Ethnic Cleansing in Connecticut
Our state's role in the Nazi eugenics movement

by Edwin Black
September 11, 2003

Also see cover art
Peter M. Morlock Photo Illustration
Photo Courtesy Max Planck Gesellscharf Archive
Nazi eugenicist Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer examining twins with eye color chart.
American Philosophical Society Photo
"Some people are born to be a burden on the rest," circa 1926.
Hitler and his henchmen victimized an entire continent and exterminated millions in his quest for a co-called "Master Race." But the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race was not Hitler's. The idea was created in the United States, and cultivated in Connecticut, two to three decades before Hitler came to power, the product of the American eugenics movement. Hartford and indeed the state of Connecticut played an important albeit unknown role in this country's campaign of ethnic cleansing. What's more, Connecticut was an important player in America's eugenic nexus with Nazi Germany.

Eugenics was the racist American pseudoscience determined to wipe away all human beings except those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype. The philosophy was enshrined into national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions enacted in 27 states. In 1909, Connecticut became the third state to adopt such laws. Ultimately, eugenics coercively sterilized some 60,000 Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in "colonies," and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning. In Connecticut, only some 600 were coercively sterilized, but hundreds of thousands more were slated for the surgery before the plan was abandoned.

Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for massive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with America's most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. These academicians faked and twisted data to serve eugenics' racist aims. Connecticut was considered both an epicenter for eugenic propaganda and a test case for ethnic cleansing.

The Carnegie Institution literally invented the American movement by establishing a laboratory complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island. This complex stockpiled millions of index cards on ordinary Americans as the movement carefully plotted the removal of families, bloodlines and whole peoples. From Cold Spring Harbor, eugenics advocates agitated in the legislatures of America, as well as the nation's social service agencies and associations.

The Harriman railroad fortune paid local charities, such as the New York Bureau of Industries and Immigration, to seek out Jewish, Italian and other immigrants in New York and other crowded cities and subject them to deportation, trumped up confinement or forced sterilization.

The Rockefeller Foundation helped found and fund the German eugenics program and even funded the program that ultimately sent Josef Mengele into Auschwitz.

Much of the spiritual guidance and political agitation for the American movement came from the American Eugenics Society of New Haven, and the Eugenics Research Association of Long Island, which coordinated much of its activity with the AES. These organizations -- which functioned as part of a closely-knit network, published racist eugenic newsletters and pseudoscientific journals such as Eugenical News and Eugenics, and propagandized for the Nazis.

Eugenics was born as a scientific curiosity in the Victorian age. In 1863, Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, theorized that if talented people only married other talented people, the result would be measurably better offspring. At the turn of the last century, Galton's ideas were imported into the United States just as Gregor Mendel's principles of heredity were rediscovered. American eugenic advocates believed with religious fervor that the same Mendelian concepts determining the color and size of peas, corn and cattle also governed the social and intellectual character of man.

In an America demographically reeling from massive immigration upheaval and torn by post-Reconstruction chaos, race conflict was everywhere in the early 20th century. Elitists, utopians and so-called "progressives" fused their smoldering race fears and class bias with their desire to make a better world. They reinvented Galton's eugenics into a repressive and racist ideology. The intent: populate the earth with vastly more of their own socio-economic and biological kind -- and less or none of everyone else.

The superior species the eugenics movement sought was not merely tall, strong, talented people. Eugenicists craved blond, blue-eyed Nordic types. This group alone, they believed, was fit to inherit the earth. In the process, the movement intended to subtract Negroes, Indians, Hispanics, East Europeans, Jews, dark-haired hill folk, poor people, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the gentrified genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists.

How? By identifying so-called "defective" family trees and subjecting them to lifelong segregation and sterilization programs to kill their bloodlines. The grand plan was to literally wipe away the reproductive capability of those deemed weak and inferior -- the so-called "unfit."

Eighteen solutions were explored in a Carnegie-supported 1911 "Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Section of the American Breeder's Association to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population." Although point eight was euthanasia, the breeders believed it was too early to implement this solution. Instead, the main solution was the rapid expansion of forced segregation and sterilization, as well as more marriage restrictions.

The most commonly suggested method of eugenicide in America was a "lethal chamber" or gas chamber.

Even the United States Supreme Court endorsed eugenics as national policy. In its infamous 1927 decision, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind ... . Three generations of imbeciles are enough." This decision opened the floodgates for thousands to be coercively sterilized or otherwise persecuted as subhuman. Years later, the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials quoted Holmes' words in their own defense.

In late 1936, Connecticut governor Wilbur Cross commissioned a "Survey of the Human Resources of Connecticut," to be undertaken by Carnegie Institution researcher Harry H. Laughlin. The purpose of the survey was to bring ethnic cleansing to Connecticut in an organized scientific fashion. Laughlin was the perfect choice. He was editor of Eugenical News, a leader of the AES, and America's most accomplished authority on preparing government-backed elimination of unfit families. After helping transplant his idea into Nazi Germany, he was awarded an honorary degree in 1937 by the University of Heidelberg.

Laughlin's plan was to sterilize approximately 175,000 Connecticut residents -- or about 10 percent of the state's population. The state's eugenical laws did not require a court order. The plan was to emulate Hitler's eugenical regime whereby doctors were required to denounce those citizens considered racially or medically "unfit. "The state's official report called upon the state's 2,400 physicians to assume personal responsibility for "selection of an individual for sterilization under the state's statutes which govern this means of preventing future degeneracy... . Thus when in social medicine the physician works for the elimination of human defect, he performs an invaluable service." These ideas were incorporated into a formal public address that was presented to the Yale Medical School by the eugenic commission's chairman, former U.S. Sen. Frederick C. Walcott.

The state placed much of its hopes on "physicians who specialize in diseases of the eye, the ear, on nervous or mental disorders, on the heart, the lungs, the digestive system and upon crippled bodies." The plan was to eliminate the family bloodlines of anyone who was sick. Indeed, special emphasis was placed on those with even the slightest vision problems. In that regard, the nation's organized ophthalmologists had long promoted legislation to identify all those related to anyone with a vision problem so they could be rounded up, placed in camps, and their marriages prohibited or annulled. Ultimately those related to anyone with a vision problem would be forcibly sterilized.

Connecticut's survey was to parallel similar biological surveys of "useful plant and animal life," as its preamble makes clear. Because eugenicists saw themselves as breeders, and indeed were encouraged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they considered the human species as one to be pruned and cultivated, like any herd of cattle or field of corn. Eugenicists believed that crime, poverty, immorality, unchaste behavior and other undesired traits were genetic and could not be stamped out unless the entire family was prevented from reproducing.

To save expense, others would not be sterilized but simply thrown out of the state. Immigrants would be deported to their native countries. Unfit Americans would be expelled to their family's original locale. For example, an American judged unfit might be traced generations back to Kentucky or Massachusetts. That person and his entire family, under the plan, would be rounded up and deposited into the so-called originating state. Ultimately, so many people would be dumped into ancestral towns and states, creating so vast a social displacement problem, that concentration camps would be needed to handle the uprooted population. Property was to be seized to pay for their economic drain on the state.

In other words, the joint Carnegie Institution-Connecticut plan was to create domestic refugees or displaced persons in a fashion identical to that employed by the Nazis at that very moment in refugee-torn Europe.

Connecticut established 21 human cross-classifications to qualify them for life or eugenic treatment. Age, for example was cross-classified by "Race Descent," "Nativity and Citizenship," and "Kin in Institutions." Just being related to someone in an institution was a mark against your reproductive record. The same racial and family linkages were measured for intelligence, and criminal record. Even before the survey was undertaken, Laughlin's proposal made it clear that the targets were Negroes, Orientals, Mexicans and others who had found their way into the United States.

A proposed population registry card was designed for any future IBM processing. Connecticut's plan to use IBM punch cards never came to fruition. Indeed, the American eugenics movement was less successful precisely because it lacked the punch card technology that IBM so carefully developed for the Nazi eugenic and extermination campaigns. Ironically, IBM's Nazi technology was actually first tested by the company in a pilot program in Jamaica in 1928, five years before the Hitler regime. The Carnegie Institution's 1928 Jamaica Race Crossing Project introduced the race classification card that evolved into the SS card IBM used in Germany. The Jamaica Race Crossing Project was the first step in a plan to wipe out all black people on earth.

In Connecticut, Laughlin quietly surveyed 160 towns in eight counties. The first 11,960 citizens slated to be sterilized were to be residents of penal institutions -- weak, disabled, morally unacceptable or otherwise "socially inadequate."

One town, Rocky Hill, was selected as a model for biological surveillance. Nearly all of the town's 2,190 citizens were registered, and almost half fingerprinted. A proposed racial registration card for IBM technology was part of the state's study. Although the planning phase of the state's comprehensive survey was completed in 1938, it was never implemented on the scope desired and as WWII approached, was cast aside. Just a few copies of the full secret report were ever circulated.

Only after eugenics and race biology became entrenched as an American ideal was the campaign transplanted into Germany, where it came to Hitler's attention.

Hitler studied American eugenic laws and rationales and preferred to legitimize his innate race hatred and anti-Semitism by medicalizing it, and wrapping it in a more palatable pseudoscientific facade -- eugenics. Indeed, Hitler was able to recruit more followers among reasonable Germans by claiming that science was on his side. While Hitler's race hatred sprung from his own mind, the intellectual outlines of eugenics that Hitler adopted in 1924 were strictly American.

During the '20s, Carnegie Institution eugenic scientists cultivated deep personal and professional relationships with Germany's fascist eugenicists. In 1924, when Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, he frequently quoted American eugenic ideology and openly displayed a thorough knowledge of American eugenics and its phraseology. "There is today one state," wrote Hitler, "in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States."

Hitler proudly told his comrades just how closely he followed American eugenic legislation. "I have studied with great interest," he told a fellow Nazi, "the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock."

Hitler even wrote a fan letter to American eugenic leader Madison Grant calling his race-based eugenics book, The Passing of the Great Race, his "bible."

Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, coined a popular adage in the Reich: "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology."

Hitler's struggle for a superior race would be a mad crusade for a Master Race. Now, the American term "Nordic" was freely exchanged with "Germanic" or "Aryan." Race science, racial purity and racial dominance became the driving force behind Hitler's Nazism. Nazi eugenics would ultimately dictate who would be persecuted in a Reich-dominated Europe, how people would live, and how they would die. Nazi doctors would become the unseen generals in Hitler's war against the Jews and other Europeans deemed inferior. Doctors would create the science, devise the eugenic formulas, and even hand-select the victims for sterilization, euthanasia and mass extermination.

During the Reich's first 10 years, eugenicists across America welcomed Hitler's plans as the logical fulfillment of their own decades of research and effort. Ten years after Virginia passed its 1924 sterilization act, Joseph DeJarnette, superintendent of Virginia's Western State Hospital, complained in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "The Germans are beating us at our own game."

In 1934, as Germany's sterilizations were accelerating beyond 5,000 per month, the California eugenic leader C. M. Goethe upon returning from Germany ebulliently bragged to a key colleague, "You will be interested to know, that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought ... . I want you, my dear friend, to carry this thought with you for the rest of your life, that you have really jolted into action a great government of 60 million people."

More than just the scientific roadmap, America used its money to fund and help found Germany's eugenic institutions.

By 1926, Rockefeller had donated some $410,000 -- almost $4 million in 20th century money -- to hundreds of German researchers. For example, in May of 1926, Rockefeller awarded $250,000 to the German Psychiatric Institute of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute to become the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry. Among the leading psychiatrists at the German Psychiatric Institute was Ernst Rüdin, who became director and eventually an architect of Hitler's systematic medical repression.

Another in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute's eugenic complex of institutions was the Institute for Brain Research. Since 1915, it had operated out of a room. Everything changed when Rockefeller money arrived in 1929. A grant of $317,000 allowed the Institute to construct a major building and take center stage in German race biology. The Institute for Brain Research received additional grants from the Rockefeller Foundation during the next several years. Leading the Institute, once again, was Hitler's medical henchman Ernst Rüdin. Rüdin's organization became a prime director and recipient of the murderous experimentation and research conducted on Jews, Gypsies and others.

Beginning in 1940, thousands of Germans taken from old age homes, mental institutions and other custodial facilities were systematically gassed. Between 50,000 and 100,000 were eventually killed.

Leon Whitney, executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society declared of Nazism, "While we were pussy-footing around ... the Germans were calling a spade a spade."

A special recipient of Rockefeller funding was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics in Berlin. For decades, American eugenicists had craved twins to advance their research into heredity. The Institute was now prepared to undertake such research on an unprecedented level. On May 13, 1932, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York dispatched a radiogram to its Paris office: JUNE MEETING EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS OVER THREE YEAR PERIOD TO KWG INSTITUTE ANTHROPOLOGY FOR RESEARCH ON TWINS AND EFFECTS ON LATER GENERATIONS OF SUBSTANCES TOXIC FOR GERM PLASM.

At the time of Rockefeller's endowment, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a hero in American eugenics circles, functioned as a head of the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Rockefeller funding of the Institute for Anthropology continued directly and through other research conduits during Verschuer's early tenure. In 1935, Verschuer left the Institute to form a rival eugenic facility in Frankfurt that was much heralded in the American eugenic press. Research on twins in the Third Reich exploded, backed up by government decrees mobilizing all twins. At about that time, Verschuer wrote in Der Erbarzt, a eugenic doctor's journal he edited, that Germany's war would yield a "total solution to the Jewish problem."

Verschuer had a long-time assistant. His name was Josef Mengele.

On May 30, 1943, Mengele arrived at Auschwitz. Verschuer notified the German Research Society, "My assistant, Dr. Josef Mengele (M.D., Ph.D.) joined me in this branch of research. He is presently employed as Hauptsturmführer [captain] and camp physician in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Anthropological testing of the most diverse racial groups in this concentration camp is being carried out with permission of the SS Reichsführer [Himmler]."

Mengele began searching the boxcar arrivals for twins. When he found them, he performed beastly experiments, scrupulously wrote up the reports and sent the paperwork back to Verschuer's Institute for evaluation. Often, cadavers, eyes and other body parts were also dispatched to Berlin's eugenic institutes.

Rockefeller executives never knew of Mengele. With few exceptions, the foundation had ceased all eugenic studies in Nazi-occupied Europe before the war erupted in 1939. But by that time the die had been cast. The talented men Rockefeller and Carnegie had financed, the great institutions they helped found, and the science it helped create took on a scientific momentum of their own.

What stopped the race biologists of Berlin, Munich and Auschwitz? Certainly, the Nazis felt they were unstoppable. They imagined a Thousand-Year Reich of super-bred men. But something did defeat Mengele and his colleagues. On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded at Normandy and began defeating the Nazis, town by town and often street by street. They closed in on Germany from the west. The Soviet army overran the Auschwitz death camp from the east on January 27, 1945. Mengele fled.

Hence, Auschwitz was indeed the last stand of eugenics. The science of the strong almost completely prevailed in its war against the weak. Almost.

After the war, eugenics was declared a crime against humanity -- an act of genocide. Germans were tried. Their American collaborators were not. Verschuer himself esped prosecution. He re-established his connections with American eugenicists who had gone underground and renamed their crusade "human genetics." Soon, Verschuer once again became a respected scientist in Germany and around the world. In 1949, he became a corresponding member of the newly formed American Society of Human Genetics, organized by American eugenicists and geneticists.

In the fall of 1950, the University of Münster offered Verschuer a position at its new Institute of Human Genetics, where he later became a dean. In the early and mid-1950s, Verschuer became an honorary member of numerous prestigious societies, including the Italian Society of Genetics, the Anthropological Society of Vienna, and the Japanese Society for Human Genetics.

The genocidal eugenic roots of genetics were lost to a victorious generation that refused to link itself to the crimes of Nazism, and succeeding generations that never knew the truth of the years leading up to war.

Human genetics became an enlightened endeavor in the later 20th century. Hard-working, devoted scientists finally cracked the human code via the Human Genome Project. Now every individual can be biologically identified and classified by trait and ancestry. Yet even now, leading voices in the genetic world are calling for a cleansing of the unwanted among us, and even a master human species. Newgenics has wracked the insurance and employment world. At press time, America's first genetic anti-discrimination legislation had passed the House and Senate. Yet most informed observers believe that because globalization now dominates genetics, no nation's law can stop the abuses.

Edwin Black is the New York Times best-selling author of the award-winning IBM and the Holocaust and the just-released War Against the Weak (Four Walls Eight Windows) from which this article is adapted. He can be reached via

Copyright 2003 Edwin Black

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