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Sterilization for "The Unfit": The Hitlerian Nightmare Begins
Nazi German Government

The guiding ideology of the Nazi movement was provided, of course, by Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and outlined in his Mein Kampf (a hybrid memoir and political manifesto that he dictated in prison following the failed attempt to overthrow the Bavarian state government in 1924). In addition to his virulent hatred of the Versailles settlement, Hitler emphasized two main tenets: lebensraum (living space) and racial purity. His fixation on racial purity derived from his early introduction to social Darwinism and anti-Semitism in Vienna before World War I. Hitler believed that the racially superior Germanic race was being polluted by intermarriage with non-Germans, by definition inferior, especially Jews. Moreover, the "inferior races" were reproducing at a higher rate than were the Germans. This is the genesis of his determination not only to annihilate the Jews (and others) but also to increase the size of the racially pure German population. If the racially pure and healthy Germans must increase, the flip side of the coin was that the gene pool should not be muddied by inferior beings, especially those perceived to have hereditary defects. Hitler's efforts to purify the German race began early. In July 1933, six months after Hitler became chancellor, the Nazis promulgated the Law to Prevent the Perpetuation of Heritable Disorders, which mandated sterilization for those deemed unfit. Eugenics, as this type of social engineering is called, was not limited to Nazi Germany, but certainly found its most enthusiastic adherents there. An excerpt of the text of the Law is presented in this document.

Questions to Consider
  • How is the law intended to contribute to the creation of the "master race"?

  • What are the categories of those subject to the law?


(1) Whoever suffers from a heritable disease may be made unfruitful (sterilized) through surgical means if, in the experience of medical science, it may, with great likelihood, be expected that his descendants will suffer from serious heritable physical or mental defects.

(2) Whoever suffers from one of the following ailments is considered to be heritably diseased within the meaning of this law:
  1. congenital feeble-mindedness
  2. schizophrenia
  3. manic-depression
  4. congenital epilepsy
  5. heritable St. Vitus's dance (Huntington's Chorea)
  6. hereditary blindness
  7. hereditary deafness
  8. serious heritable malformations.

Further, anyone suffering from chronic alcoholism may also be made unfruitful.

(1) Entitled to request [sterilization], is he who is to be made unfruitful. If he should be incapacitated or under guardianship because of feeble-mindedness or not yet 18 years of age, then his legal representative is empowered to make the motion. In the other cases of limited capacity the request must be consented to by the legal representative. If the person is of age and has a nurse, the consent of the latter is necessary.

(2) The request is to be accompanied by a certificate from a physician accredited by the German Reich stating that the one to be sterilized has been enlightened regarding the nature and consequences of sterilization.

(3) The request for sterilization is subject to recall.

Sterilization may also be recommended by 1.Ęthe official physician, 2.Ęthe official in charge of the institution in the case of inmates of a hospital, sanitarium, or prison.

The request is to be presented in writing to, or put into writing by the business office of, the Health-Inheritance Court (Erbgesundheitigericht). The facts underlying the request are to be certified to by a medical document or in some other way authenticated. The business office of the court must notify the official physician....

(1) The proceedings before the Health-Inheritance Courts are secret....

...(3) The Supreme Health-Inheritance Court has final jurisdiction.

(1) The surgical operation necessary for sterilization may be performed only in a hospital and by a physician accredited by the German Reich....

This law becomes effective January 1, 1934.

Source: "Germany, Reichsgesetzblatt," in W. C. Langsam, ed., Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, rev. and enlarged ed. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1951), 683-684.