How U.S. Race Laws Inspired Nazis

James Q. Whitman’s new book is called Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. It is understated and overdocumented, difficult to argue with. No doubt some will try.

In cartoonish U.S. historical understanding, the United States is, was, and ever shall be a force for good, whereas Nazism arose in a distant, isolated land that lacked any connection to other societies. In a cartoonish reversal of that understanding that would make a good strawman for critics of this book, U.S. policies have been identical to Nazism which simply copied them. Obviously this is not the case.

In reality, as we have long known, the U.S. genocide of Native Americans was a source of inspiration in Nazi discussions of expanding to their east, even referring to Ukrainian Jews as “Indians.” Camps for Native Americans helped inspire camps for Jews. Anti-Semites and eugenicists and racists in the U.S. helped inspire those in Germany, and vice versa. U.S. bankers invested in the Nazis. U.S. weapons dealers armed them. Nazis borrowed from U.S. propaganda techniques developed in World War I. Admirers in the U.S. of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy attempted at least one coup against President Franklin Roosevelt. The U.S. refused to admit significant numbers of Jewish refugees or to help evacuate them from Germany. The State Department turned down Anne Frank’s visa. The coast guard chased a ship of Jews away, sending them back to their fate. Et cetera. We have known all of this.

We have known how the U.S. treated African Americans, Japanese Americans, and others at the time of World War II, how it experimented on Guatemalans even during the trials of Nazis for human experimentation, and continued to allow human experimentation in the U.S. for many years. And so forth. The good versus evil cartoon was never real.

What Whitman’s book adds to the complex story is an understanding of U.S. influences on the drafting of Nazi race laws. No, there were no U.S. laws in the 1930s establishing mass murder by poison gas in concentration camps. But neither were the Nazis looking for such laws. Nazis lawyers were looking for models of functioning laws on race, laws that effectively defined race in some way despite the obvious scientific difficulties, laws that restricted immigration, citizenship rights, and inter-racial marriage. In the early 20th century the recognized world leader in such things was the United States.

Whitman quotes from the transcripts of Nazi meetings, internal documents, and published articles and books. There is no doubt of the role that U.S. (state, not just federal) legal models played in the development of the Nuremberg Laws. The 1930s was a time, we should recall, when Jews in Germany and primarily African Americans in the United States were lynched. It was also a time when U.S. immigration laws used national origin as a means of discrimination — something Adolf Hitler praised in Mein Kampf. It was a time of de facto second-class citizenship in the United States for blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, Japanese, and others. Thirty U.S. states had systems of laws banning interracial marriage of various sorts — something the Nazis could find nowhere else and studied in comprehensive detail, among other things for the examples of how the races were defined. The U.S. had also shown how to conquer territories of undesirables, such as in the Philippines or Puerto Rico, and incorporate them into an empire but not give first-class citizenship rights to the residents. Up until 1930 a U.S. woman could lose her citizenship if she married a non-citizen Asian man.

The most radical of the Nazis, not the moderates, in their deliberations were the advocates for the U.S. models. But even they believed some of the U.S. systems simply went too far. The “one-drop” rule for defining a colored person was considered too harsh, for example, as opposed to defining a Jew as someone with three or more Jewish grandparents (how those grandparents were defined as Jewish is another matter; it was the willingness to ignore logic and science in all such laws that was most of the attraction). The Nazis also defined as Jewish someone with only two Jewish grandparents who met other criteria. In this broadening the definition of a race to things like behavior and appearance, the U.S. laws were also a model.

One of many U.S. state laws that Nazis examined was this from Maryland:

“All marriages between a white person and a Negro, or between a white person and a person of Negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive, or between a white person and a member of the Malay race or between a Negro and a member of the Malay race, or between a person of Negro descent to the third generation, inclusive, and a member of the Malay race . . .  [skipping over many variations] . . . are forever prohibited . . . punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary for not less than eighteen months nor more than ten years.”

The Nazis of course examined and admired the Jim Crow laws of segregation as well but determined that such a regime would only work against an impoverished oppressed group. German Jews, they reasoned, were too rich and powerful to be segregated. Some of the Nazi lawyers in the 1930s, before Nazi policy had become mass murder, also found the extent of the U.S. segregation laws too extreme. But Nazis admired racist statements from contemporary U.S. pundits and authorities back at least to Thomas Jefferson. Some argued that because segregation was de facto established in the U.S. South despite a Constitution mandating equality, this proved that segregation was a powerful, natural, and inevitable force. In other words, U.S. practice allowed Nazis to more easily think of their own desired practices in the early years of their madness as normal.

In 1935, a week after Hitler had proclaimed the Nuremberg Laws, a group of Nazi lawyers sailed to New York to study U.S. law. There, they were protested by Jews but hosted by the New York City Bar Association.

U.S. laws on miscegenation lasted, of course, until the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling. Vicious and bigoted U.S. policies on immigration and refugees are alive and well today. Whitman examines the U.S. legal tradition, noting much that is to admire in it, but pointing to its political or democratic nature as something that the Nazis found preferable to the inflexibility of an independent judiciary. To this day, the U.S. elects prosecutors, imposes Nazi-like habitual offender (or three-strikes-you’re-out) sentences, uses the death penalty, employs jailhouse snitches’ testimony in exchange for release, locks up more people than anywhere else on earth, and does so in an extremely racist manner. To this day, racism is alive in U.S. politics. What right-wing dictators admire in Donald Trump’s nation is not all new and not all different from what fascists admired 80 or 90 years ago.

It’s worth repeating the obvious: the United States was not and is not Nazi Germany. And that is a very good thing. But what if a Wall Street coup had succeeded? What if the United States had been bombed flat and faced defeat from abroad while demonizing a domestic scapegoat? Who can really say it couldn’t have or still couldn’t happen here?

Whitman suggests that Germans do not write about foreign influence on Nazism so as not to appear to be shifting blame. For similar reasons many Germans refuse to oppose the slaughter of and mistreatment of Palestinians. We can fault such positions as going overboard. But why is it that U.S. writers rarely write about U.S. influence on Nazism? Why, for that matter, do we not learn about U.S. crimes in the way that Germans learn about German crimes? It seems to me that it is U.S. culture that has gone the furthest overboard into a sea of denial and self-idolatry.

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  • Dr Mindbender

    Excellent Material.

    I also remember testimony given by Herman Goring, during the Nuremberg trials where he repeatedly stated that “Jews were treated no different that Blacks in America.” His testimony holds weight because He had a Cyanide Capsule hidden to escape the Hangman`s noose. He had nothing to hide. He also stated, ” Typhus, TB and other Infectious Diseases where the reason for the Crematoriums,” and that the Jews were there to Work? I cannot say, because I was not there, however, his argument was convincing.

    • cettel

      “His argument was convincing”? Even though the evidence was undeniable that they were there to be killed and to help in the killing of others? Are you kidding, or are you actually stupid?

      • Dr Mindbender

        I am not one of you who believes everything your government shows you. I know you think government is god but you will eventually learn how wrong you were. There are many possibilities. MANY. Only the Clinically Ignorant believe everything they are told. There were lots of bodies lying around after the war, and it would have been real easy to point to a pile of bodies and say this is what happened. Your pitiful attempt to insult me only shows me that something is wrong with you. Congratulations!

        The argument of a person who was Judged before they were even Hung would be very interesting to someone with a brain, unlike the brainwashed masses, who believe everything they are told. Keep believing, soon you will be told that You are in Danger and Russia is the Enemy! You will believe and follow your masters into the Abyss.

        • Dr Mindbender

          And, I am so sorry that you cannot think or comprehend patterns, because the last line “above” is your future. You will all “believe” and this is easily understood by one who can follow patterns. Your government is a pathological liar and you believe in it; therefore, God will ignore your kind and hand you over to the enemy for your lesson.

          I do not confirm or deny, I was not there to witness. However, it is interesting that they hung, or attempted to hang, the accused so quickly. Goring Dominated the Court and this was because He had noting to hide. I am sure his Immense Ego would have prohibited him from lying. However, I would not base the case on his testimony alone. Nevertheless, I am not in a position to “confirm or deny” the holocaust, because I am Smart Enough, unlike the rest of you, believers, to know that I was not there and “anything” the allies would claim would need cross examined by an unbiased Judge. God.

          Seems, like I am the only true believe left. The rest of you seem to be believing in the US government. Oh, please tell me that this is not True?

      • FredJ11

        Wow All that shrillness and name calling. lol You really convinced me that the camp inmates “were there to be killed and help in the killing of others” smh

  • paradigmus

    “The U.S. refused to admit significant numbers of Jewish refugees or to help evacuate them from Germany.”

    I suggest reading “What Price Israel?” by Alfred Lilienthal on why Roosevelt’s and Morris Ernst’s attempts to increase the number of Jewish refugees from Europe into the US and UK. Ernst: “I was thrown out of parlors of friends of mine who very frankly said ‘Morris, this is treason. You are undermining the Zionist movement.’ ”

  • imbroglio

    “Why, for that matter, do we not learn about U.S. crimes in the way that Germans learn about German crimes?”
    Because US crimes are crimes of KM Banksters and Rothschild Zionists,who killed their own people,and have done it for the purpose – (illegal ) creation of Israel state. That disgusting crime has to be thoroughly hidden.–

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  • Stuff Statists Don’t Like

    Of course the U.S. is a neo-Nazi state. They don’t condemn Nazism.

    The U.S., Canada and Ukraine voted against the U.N. resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism.
    The text of the resolution proposes banning the whitewashing and glorification of the Nazi movement, neo-Nazism and former Waffen-SS members, erecting monuments to them and holding public rallies to commemorate them.

    • Zartan

      There is no such thing as glorification of Nazis, this is just another attempt, “Nazi Like,” to spread hate. How about Banning the UN? I mean, what has that worthless us-nazi institution done about all the illegal wars and crimes against humanity since WW-2? Absolute ZERO! What have the done for the Poor … Bomb Them?

      The UN is nothing but a total Freak Show, licking the boot of its Master, USA, the NEO- NAZI-RULER of the World.

      • Stuff Statists Don’t Like

        The subject is not about the U.N. You missed the point entirely.

        • Zartan

          You commented about a UN resolution to whitewash Nazis. Most of whom are in their 90`s, at least, if they are still even alive. Perhaps, you, and those like you need to reflect upon your own sins and taxpayer support of illegal wars and murder all over the globe. Passing the Blame to the Nazis to hide a Guilty Conscious … How Lame! Here are some words of wisdom for you: “People who live in Glass Houses should not throw Stones!”

          • Stuff Statists Don’t Like

            You still didn’t get it. It’s not about the UN, it’s about the double standards derived from the UN vote. Your taking the whole UN thing in a direction it was never meant to go in. You have trouble staying on topic and focused in a debate. ADD?

            See a doctor, there’s medication that can help.

          • Dr Mindbender

            No, kid, you need to learn how to write and express yourself clearly. You referenced a hateful piece of legislation. I will hit you where you live;However, hypocrite, because You have no right to criticize others when your nation has a list of war crimes equal to or greater than the Nazis. I say, Americans/UN, ( you all support your government) should be whitewashed for their support of illegal wars of aggression and crimes against humanity. The US has caused or been directly responsible for over 200 wars and conflicts since WW-2. Sorry, but USA is worse than Hitler! Millions have been Killed.

            You need to learn some new lines, because your lack of intellect obvious, as you cannot even form your own insults. “See your doctor” is old,lame and worn out, but worse, it does not even pertain to the subject matter! Most of you people ( indigent followers) fit an easy mold and you do not diverge from such what a pity for planet earth.

            You see, very simply, I am not a Hater, ( and that includes Nazis) unlike the rest of you idiots “who are NAZIS” and do not even know it. Sad for You. I know most humans are victims of circumstance, and limited intelligence, so I have mercy on them. You ( those in your species) on the other hand want to punch 95-year old Nazis without consequences, because you are cowards! If I catch you ( your kind) beating on “anyone” and I will hammer on YOU. Simple.

          • Dr Mindbender

            Your attempts to deflect have failed. Now, What about the US and its War Crimes? How many Million have YOU ( taxpayer) murdered? How many Atom Bombs? How many Indians?

            Again, “People who live in Glass houses should not throw stones.”

  • madrino

    US/UK was the model for fascism by Mussolini. Corporatism won WWI, another contrived war. Presidents have practiced the noble lie since the beginning. For the ultimate in racial supremacy, look no further that Germany Must Perish (read it), by Kaufman. WZO is as racist as it gets, and owns the media.

  • Dr Mindbender

    Again, What about all the War Crimes committed by America?

    I am sick of hearing about war crimes of the Past: Nazis. This is deflection, and an attempt to keep peoples minds focused on the Past, while the present Crimes go Unnoticed. The UN is US owned Garbage and does nothing to prosecute US war crimes, which number more than Hitlers, by far, SO, they are akin to going to Goring to Complain about Hitler!

    America was always a nation of crime and it has a long history of such! You can go back to the Indians, but that is not even necessary, because, today, with the Prison Industrial Complex, well Hitler could only marvel at a population of concentration camp inmates who worship their masters!

    I get tired of “babies” wailing about NAZIS … The US government is full of them, but you are all too blind to see, because their propaganda has made you willing participants ( voluntary tax privilege) in their crimes against humanity. Picking on the Elderly, is horribly disgusting, and that is all I see from America, pick on the Weak, Poor, Elderly … those who cannot fight back … And, this is all relevant, because ALL these “anti-nazi” people want to do is have “government protection” to pick on the few remaining survivors of Nazi Germany.

    Cowards … ” look in the Mirror and Abuse Yourself!


    Excellent, factual, historical article. And do you realize what it means? Man made culture, man made religion, man made tradition…it’s all about racism, bigotry and fanaticism in the nationalist and populist agendas run by the wealthy and powerful. And the less educated and less diverse minds…eat it up. This is how man…can be so cruel and inhumane to mankind ‘different’ from their particular ‘beliefs’.