Nazi Deadly Medicine and Eugenics

Download a PDF of the Lesson Here

From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany carried out a campaign to ‘cleanse’ German society of individuals viewed as biological threats to the nation’s health. Enlisting the help of physicians and medically trained geneticists, psychiatrists, and anthropologists, the Nazis developed racial health policies that began with the mass sterilization of ‘genetically diseased’ persons. Of all of society’s institutions charged with protecting the well- being of its citizens, the failure of the German public health care providers to do so during World War II was nothing short of catastrophic. These two lessons explore how the doctors and nurses of the Nazi regime debased their duties as health care providers and as human beings, and they challenge teachers and students to remember what happened. (USHMM)

Grade Level: 9-12

Subject: English Language Arts, Social Studies

Duration: Two 90-minute class period(s);

NC Standards Addressed:


RI 9-10.4: CRAFT AND STRUCTURE: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone

SL 9-10.1:COLLABORATION AND COMMUNICATION: Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on texts and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Social Studies:

WH.H.8.1: Evaluate global wars in terms of how they challenged political and economic power structures and gave rise to new balances of power

WH.H.1.3: Use Historical Analysis and Interpretation to identify issues and problems in the past. Consider multiple perspectives of various peoples in the past.


Bio 3.1: Explain how traits are determined by the structure and function of DNA.

Bio 3.2: Understand how the environment, and/or the interaction of alleles, influences the expression of genetic traits.

Essential Questions:

  • What are the Holocaust’s roots in contemporary scientific and pseudo-scientific thought?
  • What is the American connection to Nazi deadly medicine and eugenics?
  • What does learning about the choices people made during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the Holocaust teach us about the power and impact of our choices today?

Learning Objectives:

After the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Students will define and analyze the socially constructed meaning of race, examining how that concept has been used to justify exclusion, inequality, and violence throughout history.
  • Students will examine how Nazis sought to create a racially pure “national community,” one that stripped Jews and others of their citizenship rights.
  • Students will be able to explain the range of Nazi methods of mass murder, including the establishment of Jewish ghettos, mobile killing units, concentration and death camps.

Previewing Vocabulary:

  1. Race: “A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on certain characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color) ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification…Racial categories subsume ethnic groups.” (Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook)
  2. Racism: “The systemic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). This subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.”(Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook)
  3. Eugenics: The term “eugenics” (from the Greek for “good birth or stock”) was coined in 1883 by the English naturalist Francis Galton. Its German counterpart, “racial hygiene,” (“Rassenhygiene”) was first employed by German economist Alfred Ploetz in 1895. At the core of the movement’s belief system was the principle that human heredity was fixed and immutable. (USHMM definition)
  4. Euthanasia: The Euthanasia Program was the systematic murder of institutionalized patients with disabilities in Germany. It predated the genocide of European Jewry (the Holocaust) by approximately two years. The program was one of many radical eugenic measures which aimed to restore the racial “integrity” of the German nation. It aimed to eliminate what eugenicists and their supporters considered “life unworthy of life”: those individuals who–they believed–because of severe psychiatric, neurological, or physical disabilities represented both a genetic and a financial burden on German society and the state. (USHMM definition)
  5. Sterilization: A procedure where the courts decided that anyone deemed unfit would undergo an operation, a ligation of the fallopian tubes for the women and a vasectomy for men. Often, the police were needed to get people to the operating room since they did not have any say in whether or not they would be sterilized.
  6. The Final Solution: “The term “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was a euphemism used by Nazi Germany’s leaders. It referred to the mass murder of Europe’s Jews. It brought an end to policies aimed at encouraging or forcing Jews to leave the German Reich and other parts of Europe. Those policies were replaced by systematic annihilation.” (USHMM definition)

Day 1 Materials:

(Links to Google Docs, Forms, and Slides will ask you to make a copy):

Pre-Lesson Readings for Teacher

Materials for Pre-Lesson: Day 1

Materials for Day 1

PDF: Growing Up With Racism

Day 1 Activities:

Student Activities for Pre-Lesson: Day 1:

  1. For homework on the day/night before students begin the lesson, have them fill out the Nazi Deadly Medicine Survey (#1 under materials), which asks them about their understanding of how the medical profession interacts within society.
  2. Students should also watch the USHMM video: Why the Jews: The History of European Antisemitism and be prepared to discuss in class.

Activities for Day 1

  1. Before beginning the Day 1 lesson, make copies of the PDF Race and Racism. Have students work independently on this sheet, then use Think Pair Share to discuss with one another before bringing it to a whole class discussion. During the whole class discussion, review the definitions for the two terms, emphasizing the nuances in the language of the words.
  2. Briefly review and discuss with students the survey they completed for homework and the USHMM video on the history of antisemitism they watched. Ask for connections to those two assignments and the ideas of race and racism.
  3. Hand out the pdf of the viewing guide that accompanies Race: The Power of an Illusion video from Facing History. Ask students to reflect and then to respond to the questions on the handout as they watch the clip from the video (7:55-13:10). As groups of students finish the handout, have them again discuss via Think Pair Share before leading students in a whole class discussion. Make sure students understand the ideas that race is not meaningful in a biological sense, and that the idea of race was created rather than discovered by scientists and has been used to justify existing divisions in society.
  4. Hand out the pdf of Lisa Delpit’s letter to her daughter Maya on Growing Up with Racism and have students read aloud. In a small group setting, have students focus on the following: a) What has been the impact of racism on Delpit? How has racism influenced the ways that people think and act toward her? b) How has racism affected how Delpit thinks about herself? According to her observations, how has racism affected how other African Americans think about themselves? c) How does racism affect how a society defines its universe of obligation? Bring the whole class back together to share small group reflections.
  5. Finally, it will be important to ask students to reflect on the impact of categorizing people. Ask students to write in a journal and respond to the following prompt: When is it harmful to point out the differences between people? When is it natural or necessary? Is it possible to divide people into groups without privileging one group over another? This activity could also be used as their assessment, or you could have them answer the Google form questions again as an exit ticket

E-Learning Adaptation:

  1. Watch all of Episode #1 of the video Race: The Power of an Illusion from Facing History (56 minutes).
  2. Watch all of Episodes #2 and #3 of the video Race: The Power of an Illusion

Day 1 Extensions:

  1. PDF of What Do We Do With A Difference?

The reading “What Do We Do with a Difference?” includes a poem that raises important questions about the ways we respond to differences. Other readings in the chapter trace the evolution of the concept of race during the Enlightenment and the emergence of “race science” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Day 2 Materials

  1. Google Slides: Exploring Nazi Deadly Medicine and Eugenics
  2. USHMM Animated Map: Nazi Death Camps: Interactive Map
  3. Google Form: Nazi Death Camps: Interactive map
  4. PDF: Handout for Google slides
  5. Padlet: Sign into Padlet or sign up for an account (

Day 2 Activities

Student Activities for Pre-Lesson (homework): Day 2

  1. Share the Nazi Death Camps: Interactive Map and ask students to reflect on the essential question(s), sharing what they else they learned from the map that helped explain the ideas of race discussed in Lesson 1.
  2. Ask students to brainstorm a question that they have about the Holocaust that either was not answered in the teaching about the definition or was generated while learning about the definition. After they write it down on the Google form, share the link to a Padlet (you can set up a free account and students can use their phones to post) and ask students to type in their question. You can either spend some time on Day 2 to answer the questions or find a way to answer them later, but you can point out patterns in the questions, similar questions, and perhaps choose to answer one or two if you have the time. Make sure to project the padlet so that the entire class can see it.

Activities for Day 2

  1. Introduce the topic of Nazi deadly medicine and eugenics and give directions for students to complete the independent study of the topic. Make sure that they all have a device such as a chromebook and give them access to the Google Slides presentation and the Student handout (either printed or digitally). Students will go through the handout, using the Google slides as their text to fill in the guided notes and clicking on the links throughout the handout to learn more information. Students will also need headphones to listen to the audio files. Depending on your class level, this activity may take more than one day.
  2. At the end of class, debrief with the students by having a whole class discussion. See suggestions in the Assessment section.

E-Learning Adaptation:

The independent survey for today’s assignment can be done easily in an E-learning environment by assigning the handout and Google slides presentation to them in your learning management system.

Day 2 Assessment:

  • Even if students do not finish the assignment in this class period, stop them with enough time left in the class (at least ten minutes) for a class discussion about what they have learned. You can have them either post their answer on a class padlet, in a Google form, or answer out loud. We suggest that you pose these three questions and have them choose to answer one or two of the three (or all three if you do a Google form).
    • What surprised you in your exploration of this topic?
    • What did you learn about this topic?
    • What questions do you now have?

Extension Activities for Day 2:

  • Reflection questions

i. In two to three sentences, explain the connection between the defeat of Germany in World War I, the fragility of the Weimar Republic, and the ideas of racial hygiene.

  • Readings

i.Attitudes Toward Life & Death (FH)…Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche

ii. Unworthy to Live (FH)

iii. Protesting Medical Killing (FH)

  • Videos/Audio

i. Obedience (FH): Doc Miller (11:37)

From 1939 to 1941, 70,000 Germans with mental or physical disabilities were murdered by the Nazis. The executions were part of a secret euthanasia program called T4 that was designed to weed out unwanted biological characteristics. The goal was to create a master race of perfect people. In 1941, upon learning of the euthanasia program, Clemens August Graf von Galen, bishop of Münster, spoke out.

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