Destruction of "Unworthy Lives": Eugenics and Medical Discourse in Weimar and Third Reich Cinema


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This project tracks the eugenic discourse of the 1920s through the Nazi era, and analyzes the eugenic links within mainstream Weimar and Nazi films. This thesis argues that M (1931), La Habanera (1937), and Ich Klage An (I Accuse) (1941) depict the “invisible danger” of race and disease, thereby reflecting the eugenic concepts of the Weimar and Nazi periods. Through an analysis of the eugenic links within each film presented here, I demonstrate how exclusionary ideologies led to the destruction of “unworthy lives.” This thesis begins with a discussion of the historical context of eugenics, illuminating the historiography of eugenics, how it progressed, and how it connects to late Weimar and Nazi films. An exploration of Lang’s M provides an example of nature over nurture and how an identification of the “dangerous other” shapes a feeling of powerlessness in Weimar, Germany. An analysis of La Habanera as a cautionary tales reveals a disease narrative that connects to laws protecting the “purity” of German blood. An examination of Ich Klage An illuminates a film that paves the way for the T-4 program, and later, mass murder under the guise of war. This thesis builds on the extensive secondary literature which documents the exclusionary measures and unprecedented scale of mass murder under the authority of the Nazis (The Final Solution). The power of film in Germany’s Weimar and Nazi eras surpassed a melodramatic escape. This thesis highlights this underemphasized aspect in the historiography of the Hitler and the Nazi regime: eugenic discourse and the power of film as propaganda to further Nazi goals.