April 19 is Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In order to honor the day and to remember the dead, it is proper to reflect upon how the genocide against the six million Jews of Europe happened and why. The answers to this question are obviously complex and varied but the question must nevertheless be asked continuously and not a stone must be left unturned in the quest for understanding. Only in this way can we insure that it never happens again.
The influence of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution on the Nazi movement and the Nazi way of thinking must be considered as part of the mix of ideas that made up the Nazi core. Darwin’s theory, in its essence, is a theory of breeding, what Darwin called “natural selection.” The word “species” is Latin for race and Darwin used the words species and race interchangeably in his writings. Darwin’s work was infused with the idea of impending doom for the human “species” unless the evolutionary process was advanced. Darwin wrote of the survival of the fittest and he viewed this as a natural process in which the superior, or the more evolved members of the human species would advance while the so-called inferior members would naturally die off or be annihilated. Darwin was heavily influenced by the scarcity theories of Thomas Malthus, the world’s first advocate of population control as a means to save mankind.
The belief in biological evolution formed the core of Nazi thinking. They believed that the Aryan race, a mythic conception that they derived partially from the theosophy of Madame Helena Petrova Blavatsky, was a more evolved species or, to use the vernacular, a superior race. They believed that if the Aryan were properly bred, and if the blood of inferior races were bred out of the potential Aryan population, than a new and more evolved species would emerge, what they called the Ubermench, or the Superman. The Ubermench, bred from the blood of German Nordic stock, would be blond, with blue eyes, would possess a perfect physique, would live up to two centuries, and would possess cosmic consciousness.
Like Darwin, and like many of his followers, the Nazis believed in the concept of scarcity and that time was running out to save mankind. They believed that the best way forward was to evolve a better species of human beings. They believed it was their moral duty to isolate and to cull the populations of lesser species as they defined the term. Ironically, they did not believe that the Jews were an inferior species but rather they considered the Jews to be a highly evolved species that posed as a lethal threat to the supremacy of the Aryan species. Thus, they reasoned, in order for the Aryans to lead mankind toward the more evolved and perfected stage of biological human development, the Ubermenchen, the Jews had to be annihilated.
From a Darwinian perspective, the Nazi theory actually made sense. Unlike the Judeo-Christian concept, which holds that all men and women are created in the image of God, and are therefore created equal, the Nazis, deriving their idea from the scientific notions of the theory of evolution, believed that men and women were born un-equal and in different stages of the evolutionary cycle. Thus, to the Nazis, the German was more evolved than the non-German and was therefore more fit to survive.
Darwin captured the essence of the Nazi outlook in the following quote from his second book The Descent of Man:
At some future period not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time, the anthropomorphous apes…will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even then the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.