Writer and historian Theodore Lothrop Stoddard was one of the most infamous American advocates of eugenics—the belief that society could be improved through selective breeding. An outspoken white supremacist, Stoddard believed that Western civilization was in danger from a “rising tide of colored” races.1 In his writings, Stoddard warned that a growing threat from “undermen” and the “unwashed masses” would lead to the destruction of the existing social order through revolution.2
Because of his well known and widely published views on race, Stoddard testified to Congress on immigration issues in the 1920s and 1930s. He supported restricting immigration to the United States, and he particularly opposed the admission of groups he considered to be “undesirable” or racially inferior. On one occasion, Stoddard referred to refugees from the Middle East who were fleeing violence as “parasitical” and “mongrel” people who would be “very undesirable immigrants.”3 He also supported laws that would exclude Asians from entering the United States.4
In 1929, Stoddard—who was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan5—had a public debate with W. E. B. Du Bois, one of America’s leading Black intellectuals and advocates for equality. Facing off in a large hall in Chicago, the two addressed the question, “Shall the Negro Be Encouraged to Seek Cultural Equality?"6 Over the course of the debate, Stoddard stated his opposition to “race mixing” and attempted to defend racial segregation in the United States. The audience laughed at Stoddard, who declined to have further debates with Du Bois.
Stoddard’s views on race and eugenics were well known in Europe and some of his works were translated. German race scientists and Nazi Party officials praised his work on race, eugenics, and immigration policy.7 Shortly after World War II began in 1939, Stoddard traveled to Europe to tour and write about Nazi Germany. During his months-long stay, Nazi officials welcomed him and gave him access to the country’s leaders—including Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler—as well as prominent Nazi “race scientists.” Upon his return to the United States, Stoddard published a book describing his trip, titled Into the Darkness: Nazi Germany Today.
In the chapter featured here—“In a Eugenics Court”—Stoddard describes the “amazing mixture of idealism and propaganda” embraced by Nazi policymakers in their campaign to reorganize German society according to Nazi ideas about race, eugenics, and national unity. He also includes a detailed description of how German courts assessed whether individuals would be subject to sterilization under Germany’s so-called “Law for Prevention of Hereditary Diseases.” Although American newspapers had reported on forced sterilizations in Germany since the law took effect in July 1933,8 Stoddard’s book presented readers with a rare look at Nazi racial policies at work in daily life—as seen through the approving eyes of an influential American eugenicist and white supremacist.9