The Nazi Ancestral Proof

The Nazi Ancestral Proof

Genealogy, Racial Science, and the Final Solution
Eric Ehrenreich
Distribution: World
Publication date: 10/10/2007
Format: Hardback 9 b&w photos
ISBN: 978-0-253-34945-3
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How could Germans, inhabitants of the most scientifically advanced nation in the world in the early 20th century, have espoused the inherently unscientific racist doctrines put forward by the Nazi leadership? Eric Ehrenreich traces the widespread acceptance of Nazi policies requiring German individuals to prove their Aryan ancestry to the popularity of ideas about eugenics and racial science that were advanced in the late Imperial and Weimar periods by practitioners of genealogy and eugenics. After the enactment of Nazi racial laws in the 1930s, the Reich Genealogical Authority, employing professional genealogists, became the providers and arbiters of the ancestral proof. This is the first detailed study of the operation of the ancestral proof in the Third Reich and the link between Nazi racism and earlier German genealogical practices. The widespread acceptance of this racist ideology by ordinary Germans helped create the conditions for the Final Solution.

Author Bio

Eric Ehrenreich holds a law degree from the University of California, Davis, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin. He was Douglas and Carol Cohen Postdoctoral Fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Museum's Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. He currently practices law in Washington, D.C.


“This is the first detailed study of the operation of the ancestral proof in the Third Reich and the link between Nazi racism and earlier German genealogical practices. ”

“In this important study, Eric Ehrenreich demonstrates how genealogical studies and racist eugenics converged to help institutionalize racism in Nazi society.2008”

“. . . Washington-based lawyer Eric Ehrenreich has produced the most exhaustive study available on the way in which 19th- and early 20th-century German pseudo science and its Nazi successors carried out a war against non Aryans, particularly Jews.April 15, 2009”
 — Arnold Ages, National Jewish Post and Opinion (KY ed.)

“The ancestral proof ... formed the bedrock of the regime’s racial policies ... It is ... surprising that this issue has not received more scholarly attention, and Ehrenreich has made an interesting and valuable contribution by elucidating it.Vol. 42 2009”
 — Lars Fischer, University College London

“. . . each contribution builds either explicitly or implicitly on the shared working assumption that conventional distinctions between (religious) anti-Judaism and (racialist) antisemitism may conceal as much as they reveal. Traditional anti-Judaism, these scholars agree, both framed and exploited politically instrumentalized forms of cultural and racial antisemitism, reflecting a 'Christian failure to understand and acknowledge Judaism on its own terms' . . . .Vol. 23. 1 Spring 2009”
 — David J. Diephouse, Calvin College

“Peter Fritsche calls Ehrenreich's book 'an excellent contribution to our understanding of racism in the Third Reich' ... Richard Weikart, [on the other hand,] while praising Ehrenreich's explication of [the] Nazi 'ancestral proof,' ... rejects his argument that scientific racism ligitimated but did not lead to the Holocaust. That two reviewers can provide such markedly different assessments of the book suggests that something interesting is going on. And indeed, whether one agrees with Eherenreich or not, his book is worth reading.2009”
 — Dan Stone, Journal of Genocide Research

“Ehrenreich's book is an extremely well-argued, insightful exposition of the institutionalization of racism in everyday life during the Third Reich.2008”
 — Peter Fritzsche , H-German

“Ehrenreich tells a fascinating story, and his book is a model of patient research and meticulous archival investigation. . . . a major contribution to the intellectual and social history of Nazism.Vol. 114.4 October 2009 ”
 — DANIEL GASMAN, John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York

“[P]rovides interesting insights into the institutionalization of racism in Nazi society. 28.4 2010”
 — German History

“Ehrenreich's book carefully and clearly enumerates scientific racism's fallacies of logic. . . . [His book shows that] although racist eugenics was less logically coherent than hereditary health eugenics, greater numbers of ‘racially acceptable’ Germans appear to have been willing to accept racist eugenic doctrine in order to come to terms with their own failure to act in the face of their neighbors' suffering. In other words, Ehrenreich concludes. . . . racial antisemitism was an indicator of what people sincerely hoped to be true. I find this thesis both terrifying and plausible. . . . [The] book is an extremely well-argued, insightful exposition of the institutionalization of racism in everyday life during the Third Reich.”
 — H-German

“Thoroughly researched and vigorously argued, this study seeks to explain how the National Socialist regime institutionalized its racial ideology, why it met with virtually no opposition, and how this contributed to genocide. . . . An important book, accessible to general readers. . . . Highly recommended.November 2008”
 — R. S. Levy, University of Illinois at Chicago

“[A] fascinating study which will contribute to the general understanding of how a technologically advanced, sophisticated German people were capable of complying with many of the racial policies instituted by the National Socialist regime.”
 — Beth A. Griech-Polelle, author of Bishop von Galen: German Catholicism and National Socialism

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
1. Racial Science
2. The Origins of Racist Eugenics in Imperial Germany
3. The Spread of Racist Eugenics in Weimar
4. Making the Ancestral Proof in Nazi Germany
5. The Reich Genealogical Authority and Its Tasks
6. The Reich Genealogical Authority and the Ancestral Proof
7. Three Beneficiaries of the Ancestral Proof
8. Other Means of Generating Acceptance of Racism
9. Racial Scientific Ideology and the Holocaust