The origins of Germania – Dream and nightmare

The origins of Germania – Dream and nightmare

by Rud Kjems, translated by Claus Larsen

As most people know, the Nazi ideology was imbued with the notion of a Great Germania, where was only room for people with pure German blood. Unfortunately, it didn’t merely stay a dream. Germany tried to make it come true, and threw herself into extensive conquests and a purposeful annihilation of “inferior” peoples at home as well in the conquored areas. This was the first step towards the realization of a Great Germania cleansed of unwanted blood.

It had happened at the cost of milllions of innocent human lives, but it was not done in a blood frenzy. With cool oversight, rationally and effectively, the extermination was systematized – mass murder became a well-oiled industry. The names of the victims were carefully recorded on long lists, the execution methods were refined, and the production increased. The thought of these incomprehensible sufferings inflicted on millions of innocents strikes one with horror, and it is almost unbearable to think that these innumerable beastly assaults happened because of cooly developed goals and programs.

It can seem incomprehensible that a majority of Germans bought into the Nazi dreams and largely accepted the monstrous attacks that followed. That it nevertheless happened must be ascribed to the extremely effective propaganda which incessantly bombarded the German people. The propaganda took off from the humiliating defeat in World War I, and presented the Germans as a chosen people, whose historic right legitimized attacks on adjacent countries and the extermination of certain peoples to secure the purity of the Germanic blood.

All tricks were applied: Science – or rather: Pseudo-science – was included as well. Many scientists threw away all scientific ethics and signed up to help the Nazi regime – some willingly, others more or less under pressure. Almost on command, the researchers laid forth the desired results without thinking of the consequences of their work. German hereditary researchers created the basis for a number of outrageous racial laws that cost the lives of millions of Jews, and historians and archaeologists constructed out of nothing a prehistorisk Great Germania, that made the common German accept Germany’s demand of a Lebensraum.

“Farm Family from Kahlenberg”, painted by Adolph Wissel.
A Nazi family in a country setting.

The Nazi dream of a Great Germania had roots in pseudo-scientific notions of a Teutonic empire in ancient times, and was fed by the Roman historian Tacitus’ description of the Teutons in his work “Germania” from 98 A.D. In it, Tacitus praised the Teuton barbarians for their undaunted struggle against the Roman occupation force. He described them as “noble savages” as a counter-image to the “moral corruption” that was predominant in his own contemporary decadent Rome.

The Nazis had exactly the same view of their own time. They rejected the more and more consuming decadent city life and sought to return to a more original way of life, where old virtues were honored again, and life could be lived in concordance with Nature and the earth which provided the daily bread. A world inhabited by decisive, strong men and honorable, fertile women. It should be noted that the Nazi elite were not by any standards able to accept these virtues themselves.

Germania became one of the founding pillars in the Nazi cultural heritage. Paragraphs were carefully selected and used in the propaganda, e.g.:

“Personally, I agree with those who believe that the population of Germania has not degenerated due to the mixing of strangers, but appears with pure racial descent with an individual distinctive mark without comparison to others. That is also why all of them, despite their great numbers, have the same appearance: Threatening blue eyes, redblond hair and strong bodies…” (1)

“When it comes to battle, it is disgraceful of the leader to be surpassed in bravery, disgraceful for the army not to be his equal in bravery. And life-long is the dishonor and infamy for he, who survives him by withdrawing from battle. To defend him and protect him and bestow him honor also for one’s own deed, that is the army’s most noble oath of allegiance. The leader fights to win, but the army fights for the leader.” (2)

“There are, despite the large population, remarkably few incidents of marital infidelity. The punishment befalls the husband, and is executed immediately. He cuts off the hair of his wife, disrobes her in the presence of relatives, banishes her from the home and drives her with a whip through the entire village. For there is no mercy for the abandonment of a woman’s virtue. Neither due to youth, beauty or wealth can she find herself another husband. Nobody smiles overbearingly where immorality is found…” (3)

Relief of the blonde warrior, ready for battle.
Nazi art by Arno Breker.

In the 1930’s, the Nazis discovered that the oldest surviving copy of Tacitus’ “Germania”, the so-called “Aesinas Codex”, was in the possession of an Italian Count. The Germans had to get hold of this treasure, and when Mussolini visited Berlin in 1936 to meet Hitler, the German dictator asked him to comply. Mussolini agreed, but changed his mind, when voices in Italy protested. The Italians would not tolerate that Mussolini gave away national treasures. In 1943, when Mussolini was no longer in power, SS-troops attacked the Count’s palace in a new attempt to acquire the old copy of “Germania”. The book was not found, however, so Germany had to make do with newer editions, that were sold in large quantities throughout the Nazi era.

A Constructed Piece of Prehistory
In reality, there had never been an original Germanic empire, but the Nazis simply invented one, helped by archaeologists and historians, who adjusted to the new times and rulers. The known Danish archaeologist Jørgen Jensen described this thorough forgery of history like this:

“Soon after Hitler’s takeover in 1933, archaeology and history research became part of the Nazi cultural politics. In Nazi mythology, the idea of the pure Germanic race and its superiority played a central role. It was through that idea that they wanted to justify the policy of expansion. By turning to ancient times, they created a forgery of history without precedent. It was founded on the perception of “the Germanic people’s common destiny”, and about a continuous development of particular Germanic virtues ever since the Bronze Age. The vast majority of German archaeologists agreed at the time, that it was the culture of the Bronze Age which could first be described as Germanic. It was during those years common knowledge that the culture originated as a combination of two older cultures, the Battle Axe culture and the Megalithic culture. At the end of the Stone Age, this “einheitliches Volkstum”, a common Germanic people, should have emerged. It was in reality the same idea that the Danish archaeologist and prehistorian, Johannes Brønsted described in his book “Danish Antiquity”. But in Germany, the idea of “original” was used to describe Germanic peoples in areas far away from the German borders. Hence, it was instrumental in creating a scientific basis for the German “Drang nach Osten”. (4)

Postcard, marking the Anschluß in 1938. The dream of a Great Germania was still living.

In the 1930’s, the Nazis established two archaeological institutions, both with the purpose of documenting the “Germanic race”‘s superiority and its historical right to the old Germanic areas. The activities of both institutions were focused primarily on North Germany and Scandinavia, since these areas were regarded as the old Germanic’s core countries, and both institutions were led by men belonging in the top of the Nazi hierarchy, which tells us that these institutions had very high priority.

One institution was called “Amt Rosenberg”, and was led by Alfred Rosenberg, who had an education as a journalist and for a while worked as an editor on the Nazi parti’s main newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter. Rosenberg was particularly infamous for his book “Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts”, from 1930. In the book, he sought to interpret world history from the Nazi racial theories. He became head of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories in 1941. After the end of the war, he was captured by the Allies, and sentenced to death and executed at the Nürnberg trials in 1946.

The name of the second institution was Ahnenerbe (Ancestors’ Heritage), which in time ousted Amt Rosenberg and completely too over the work of producing archaeological traces of the glorious past. At the head of Ahnenerbe was SS-Reichsfürer Heinrich Himmler, who was among Hitler’s most trusted people. Himmler joined the Nazi party early on, and became leader of SS in 1929. In 1934, he became head of Gestapo, the secret state police, and two years later Chief of Police. One of his responsibilities was the German concentration camps. His influence increased during the war, and became Commander of the Home Army after the assassination attempt on Hitler in 1944. Shortly after the collapse of the Third Reich, Himmler was captured by the British, but committed suicide shortly after, thereby avoiding prosecution.

Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946) wrote several of NSDAP’s racial-theorethical platforms and was described at the Nürnberg trials as “the originator of racial hatred”.

Himmler had taken initiative to create the Ahnenerbe, as part of the SS. Here, we have the explanation why it were SS-troops that took an Italian palace to find the old copy of Tacitus’ “Germania”. It still seems incredible that the SS, during an all-encompassing world war, would employ resources on such a task. But that was in complete concordance with Himmler’s personality and interests. He was completely absorbed by “the old Germans” and cultivated energetically this interest along with his extensive daily tasks. Even during the worst war years, he occupied himself continuously with the past. He was a strange, complex human with a sensitive mind, that seemed at odds with the maltreatments and exterminations, he without hesitation carried out with pedantic efficiency. He was on several occasions on the verge of breakdown, when he attended mass executions and expressed deep sympathy with those of his SS-subordinates who had to get involved with these killings. But the killings were necessary, he added, to raise the German nation and the German people again.
Himmler’s perceptions of the past fell in line with his perverted views on humanity. They were marked by wishful thinking, pseudo-scientific ideas and pure occultism. E.g., he worked to create an immortal knighthood comprised of the SS-elite from principles that could have come from the stories on King Arthur and his knights. Perhaps he got the inspiration from there, because on Himmler’s wish list of relics from the past was also the Holy Grail. Himmler’s all-devouring interest in the past was also exemplified by the widespread use of ancient symbols within the SS. Part of the soldiers’ education was the reading of runes!

Heinrich Himmler (1900-45) became leader of the SS in 1929 and was in reality leader of all of Germany’s political police force from 1934. He was mainly responsible for the terror of the Nazi Party.

It has been claimed that the world views of the top Nazi leaders was permeated by occult ideas, but that is probably somewhat exaggerated. It is known that Himmler’s fooleries were an embarrassment to many of the Nazi bigwigs, and there was probably quite a bit of laughs in the corners. At any rate, Hitler became very annoyed by Himmler’s archaeological activities. Albert Speer quotes Hitler for this statement:

“Why are we trying to bring to the attention of the world the fact that we have no past? Isn’t it enough that the Romans built massive buildings, while our forefathers still had to live in miserable huts? Himmler has now started digging up the remains of these miserable dwellings, and is enthralled by every pottery shard or any stone axe he finds. The only thing that comes out of that is, that it is now clear to everyone that we were still throwing stone axes and huddling around the fire at a time when the Greeks and the Romans had for a long til reached the highest cultural level. In reality, we should keep quiet about our past, but instead Himmler is creating a quite unneccesary fuss with his activities. The Romans of our days must be highly amused over Himmler’s discoveries!” (5)

In the following article (next issue), we will take a closer look at Externsteine, a dramatic rock formation in the mythical Teutoburgerwald. Himmler sought with all means to turn Externsteine into the old Germanics’ most important cult site, and during the Nazi era, thousands of Germans made pilgrimages to Teutoburgerwald to visit the old site. Today, many people still visit the place, and many still regard Externsteine a prehistoric holy place.

1) Lund, Allan A.: De etnografiske kilder til Nordens tidlige historie (1993), s. 240

2) Lund, Allan A.: De etnografiske kilder til Nordens tidlige historie (1993), s. 248

3) Lund, Allan A.: De etnografiske kilder til Nordens tidlige historie (1993), s. 254

4) Jørgen Jensen: Manden i kisten (1998), s. 159-61

5) Albert Speer: Inside the Third Reich (1970)