Europa Europa

Hitler’s American Model, Social Construction of Identity

PS140O: Projecting Power

Prof Wasow



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Many themes

  • Structure
    • Political violence
    • Law and genocide
    • Institutions shaping identity
  • Behavior
    • Individual choices within structures
    • Perpetrators vs victims

“Performing Race”

  • Institutions create incentives for associating or disassociating with a group

  • Individuals respond to those incentives

    • sometimes by increasing attachment to group
    • sometimes by distancing from group

Institutions: Hitler’s American Model, Whitman (2017)

Did American Law Influence Nazis?

  • Some scholars insist that there was no direct American influence on Nazi race law

  • Others argue that America was the “classic example” of a country with racist legislation for the Nazis, but the idea of American influence on the Nuremberg Laws is “not just off-base, but plain wrong.”

Did American Law Influence Nazis?

  • The Nazis were interested in and admired a range of American practices, programs, and achievements in the early years of the regime.

  • The United States was regarded as the premier power in the world by interwar German racists.

If So, How? In What Context?

  • Nazi lawyers gathered in June 1934 to plan the Nuremberg Laws, which were anti-Jewish legislation.

  • The meeting involved detailed discussions of American race law, with Justice Minister Gürtner presenting a memo on American race law.

America Perceived as a Global Leader

  • The United States was regarded as the premier power in the world by interwar German racists.

  • The Nazis were impressed by the vigor of American industrial innovativeness and the vibrancy of Hollywood culture, though their taste for American culture was heavily qualified by their disgust for Jazz.

Nazis Praised FDR

  • The Nazis frequently praised Franklin Roosevelt and New Deal government in the early 1930s

  • FDR received distinctly favorable treatment in the Nazi press until at least 1936 or 1937, lauded as a man who had seized “dictatorial powers” and embarked upon “bold experiments” in the spirit of the Führer

  • The New Deal depended heavily on the political support of the segregationist South

  • Nazi observers were particularly hopeful that they could “reach out the hand of friendship” to the United States on the basis of a shared commitment to white supremacy.

Cross-national Eugenics Movements

  • The Nazis had influence from America’s eugenics movement, and Nazis looked to the United States as a “model” for the program of ruthless eugenics that prefigured the Holocaust.

  • American eugenicists did not advocate mass euthanasia and their direct links with Nazis frayed at the end of the 1930s.

  • Eugenics was an international movement that extended beyond the borders of both the United States and Nazi Germany.


  • Nazi expansion eastward was accompanied by invocations of the American conquest of the West, with its accompanying wars on Native Americans.

  • The United States ranked alongside the British in Nazi eyes as racial kindred and builders of a great empire, both having undertaken epic programs of conquest.


  • The Nazis’ overwhelming concern lay in citizenship and sex/reproduction.

  • The Nazis found precedent and authority in American law, especially in American race-based lawmaking and anti-miscegenation laws.

  • The United States was a beacon of anti-miscegenation law with 30 different state regimes that were carefully studied, cataloged, and debated by Nazi lawyers.


  • American immigration and naturalization law conditioned entry into the United States on race-based tables of “national origins.”

  • The United States also created forms of second-class citizenship for blacks, Filipinos, Chinese, and others.


  • The Nazis found examples and precedents in the American legal race order that they valued highly while simultaneously deploring and puzzling over the strength of the liberal counter-current in a country with so much openly and unapologetically sanctioned racism.

  • The American impact on the rest of the world is not limited to what makes Americans proudest about their country, and it has also included aspects of the American past that we might prefer to forget.

Eugenics at Berkeley

  • “higher education” has been a key site for the development of the structures through which eugenics is conducted: IQ and achievement testing, disciplinary policies, segregation, and ideas about who’s fit to, and who deserves to be, in a place like this. Facing Berkeley’s deep eugenic past is one way to start doing reparations for our university’s part in how science was used and misused in the name of “race betterment.”

Institutions & Behavior: Adida & Robinson (2023)

Experimental Evidence

  • The researchers conducted a lab experiment where they asked students to identify whether someone was an African immigrant or an African American.

Experimental Evidence

  • Researchers showed respondents a photo, a name, or a video of the person to identify.

  • In the photo condition, respondents correctly identified African immigrants from the Horn of Africa as African immigrants 75% of the time, compared to only 51% of the time for photos of other African immigrants.

    • This effect disappears in the video and name conditions.

Quantitative Data

  • Survey data from a convenience sample of Somalis (n = 520) with ethnic Somalis and Bantu people.

    • Researchers noted that some respondents are people enumerators knew (recruited through social networks) while others were not.
  • Asked respondents about the protective nature of African American ethnicity, desire to assimilate (via questions like: “Do you have a coethnic spouse?”), and other factors.


  • Topline result: Bantu, who are more likely to be mistaken as Black Americans, are more resistant to assimilation than ethnic Somalis, who are less likely to be mistaken as Black Americans

  • Ethnic Somalis were less likely to have a coethnic spouse, less likely to want to name their children coethnic names, and less likely to describe the African American identity as protective.

Resistance by Generation

Resistance by Over Time

Discussion: Can you think of other examples like what Adida & Robinson report?

Let’s hear from: Ian, Mar, Elyana, Wyatt


Europa Europa

Video Essay: Daniel Cabrera, Luca zislin, Tamara Segura, Olivia Ramos


Was Solomon Perel Unique?

Discussion: What’s noteworthy about the two Germans to whom Solomon reveals his Jewish identity?

Let’s hear from: Chris, Tristan, Michael, Jordan

Zone of Interest & Perpetrators vs Victims

Contrast with Act of Killing

“For me, this is not a film about the past,” Mr. Glazer told The Guardian. “It’s trying to be about now, and about us and our similarity to the perpetrators, not our similarity to the victims.”