Hitler’s Amer­i­can Mod­el: The Unit­ed States and the Mak­ing of Nazi Race Law

James Q. Whitman
  • Review
By – November 20, 2017

Hitler’s Amer­i­can Mod­el: The Unit­ed States and the Mak­ing of Nazi Race Law by James Q. Whit­man | Jew­ish Book Coun­cil

James Q. Whitman’s new his­to­ry, Hitler’s Amer­i­can Mod­el: The Unit­ed States and the Mak­ing of Nazi Race Law, inves­ti­gates the ori­gins of the Nazi Nurem­berg Laws of 1935. These laws essen­tial­ly deprived Jews of their cit­i­zen­ship, reduc­ing them to near­ly the same sta­tus held by African Amer­i­cans in the South pri­or to the Supreme Court’s pro­hi­bi­tion of seg­re­ga­tion in the 1950s.

This par­al­lel was no coin­ci­dence. Whit­man, the Ford Foun­da­tion Pro­fes­sor of Com­par­a­tive and For­eign Law at Yale Law School, argues that although Nazi Ger­many despised the Unit­ed States’ demo­c­ra­t­ic form of gov­ern­ment, they were extreme­ly inter­est­ed in Amer­i­can racial poli­cies such as the Jim Crow laws and the Nation­al Ori­gins Act of 1924, as well as the sec­ondary sta­tus of Native Amer­i­cans and U.S. pol­i­cy toward the Chi­nese and the Japan­ese at the turn of the last cen­tu­ry. In Mein Kampf, Hitler praised Amer­i­can racial poli­cies, and Nazi lawyers debat­ed whether they could be used as mod­els for what sub­se­quent­ly became the Nurem­berg Laws.

Whit­man writes that although the Nazis were crit­i­cal of the Unit­ed States for not forg­ing dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies for its own Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion, they were attract­ed by the excep­tion­al Amer­i­can prac­tice of harsh­ly crim­i­nal­iz­ing inter­ra­cial marriage.“Both Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship laws and mis­ce­gena­tion laws proved rel­e­vant to the two prin­ci­ple Nurem­berg Laws, the Cit­i­zen­ship Law and the Blood Law. Whit­man notes the irony of the Nazis find­ing cer­tain Amer­i­can dis­crim­i­na­to­ry prac­tices too bru­tal to imi­tate: The Nazis crit­i­cized the Amer­i­can one drop rule,” which defined who was an African Amer­i­can, as over­ly severe com­pared to the Nurem­berg law, which cre­at­ed the racial cat­e­go­ry of Mis­chling” to define who was con­sid­ered a Jew.

In this impor­tant and thought­ful book about the cir­cum­stances that led to the Nurem­berg Laws, Whit­man repu­di­ates the notion that Amer­i­can and Ger­man racial laws were uncon­nect­ed. Whit­man con­cludes, See­ing Amer­i­ca through Nazi eyes does tell us things…about the nature and dimen­sions of Amer­i­can racism.”

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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