Earnest Albert Hooton, Why Men Behave Like Apes and Vice Versa; or, Body and Behavior (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941).

31 Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz.

32 Edwin G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution (New York: Scribner’s, 1921), 34, 53.

33Harry Bruinius, Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity (New York: Knopf, 2006).

34 Chase, The Legacy of Malthus, 343.

35 Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis, 40.

36 Edwin Black, War against the Weak: Eugenics and American’s Campaign to Create a Master Race (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows Press, 2003).

37 Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (New York: Knopf, 1985), 116.

38 Stefan Kühl, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

39 Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics, 118.

40 Kühl, The Nazi Connection; William Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots: Scientific Attitudes toward Race in America, 1815–1859 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960).

41Weikart, “The Impact of Social Darwinism”; Ruth Lewin Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996)

42 Beyerchen, Scientists under Hitler.

43 Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz.

44 Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz, 33.

45 Bryan Mark Rigg, Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2002).

46 Rigg, Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, 78.

47 Greta Jones, Social Darwinism and English Thought: The Interaction between Biological and Social Theory (Atlantic Highlands: The Humanities Press, 1980), 168.

48 Black, War against the Weak.

49 Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz, 31–32.

50Leon Poliakov, The Aryan Myth (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996).

51 Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz, 32.

52 Cited in Chase, The Legacy of Malthus, 349.

53 James King, The Biology of Race (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 156.

54 John S. Haller, Jr., Outcasts from Evolution: Scientific Attitudes of Racial Inferiority, 1859–1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971).

55 Cited in Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics, 91.

56 Nancy L. Gallagher, Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State (Hanover: University of New England Press, 1999).

57 Chase, The Legacy of Malthus.

58 Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics, 101.

59 Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics, 360.

60 Joachim C. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich: Portraits of the Nazi Leadership (New York: Pantheon, 1970), 99–100.

61George L. Mosse, Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural, and Social Life in the Third Reich (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), 57.

62Mosse, Nazi Culture, 57.

63Mosse, Nazi Culture, 58.

64 Stephen Murdoch, IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea (New York: Wiley, 2007), 119–138; Marc Hillel and Clarissa Henry, Of Pure Blood (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976).

65 Poliakov, The Aryan Myth, 282.

66 Frederic Wertham, A Sign for Cain: An Exploration of Human Violence (New York: Macmillan, 1966); Chase, The Legacy of Malthus.

67 Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots.

68 Weindling, Health, Race and German Politics.

69 Wertham, A Sign for Cain, 160.

70 Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz, 31.

71 Jäckel, Hitler’s Weltanschauung.

72Robert Clark, Darwin: Before and After (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International Press, 1958), 115–116.

73 Norman Rich, Hitler’s War Aims (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1973).

74 Albert Edward Wiggam, The New Dialogue of Science (Garden City: Garden City Publishing Co, 1922), 102.

75 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism,” 56.

76 Gerald L. Posner and John Ware, Mengele: The Complete Story (New York: McGraw Hill, 1986).

77 Paul Crook, Darwinism, War and History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

78Weikart, Hitler’s Ethic.

79 Ellis Washington, “Nuremberg Project: Social Darwinism in Nazi Family and Inheritance Law,” Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion (Fall 2011).

80 Peter J. Haas, “Nineteenth Century Science and the Formation of the Nazi Policy.” Journal of Theology 99 (1995): 6–30.

81 Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, 99.

82 Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz, 110.

83 Erik Nordenskjöld, The History of Biology, trans. Leonard Bucknell Eyre (New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1935), 522.

84 Nordenskjöld, The History of Biology, 522.

85 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism,” 50.

86 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism,” 50.

87 David Hull, “Uncle Sam Wants You. A review from the book Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction? by Michael Ruse,” Science 284 (1999): 1131–1132.

88Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler.

89 Benno Müller-Hill, Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others, Germany, 1933–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

90 For example, see Paul Gray, “Cursed by Eugenics,” Time (January 11, 1999): 84–85.

91 Jones, Social Darwinism and English Thought.

92 Wertham, A Sign for Cain.

93 Quirin Schiermeier, “Dispute Erupts over Nazi Research Claims,” Nature, Vol. 398, No. 6725 (March 25, 1999): 274.

94 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism,” 50–58; Wertham, A Sign for Cain, 158.

95 Haeckel, The Wonders of Life, 118–119.

96 Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism,” 159.

97 Wertham, A Sign for Cain, 159.

98 Wertham, A Sign for Cain, 158.

99 Wertham, A Sign for Cain, 157.

100 Wertham, A Sign for Cain.

101 Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age (New York: Free Press, 1960).

102 Wertham, A Sign for Cain, 187.

103Richard Milner, The Encyclopedia of Evolution (New York: Facts on File, 1990).

104Gerald Astor, The Last Nazi: The Life and Times of Joseph Mengele (New York: Donald Fine, 1985); Jerry Bergman,“Darwinism as a Factor in the Twentieth-Century Totalitarianism Holocausts,” Creation Research Society Quarterly , 39, No. 1 (2002): 47–53.