For in­spi­ra­tion, Adolf Hitler looked to Jim Crow.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY JEFF GUO Jeff Guo is a former eco­nomics re­porter for The Wash­ing­ton Post.

When Adolf Hitler seized con­trol of Ger­many in 1933, one of his pri­or­i­ties was to cre­ate a le­gal frame­work for his vi­sion of an anti-Semitic state. Thus be­gan a metic­u­lous Nazi re­search project on race­based law­mak­ing aimed at eras­ing the rights of Ger­many’s Jews.

One for­eign coun­try in par­tic­u­lar grabbed the Nazis’ in­ter­est be­cause of its ad­vanced and in­no­va­tive sys­tem of le­gal racism. The ob­ject of Nazi fas­ci­na­tion? Amer­ica. “In the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury the United States was not just a coun­try with racism,” writes Yale law pro­fes­sor James Whit­man in his book “Hitler’s Amer­i­can Model.” “It was the lead­ing racist ju­ris­dic­tion — so much so that even Nazi Ger­many looked to Amer­ica for in­spi­ra­tion.”

In his star­tling new his­tory, Whit­man traces the sub­stan­tial in­flu­ence of Amer­i­can race laws on the Third Re­ich. The book, in ef­fect, is a por­trait of the United States as­sem­bled from the ad­mir­ing notes of Nazi law­mak­ers, who rou­tinely ref­er­enced Amer­i­can poli­cies in the de­sign of their own racist regime.

As they drafted their own laws to ex­clude Ger­man Jews from pub­lic and civic life, Nazi lawyers care­fully stud­ied how the United States sup­pressed non­white im­mi­grants and con­signed mi­nori­ties to sec­ond-class cit­i­zen­ship. In pri­vate hear­ings, they dis­cussed how the U.S. model for white supremacy in the Jim Crow South could be trans­posed to Ger­many and in­flicted on Jews.

The Nazis were keenly in­flu­enced by Amer­ica’s laws for­bid­ding in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage. Dozens of states not only banned black-white unions but sub­jected vi­o­la­tors to lengthy jail sen­tences. The harsh crim­i­nal­iza­tion of mixe­drace marriages in Amer­ica set an ex­am­ple for the Nazis as they cre­ated their Law for the Pro­tec­tion of Ger­man Blood and Ger­man Hon­our, which for­bade Ger­man Jews from mar­ry­ing non-Jews, in­val­i­dated ex­ist­ing mixed marriages and sent of­fend­ers to prison la­bor camps.

Whit­man’s book con­trib­utes to a grow­ing recog­ni­tion of Amer­i­can in­flu­ences on Nazi thought. Other his­to­ri­ans have shown, for in­stance, that the vig­or­ous U.S. eu­gen­ics move­ment em­bold­ened the Nazis, who copied Amer­ica’s forced-ster­il­iza­tion pro­grams and took cover in the pseu­do­sci­en­tific the­o­ries of Amer­i­can eu­geni­cists.

Bi­og­ra­pher John Toland has noted that Hitler ad­mired the Amer­i­can con­quest of the West, par­tic­u­larly the dec­i­ma­tion of the Na­tive Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion. The Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps may have been based, in part, Toland ar­gued, on the Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tion sys­tem.

The Nazi atroc­i­ties held a dark mir­ror to some of Amer­ica’s most shame­ful im­pulses. On some level, Amer­i­cans un­der­stood this. Af­ter World War II, eu­gen­ics fell out of fa­vor, and the United States grad­u­ally rolled back some of its racist laws. Jim Crow was dis­man­tled, at least on pa­per, by the ef­forts of the civil rights move­ment in the 1960s. And the last anti-mis­ce­gena­tion laws were struck down in 1967. This was slow progress, but it prob­a­bly would have been slower if the Nazi regime hadn’t hor­ri­fied the world with its racial in­tol­er­ance.

HITLER’S AMER­I­CAN MODEL The United States and the Mak­ing of Nazi Race Law By James Q. Whit­man Prince­ton. 208 pp. $24.95

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