Professor James Q. Whitman, of Comparative and Foreign Law at Yale University, author of Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, in a Las Angeles Times Op-Ed, argues that Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were influenced by American law (e.g. Jim Crow Laws) and practice, lauded by Hitler in Mein Kampf.¹ To go along with laws prohibiting miscegenation, the “one drop” rule allowed for people “of predominantly white appearance” to be classified as blacks.
The Nazis wanted, so the argument goes, to relegate Jews to second-class citizen status to pressure them into leaving. Their later more drastic action against Jews, apparently, came as a decision also made much later. Apparently, according to Professor Whitman, even the Nazis found contemporary American laws and practice too drastic and inhumane.
The late Robert Wistrich, leading scholar of anti-Semitism said, in fact, that:³
The Nuremberg Race Laws of September 1935, for which Streicher* had insistently agitated, were Hitler’s interim compromise between the countervailing pressures confronting him and his will to execute, at least in part, the principles of his racial ideology.
Wistrich argued that Hitler was initially buying time, to allow for economic and military consolidation of the Reich, before unleashing the full fury of what was his original intent all along:³
Only then, with the dismissal of ‘moderates’ like Schacht, von Neurath, von Blomberg and von Fritsch, the upturn in the economy, the rise of the SS and the radical change in the international situation of the Third Reich, was the road clear for Hitler.
Indeed, Hitler’s speeches from the early 1920s included remarks like:³
the first thing to do is to rescue it [Aryan humanity] from the Jew who is running our country … We want to prevent our Germany from suffering, as Another did, the death upon the cross.
Hitler’s biographer, Allan Bullock, according to Wistrich, confirmed that anti-Semitism was Hitler’s driving motive, “the master idea which embraces the whole span of his thought.”³
It might then be mollifying Hitler’s original intent to say that he initially just wanted the Jews to leave Germany. Nonetheless, he was, apparently, enamoured with contemporary American racial law.
Of course the American system of racial laws was predominantly directed against blacks, although Hispanics, Filipinos, and other groups were also targeted. By contrast, the Nazi system targeted predominantly Jews, but also Roma gypsies, Bolsheviks, and homosexuals.
In a November article for Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World, Professor Daniel Dreisbach of the Department of Justice, Law and Society, School of Public Affairs, American University, Washington DC, wrote that “the political discourse of the founding, for one example, is replete with appeals to the Hebrew “republic” as a model for their own political experiment.”² Other examples, cited by Professor Dreisbach, also point to a heavy biblical influence in the creation of the American republic.
Is it fair then to characterise the then American racial laws with Nazi Nuremberg Race Laws?
The Nazis may well have taken a leaf out of the American racial playbook, but from there American and Nazi practices diverge; whether originally intended that way or not. The American founding fathers likely based their republic on the Israelite model of the Old Testament. The Nazis, on the other hand, based their racial hatred on anti-Semitism and, notionally at least, in abject opposition to the Bible.
- James Whitman, “When the Nazis wrote the Nuremberg laws, they looked to racist American statutes,” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), Feb. 22, 2017.
- Daniel L. Dreisbach, “How the Bible influenced the Founding Fathers,” Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World, November 23, 2016.
- Robert S. Wistrich. Hitler’s Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy, From and London, 1985: 69; 77-78.