Adolf Hitler became a household name in the 1930s and has stayed at that level of notoriety throughout the twentieth century, spilling into the twenty-first. The atrocities conducted under his name are such that even imagining them sends shivers down most people’s spines. As it should. He was a cold, ruthless murderer who genuinely believed that his cleansing of the world of Jews, gays, ‘genetically defective’ and basically anyone he didn’t like would make Germany and the rest of Earth a brilliant place to live.I’m sure someone will crop up and say but can you fault him? He was only trying to make the world a better place. And sure on one level getting rid of entire communities does indeed ensure that the remaining are the same. And of course a heavy propaganda led scheme, where any hints of betrayal was brutally crushed, the likelihood of any one ordinary citizen rebelling was next to nothing. So yes, great if Hitler allowed you to live in his crazy-delusional world but not so great if you were anything but an Aryan.However, I’m going to discuss why Hitler was actually a bigger fool than we already knew to believe.
The idea of creating a perfect genetic pool was part of Hitler’s movement towards a greater Reich by systematically removing anyone who threatened his idea of perfection. He wanted to improve the gene pool so he got rid of: Jewish people, physically disabled people, mentally disabled, the homosexuals and of course anyone who opposed him in this , which, included a magnitude of other races, nationalities and ideologies. The problem with systematically removing massive parts of a diverse population is that you reduce the genetic pool to such an extent that inbreeding begins.
Inbreeding of genes is when genetic material is so similar that both copies of your genes (your alleles) are the same. This significantly increases the chances of a population becoming extinct. Why? Because you have more susceptibility to the same diseases and less variation amongst you to resist it. Take the common cold for example. Viruses attack the immune system. How good we are at fighting certain infections or developing certain conditions such as cancer of autoimmune problems comes largely down to our genetic interaction with the outside world. The closer we are genetically to someone, the more likely we are to have the same predisposition. This is why you are more likely to catch a cold from your mother than you are a third cousin twice removed.
Hitler was trying to remove ‘defective’ genes. But actually in the long run you would end up with a very narrow selection of genes, making the population very similar in genetics. Evolution is literally the whole point of not getting rid of genes. The bigger variation in genetics you have the greater the chances of the human race surviving. Furthermore, the most genetically diverse population are those of African descent – the Blacks. In contrast Caucasians- the white people have the least genetic variation. This is still not completely understood but it is probably to do with the fact that the origin of human kind was in the African continent and it remain genetically the most diverse region.
Getting rid of genetically disabled individuals is just purely illogical. Yes genetics predispose you to certain traits, diseases and conditions. But there is a large amount we don’t understand even today about why certain people develop certain conditions. Especially when it comes to mental health. Why are some people more susceptible to depression? Why are autistic individuals good at academia? Why, if so devastating, has cystic fibrosis still survived? The answer if simply put is that every single surviving gene has some sort of evolutionary advantage and to get rid of that gene permanently from the genetic pool is not only horrifying but also highly ignorant. This is even before we consider the fact that genes only determine a risk factor. A lot of disabilities have a large interaction with the environment. Take depression for example. There have been studies done that prove that certain individuals have a predisposition to depression. But the translation from risk factor to disorder is through a variety of environmental triggers. How their childhood was, what their socio-economic status is, their life experiences. These make a difference.
Finally, Hitler and his soldiers did not understand one fundamental thing. Sporadic mutations. These mutations happen in someone’s lifetime. They aren’t passed down in families and anyone can develop these. So by cleansing the world from disabled people he probably wasn’t prepared for the fact that anyone can develop a sporadic mutation. This is precisely how 1/3 of the world is likely to develop cancer at some point in their life.
Medical experiments on Nazi prisoners was another shameful hallmark of that period of history. The Nazis were interested in preventing hypothermia, treating sexually transmitted disease and many other scientific concepts of the human body. But I wonder if they actually learned anything. From any accounts I have read it seemed that the Nazis in their mindless and bling hatred to anything non-aryan were more focussed on torturing than in any scientific development. Luckily in our world now before you even talk to someone for research you need to go through an ethics board and justify your need for human test subjects. But ethics didn’t exist in Nazi Germany and instead of making any real progression in understanding the human body they used medical experiments as a guise for further humiliation and destruction of the human body. Kind of fits with what we already know about the Nazi attitude to illness and disability. After all if your end solution to any non-curable illness is extermination then where are the opportunities for advancement of medical research? The Nazis almost took a ‘out of sight out of mind’ approach.
Jews and obviously other communities contributed a whole lot to current scientific, political, social and cultural development. One shining example is Albert Einstein. A German Jew without whom our understanding of our world would be incomplete. A world without Einstein sounds ridiculous. Imagine a world without Mexican food, Black Jazz music, Paris fashion and the beauty of diversity.
Nazis and what they represented was a shameful blot on history of mankind. I visited the Dachau concentration camp just before Christmas. The pain, tragedy and loss is palpable still, many years on. On one of the memorial plaques at the camp site it says: ‘never again’. Our current world is by no means perfect. We still have wars. People still hate people for their religion, race, gender, sexual orientation and everything in between. But we all have something in common. We have seen the consequences of letting something like Hitler’s Reich try and conquer the world. And the consequences are not something that this world is ready to take on. I used Hitler as an example but the real message is that every day we are given the opportunity of making choices. And every day we must consider what ripple effects will our choices make. The choices of ‘never again’ seeing something like a Dachau is very much down to us even on an individual level.
Wishing you all a peaceful holiday season and beat wishes for 2017. May it be a lot less brutal to the world than 2016 has been.
P.S: Watch The Man In the High Castle. It’s an American TV show based on a 1963 novel depicting a dystopian world in which the Nazi and the Axis Powers won the war.