Ever wonder where Adolf Hitler got his inspiration for the Nuremberg Laws and his cult of racial hatred responsible for the mass murder of six million Jews?
Well, stop wondering: we’ve met the enemy of humanity, and it’s us — the good ole’ USA was one of his inspirations, specifically the 30 states that enacted and enforced Jim Crow laws against black Americans after Reconstruction. And, for added depravity, throw in the passage of the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 — Trump adviser Stephen Miller’s favorite law — which classified entire ethnic groups of people — Italians, Jews, Asians — as expendable. That law was created by KKK-backed Members of Congress, and signed into law by a Republican president, at the peak of the Klan’s power in the U.S., when they marched 50,000 strong in the streets of Washington, D.C.
Hitler couldn’t believe his good fortune when Nazi lawyers (Hitler’s own Bill Barr) presented him, after his election in 1933, with the documentary evidence that even a “great” democracy like the United States of America, believed in racial purity. We helped create the monster who dehumanized and then slaughtered 6 million Jews during a 12-year-long racial jihad, and was responsible for the death of more than 400,000 American soldiers during World War II.
A meticulously documented book by Yale Law School Comparative Law professor James Q. Whitman, “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law,” (Princeton University Press, 2017; Princeton, NJ) spells all of this out in horrifying detail.
Whitman’s astonishing and terrifying book carefully documents — through never before published material and verbatim transcripts — how the Nazis, as early as 1920, were inspired by the U.S.’s Jim Crow laws. The Nazis were so inspired by these American laws reflecting our “racial madness” that they based the Nuremberg Laws upon them — “laws” which resulted in systematic dehumanization and eventual annihilation of 6 million Jews. The Nazi’s model for “Systemic Racism”, was none other than state and federal laws of the United States, a nation founded upon racial inequality and segregation, which built hundreds of monuments to the defenders of that pernicious system.
I read “Hitler’s American Model” while traveling through Maryland, a border state that once had statutory penalties of up to 10 years in prison, if a white person married a black person. That was Maryland, not Mississippi.
Legal documents uncovered by Professor Whitman of debates among Nazi lawyers drafting early versions of the Nuremberg Laws, reveal that even the most radical Nazis thought that America’s anti-miscegenation laws “went too far.” Let that sink in for a moment: the Nazis, believed that Maryland went too far in it’s “race madness,” by criminalizing interracial marriage. Until, of course, the Nazis went much farther.
I finished Whitman’s book while staying in a hotel in Fredericksburg, Virginia, off of Jefferson Davis Highway, a major interstate named for the President of the Confederacy, a violent militia of White Supremacists, who committed armed treason against the government of the United States.
Fredericksburg is, as many local residents are proud to tell you, the area of several key battles in the Civil War, including the Battle of Fredericksburg, where Confederate Troops — fighting to preserve slavery and keep institutionalized racism — slaughtered thousands of Union Troops who left their families and gave up their lives to set people free.
The continuing “racial madness” of the Confederacy — including the fighting of a civil war that killed more than 600,000 Northerners and Southerners — served as one of the inspirations to the Nazis when they crafted the Nuremberg Laws. Look closely at the Confederate Flag; its bold color scheme featuring a shocking blood red, heavily influenced the Nazi’s Swastika symbol of racial hatred.
But the U.S. Civil War, and America’s racist Jim Crow laws, weren’t the only inspirations for the Nazis that were made in the USA.
Hitler wrote in “Mein Kampf” how thrilled he was by the United States willingness to commit genocide against Native Americans in order to achieve America’s “Manifest Destiny” and acquire new territory. The Nazis would later use America’s “gunning down of redskins” (Hitler’s own words), the racist slaughter and aerial bombing of hundreds of black Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood Neighborhood (“Black Wall Street) in 1921, and the blatantly racist Immigration Act of 1924 that discriminated against any but those from Nordic nations, as justification for murdering 6 million Jews and many others.
America prides itself on being a beacon of hope and democracy for people around the world. For Hitler and his Nazi followers, systemic racism in the United States, the institutional violence enshrined in Jim Crow laws, lynchings and the brutalization of black Americans — proudly symbolized by a Confederate swastika — served as an inspiration for genocide.
It’s a heritage of hate all Americans in 2020 must reject.
Steve Villano is a Napa-based blogger. He was a director of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo’s New York City press office, and is the author of “Tightrope: Balancing a Life Between Mario Cuomo and My Brother.” This is an abridged version of an essay first published on his blog on medium.com.