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Q&A with Edwin Black

Before speaking at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life Tuesday night, author Edwin Black sat down with The Chronicle’s Caroline Fairchild to discuss his book, “War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race.” Black shared with us how his book relates to compensation for state-sponsored sterilization—an issue currently being discussed by the North Carolina legislature—and how state-sponsored eugenics relates to World War II and Adolf Hitler’s campaign against the Jewish population.

The Chronicle: State-sponsored eugenics and compensation for state-sponsored sterilization is now before the North Carolina legislature. Can you tell me what your book contributes to this discussion?

Edwin Black: My book shows how the local atrocities in North Carolina were organically linked to Hitler, the war against the Jews and the Holocaust. It was genocide when it started—they knew [sterilization] was genocide, and it continued even after World War II. Duke is deeply implicated and vectored into this process. Ironically, the sad story of what happened in North Carolina echoes into the ovens of Auschwitz. My book documents this through a series of dismal nightmares. North Carolina was the last to stop this process, and I believe it will be the first to offer compensation. Its place in history will be transmogrified in history as one of darkness to that of light.

TC: As the debate stands right now, what do you think North Carolina legislature should do to address the issue?

EB: The state of North Carolina can attempt to make a down payment on compensation. There were 8,000 victims in total, but they will never be able to compensate the real victims because I am speaking for the never born. They are not with us. You will not find them. We must make compensation to show the gravity of the crime.... We want them to move forward with the legislation, but they are asking, ‘Why are we finding out about this now?’ It’s because the institutions responsible for exposing the crime were all responsible for perpetrating the crime. This was not a crusade of men in white sheets burning crosses—this was a crusade of women and men in white lab coats in three-piece suits in broad daylight working not in dead light but in the bright light of legislative session.

TC: The movie trailer for your book says that advocates of eugenics and sterilization consider themselves liberals, progressives and utopians who envision a world with one master race. What would the world be like if this was achieved?

EB: No one would exist but people who resembled themselves. We would have arrived in utopia.... Utopia means nowhere in Greek. The Greek philosophers who originated the term knew it could never be achieved. There is no way that the men and women of eugenics could’ve achieved their goal of creating a master race in a master society by eliminating 90 percent of the war. Then who would drive them where they had to be driven? Who would give the great ideas? Where would that come from? The question of what the world would be is as fictitious as trying to get there. This is what the blind and fake science shows and history shows. Hitler could not make it happen.

TC: One of the tag-lines of “War Against the Weak” is: “It began on Long Island and ended at Aushwitz...and yet it never really stopped.” What do you mean by that statement?

EB: It never stopped because [of] all the organizations that sponsored eugenics. Various university departments—mainly after World War II—changed the name from eugenics to genetics, except in North Carolina where they continued to sterilize individuals into the 1970s. And it was not just sterilization—they had concentration camps, they had marriage voiding and marriage prohibition.

TC: What would you like Duke undergraduate students to get out of your discussion?

EB: I hope that they understand that Hitler’s war against the Jews was actually a part of a larger war against all of humanity. The austerities that affected the local people in North Carolina were connected to the Holocaust, not only in theory but in contemporaneous observation.

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