‘NPR’s Robert Siegel discusses Adam Cohen’s new book telling the story of the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, the ruling permitted the state of Virginia to sterilize an ‘imbecile’ – – a scientific term of the day.’
How many people, ultimately, in the U.S. do we think were sterilized under cover of such laws?
Well, we think about 70,000, which is an extraordinary number. But then, an untold number of other people were just taken away, as Carrie Buck and her mother had been, and kept in colonies so that they couldn’t reproduce. And that’s another kind of punishment that eugenics inflicted on a large number of Americans. You know, there’s one other group that, you know, was very terribly harmed, which is all the people who would’ve immigrated to America but for the 1924 immigration law that was enacted for eugenic reasons. And this intentionally shut off immigration of Jews, Italians and Asians, who were thought to be genetically less gifted, and prevented a lot of Jews from fleeing Nazi Germany. And as we know, some letters came to light some years ago in which Otto Frank wrote to the State Department trying to get visas for his family, including his daughter, Anne Frank. And they were turned down because of this 1924 law. So it’s interesting that when we tell the story of Anne Frank we think that, you know, she died in [Bergen-Belsen] because the Nazis thought that Jews were inferior. But to some extent, she also died in [Bergen-Belsen] because the American Congress thought that Jews and other people like that were inferior and closed the door to them.