Rebecca Brenner // How American Racism Shaped Nazism


Rebecca Brenner, October 5, 2017 // How American Racism Shaped Nazism – AAIHS

As a legal history, Hitler’s American Model draws primarily from American and Nazi laws and synthesizes the readings and writings of leaders in Nazi law regarding American legal precedents for racism. Whitman also devotes significant attention to Hitler’s Mein Kampf because it served as a manifesto for Nazi ideology and hatred. Mein Kampf praised America as the only nation that had “made progress toward the creation of a healthy racist order of the kind the Nuremberg Laws were intended to establish” (2). Whitman also analyzes Nazi lawyer Heinrich Krieger’s Race Law in the United States, as well as the 1934 Volkisch World History, a “global history for Nazi readers” (27).

Whitman organizes Hitler’s American Model succinctly into an introduction, two chapters, and a conclusion. Chapter One, “Making Nazi Flags and Nazi Citizens,” analyzes who could enter and exit the United States and Nazi Germany. At the beginning of this chapter, Whitman compares the Nuremberg laws—specifically those establishing who could and could not be a German citizen—to legal precedents in American immigration history. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the present day, and during earlier periods, America has been a “global leader in racist immigration law” (34). The Nazis also applied an American model of disenfranchising groups of its own citizens. For example, American racists intimidated African American voters to prevent them from influencing policy. The Nazis similarly cited Jewish “influence” as their reason for disenfranchising them in the 1930s (67).

Disagreements among Nazis on this issue did not question whether marrying a Jew was wrong. They disagreed instead on whether they needed to write the crime into law, or if education and “enlightenment” would suffice to prevent it (95). “Moderate” Nazis claimed that education would convince Aryans not to form relationships with Jews. Others argued that Jews were so delinquent that they might evade laws, echoing some Americans’ claims about people of color. Nazis especially admired implicit racism within the American legal system. Whitman explains that Nazis believed “The beauty of the American example was that it demonstrated, as American law so often does, that it was possible to manage a functioning legal system without the sorts of clear concepts German lawyers cherished” (107). Implicit racism continues in the United States today—long after more explicit decrees have faded into history.

Some Nazis believed that American racial codes were too harsh for Germany. Whitman writes, “The influence of American classification schemes was inevitably limited. The scholars who see parallels between American and Nazi racial classification schemes are to that extent wrong—but only because they understate the relative severity of American law” (128). He attributes this difference to clear color lines in the United States, while Nazis discriminated against a population that was mostly cultural or religious. Only the most radical Nazis sought to define Jews by only one Jewish grandparent, while one grandparent of color often condemned an American to a lifetime of discrimination (129). In November 1935, the First Regulation Issued Pursuant to the Reich Citizenship Law declared that having two Jewish grandparents qualified “counting” as a Jew. Intermarriage with Jews, however, constituted Jewish “inclinations,” thereby condemning a person with one Jewish grandparent who married a Jew to suffer Nazi atrocities (130).

One comment

  1. Thanks for taking the time and the intellectual discipline to lay out this scenario.

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