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2010-12-12 15:32:56   •   ID: 1083

“Adaption” of Prehistoric Research to the NS-Regime

Figure 1
These are several pages from  Julius Andrees book „Der Eiszeitliche Mensch in Deutschland und seine Kulturen“ published in1939. Julius Andree was a Professor for Paleolithic Archaeology in Halle during the Third Reich. Until now, this book is the most extensive compiliation of the older German paleolithic literature together with a complete description of all sites known until 1939. Andree was an enthusiastic National Socialist. In his book, a lot of "sites" with pseudoartifacts were used to “prove” the beginning of every higher culture  in central Germany (“Mitteldeutschland”)  some 250000 years ago. 

Figure 2
His claims were heavily attacked by other Archaeologists, that were also members of NS-organisations, especially Alfred Rust (This archaeologist was founded by Himmlers "Ahnenerbe").  Being a National Socialist did not automatically mean, that one adhered to the pseudoscience of some over-entousiastic party members ("Schwarmgeister") like Andree.

Nationalistic, antidemocratic and racist concepts became immensely popular in German prehistorians in the post-WW1 years. Concepts of prehistory, derived from these ideas were widely compatible with the Nazi-ideology.  It is therefore no surprise, that no single academic discipline in Germany had a higher level of mobilization for the National socialist Party than the prehistorians.

Pape reports, that at least 512 of  594 prehistorians during the years 1933-1945 in Germany were members of the party. One of the most influential figures in the process of ideologization of German Prehistory before 1930 was Gustaf Kossinna [1858-1931], a linguist and a professor of prehistory in Berlin, who tried to define archaeological cultures by specific artifact types ("Sharply defined archaeological cultural areas correspond unquestionably with the areas of particular people or tribes").

According to him the superior Aryan race could be equated with the ancient Germans, an expansive and powerful culture, which spread through heroic migrations from the Nordic Countries into the South and East. Regions, where artifacts had been found that he considered being "Germanic", were part of ancient Germanic territory. Using these arguments Kossinna was an early mastermind and pioneer of national socialistic (NS) expansionistic and repressive policy. In the 1920ies Prehistoric research in Germany was not a reputable and well-funded academic subject.

The first dedicated chair in Prehistory was established in 1928 at Marburg, followed by chairs in Berlin, Königsberg, Breslau and Tübingen. After 1933, the year of Hitler’s accession to power, the situation changed and the Nazi-party did much for funding prehistoric excavations and institutionalize prehistoric archaeology at universities and on an administrative level. The number of university chairs was raised to 25 until 1942 and the number of institutes of the state archaeological service (“Landesämter für Vorgeschichte”) to fourteen.

At the end of the Nazi-era, prehistory was firmly established as an independent discipline. Academic archaeological research during the Third Reich became divided into two rival groups, “Amt Rosenberg” and Himmlers “SS-Ahnenerbe”. Although the coexistence of two organisations, who both claimed to be the authentic curators of German prehistory, prevented a complete “Gleichschaltung” of the discipline, archaeologists could not make their career without being connected with at least one of these organisations.

Within these institutions, Kater distinguished three levels of science: (1) pseudo-science; (2) ideological `Zweckwissenschaft' (science with ideological purposes); and (3) relatively independent research. There were indeed several high ranked scientific excavations of Palaeolithic sites during the Third Reich: Weinberghöhlen in Mauern (Bohmers), Ilsenhöhle in Ranis (Hülle) and the Lone-Valley Project (Wetzel) that did not show ideological impact on a superficial level.

Anyhow, it has to remembered that the leaf-point cultures at Ranis and at Mauern were ideological abused by their excavators to localize the beginnings of Upper Palaeolithic in central Germany (where else?). Prehistorians “adapted” very quickly to the political changes after 1933. The spectrum of behaviour patterns of the protagonists that remained in Germany and were not retired or expelled by the National socialists (Kühn, Obermeier, Bersu, Weidenreich, von Merhart), ranged from pure opportunism to total identification with the Nazi ideology.

Even Nazi-adherents like K.H. Jacob-Friesen (see attached external file)sometimes heavily opposed pseudoscience that was performed under the auspices of Rosenberg or Himmler. This attitude should not be confused with political opposition.

The conquest of large parts of Europe by the Nazis facilitated the excavations, unavailable for German Prehistory before WW2. For example Zotz was active in Moravany / Slovakia, Bohmers and Schwabedissen worked in Dolni Vestonice and Predmost. These activities should not be taken as an evidence of international cooperation.

Even for “moderate” German scientists (Zotz) it was self-evident, that science in the occupied countries could only flourish under a strong German leadership and within the given ideological frame.

Members of the “Amt Rosenberg” under the direction of H. Reinerth and the SS-Ahnenerbe with the “Sonderkommando Jankuhn”, met again in the occupied east Europe in the competition for excavation sites and looting the cultural goods of the occupied countries.

Overall the “Amt Rosenberg” was more effective in looting operations that the “Ahnenerbe”. There are no indications that the majority of the German Prehistoric Archaeologists resisted the NS indoctrination and Gleichschaltung (bringing into line).

In contrast there is much evidence that the NS ideology perfectly matched with their "Weltanschauung".

Most of them made a second sucessful career in post war Germany, even if they had been members of the SS and officers of a concentration camp for “political criminals” (Rieck) or  served as the head of prehistory at the “Ahnenerbe” organisation, which was involved in several highly criminal activities (Jankuhn).

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