Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Tragedy of Nazi Eugenics

As part of the History of German Science course, myself and the rest of the class went to see an exhibit on the use of Eugenics during the first half of the 20th Century, namely in the Wiemar Republic of Germany and Nazi Germany. It involved encouraging the marriage of people with "desirable traits" so that their children would be genetically improved. Unfortunately, the consideration of what constituted a "desirable" trait was very subjective, and those who lacked these "desirable traits" were frowned upon at first, and later sterilized by force and even systematically killed off.

The tragedy of the Nazis' systematic killing of Jews, Soviets, Romani people, and many others during World War II is well-known, and certainly must never be forgotten, but another tragedy that is perhaps not as well-known is that some of the Nazis' first victims were children considered to be disabled or mentally ill, with disabled or mentally ill adults soon to meet the same fate.

This is what was truly terrifying to me, and what I feel I must stress in this blog post: the Nazis felt that they were achieving scientific progress by killing off these groups. They were able to use scientific progress as a pretext for perhaps the greatest widespread act of hate in history. It was incredibly jarring to me, as I tend to think of science as most frequently being conducted for the good of mankind, not its destruction, but from this, I understand that a mask of scientific betterment can veil destruction when in the wrong hands.

So that is what I mean to say. Science can be a tool of great good, but we must use scientific knowledge and discovery to benefit all people. Looking toward the future, we must understand this, and ensure that scientific ideas like those in Nazi Germany are never accepted again. In science, as in all fields, we must understand this history to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. We must be careful to use science for good, because when we do, it is then that mankind will truly be better off.

-Christopher Hoef

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