Eugenics in Interwar Europe

film-eternal-jew

http://www.ushmm.org/propaganda/archive/film-eternal-jew/

This is a German poster for a government scripted movie, entitled the “The Eternal Jew”. It is described as a documentary, but a cursory glance at the poster reveals that it is a eugenics motivated propaganda film. The features of the Jew on the cover are deliberately depicted as ugly and evil, reminiscent of a witch from the tales of the Brothers Grimm. This movie was released in 1940, and represents the exaggerated European eugenicist view of “degenerates” (Stone, 98) during the interwar period.

The Nazi racialization of the state is well known, but according to Stone, race was a primary criterion even in Britain (Stone, 95). The image of a class based British Eugenicist Society was created by the Society after the Second World War and the disastrous culmination of racial eugenics in the Third Reich (Stone, 98-9). The difference between British eugenics and continental eugenics was their motive. Britain used eugenics to maintain the social hierarchy within the nation (Stone, 94), and to maintain supremacy over the Empire (Stone, 97). On the other hand, Italian and German ‘research’ was motivated by state ideology. Additionally, the methods implemented were very different. While Britain (Stone, 98), Italy (Willson, 84-6), and Germany (Mazower, 76) all advocated pro-natalism in a racial capacity, the former two were only able to legislate moderate laws, which were largely ineffective (Willson, 92-3), whereas the latter had more control over state policy and policing. Thus Eugenics had a greater effect in a German State that believed that blood descent, rather than assimilation, was the only claim to citizenship (Auslander, 110). Finally, while France believed that one could become a citizen through assimilation (Auslander, 110), they were still a colonial power who believed in the natural savageness of their colonial subjects.

In conclusion, it can be noted that Eugenics was an important debate in interwar Europe, but to varying degrees of implementation and success. State policies on women and families might have been influenced by these debates, but it must also be remembered that Europe had just suffered a large population loss due to the Great War. Therefore, these policies were also influenced by economic motives.

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