Lesson: Racial “Science” and Law in Nazi Germany and the United States: Timeline Extension

Nazism emerged in Germany during the era of “Jim Crow” in the United States (a period after the Civil War in which segregation was legal throughout the country). Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler, wrote admiringly of American racist practices. Racist ideas were treated as “scientific” during this time: biology linked to physical appearance supposedly determined what people were capable of and what limited them, while “selective breeding” was promoted as a way to eliminate physical and mental disabilities in the population The pseudoscience called eugenics emerged in the late 19th century and became a global movement, providing a veneer of respectability to ideas about “racial purity.” By the 1930s this pseudoscientific approach had found its way into laws in the United States and Europe. While eugenics and racism were present in many countries, this lesson is a case study examining Nazi Germany and the United States during the 1930s. While racism and racist laws existed in both societies, these histories are presented within their own national and historical contexts.

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