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itler wanted to create the image of the German citizen during his reign as God. Superelevated humans are above all in all perspectives and for such a beyond human being, you also need an incredible history of how they came to be. Germany’s original history is quite controversial, especially during the first few centuries AD when they were barbarians going against the Roman Empire, well at least most of them.

Now, telling a brainwashed population that their supreme Aryan blood was once worn by a barbaric nation isn’t quite the bedtime story that indoctrinated Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) were waiting for. That is why the Third Reich burned most of the history books within the country and created their own ones, with a new history of Germany and the rest of the world.

The new meaning of history

The beginnings of the search for strong nationalist prehistory, centered on Arianism, date back to the end of the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles, when an attempt was made to create a continuity attesting to the high destiny of the German people as a method of counteracting degrading treaty provisions.

Cornelius Tacitus’ work was used by the Nazi regime during the twentieth century to strengthen nationalism and restore Roman glory to the new Germany. The idea of ​​using archeology as nationalist propaganda was very much fueled by the descriptions in the Germanic Tacitus, or rather by the interpretations on them, strongly ideologically connoted and selected so as to correspond to a certain image of the German people.

Bust of Roman Historian Cornelius Taicus (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Thus, the Latin author’s remarks on the Teutonic barbarians, praised for their relentless struggle against the Roman oppressors, to whom National Socialism attributes the Rousseauian image of the savage good, as opposed to that of moral corruption in Roman society, are especially valued. It is therefore retained only one of the possible functions of tacit discourse, following the purpose of extrapolating this difference of culture in the German social environment.

The Nazi party rejected the decadent and consumerist urban environment, whose poor quality was attributed to the harmful influences of the lower races such as the Jews and communist infiltrations. The counter-image finds it in a primary way of life, which honors the old virtues and privileges the relationship with nature. The new type of man, characterized by rigidity, austerity, combative spirit, discipline, found its legitimacy in the ideologically manipulated ancient portrait.

Germany became a work known to the most influential people in the Nazi Party. The text, a political ethnography of northeastern Gaul, a region outside Roman authority, deals with one of Rome’s most ferocious enemies, so its ethnography fits into Roman political discourse. It is unlikely that Tacitus was a direct observer, so his vision, based on the accounts of other witnesses, is a distancing from reality, a distancing that will become more pronounced over the centuries, depending on the degree of distortion of information in order to for certain propaganda purposes to brainwash the 20th-century Aryan race.

Germany becomes a pillar of the National Socialist cultural heritage. Paragraphs were carefully selected to support propaganda, especially those relating to social issues. For example, the propaganda states that “the population of Germany has not degenerated as a result of mixing with foreigners, but appears with pure racial descent with an unparalleled distinctive sign.

That is why, despite their large numbers, they all look the same: menacing blue eyes, reddish-blond hair, and strong bodies. When it comes to war, it is disgraceful for a leader to be overpowered and for the military not to be overpowered. either at his height. And a life of dishonor and infamy for the one who survives by fleeing the battle. To defend and protect and honor him by personal deed is the highest oath of allegiance. The leader fights to win, the army fights for the leader.

In the 1930s, the Nazis discovered that the oldest preserved German copy of Tacitus, the so-called Aesinas Codex, was in the possession of an Italian count. The Germans wanted the treasure, and when Mussolini visited Berlin in 1936 to meet Hitler, the German dictator asked for it. Mussolini initially agreed, but the negative reaction of the population made him change his mind. The Italians did not tolerate the thought of giving up national treasures. In 1943, when Mussolini was no longer in power, SS troops attacked the count’s palace in an attempt to recover the copy. The book was not found, so Germany had to settle for newer editions sold in large quantities during the Nazi era.

Bruno Beger, second left, and others at a meeting in Lhasa in Tibet in 1939 (Source: Getty Images)

One interesting aspect is the way Nazi leaders tried to sell the lie that the Aryan race was actually started in Tibet about 1500 years ago. The Third Reich went as far as sending Nazis to Tibet in 1939 to build relations and somehow convince them they are related, despite having no similarities in the biological features the two races presented.


Nazi archeology was based on several theories, organizations, and personalities, thus forming a fairly coherent framework for the purpose: to develop a fictional history of the Reich that would highlight the antiquity and impeccable values ​​of pure German ethnicity. Kulturkrei’s theory by Gustav Kossinna argued that the recognition of an ethnic region depends on the archaeological material excavated from the sites. The theory was a justification for the annexation of Poland and Czechoslovakia. The archaeologist argues at one point that Poland should be part of the Reich while any territory in which there are artifacts designated as Germanic is also Germanic, by virtue of the cultural circle and must be regained from invaders.

In 1935, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo and the SS, founded an elite Nazi research institute called the Ahnenerbe. Its name came from a rather obscure German word, Ahnenerbe (pronounced AH-nen-AIR-buh), meaning “something inherited from the forefathers.” The official mission of the Ahnenerbe was to unearth new evidence of the accomplishments and deeds of Germanic ancestors “using exact scientific methods.”

Elite Nazi Squad known as Ahnenerbe digging for new evidence of Germanic ancestors in 1935 (Source: Archaeology Archive)

Another recurring idea of ​​National Socialist ideology is that of cultural diffusion, postulating a process in which influences and patterns are transmitted from a larger culture to smaller cultures with which it comes into contact. Kossinna and Alfred Rosenberg present a history of Germany equivalent to that of the Roman Empire, suggesting that Germanic peoples have always been creative and not destructive of culture and that contemporary Germany is the heir to this creative force, the engine of all human civilization.

An adjacent theory, Weltanschauungwissenschaft (worldview science), equates culture with science, the two representing only two facets of the same reality, strongly marked by ethnicity. It is considered that cultural models such as legends, stories, sagas, not only should have been integrated into the official cultural line but also that the basic ideological principle would be reduced to promoting the self-sufficiency of the German people, who have a high degree of civilization. The swastika, Germanic legends or runic symbols of the SS, or the supposedly fairer conclusions of German scientists are elements that build this ideological discourse.

In addition, comes the die Deutsche Reinheit (German purity) with its origin in the belief that the Germans are pure Aryans who survived a natural catastrophe and in the long migration evolved into an extremely well-developed culture. It was even claimed that the Greeks and Romans were in fact also Germanic, claiming the discovery of so-called Indo-Germanic artifacts.

The insignia for the Ahnenerbe (Source: Archaeology Archive)

The point of view of Nazi history and archeology finds its organizational support in the Ahnenerbe society. The organization Ahnenerbe, specifically Deutsches Ahnenerbe — Studiengesellschaft für Geistesurgeschichte (German Descent — Society for the Study of Spiritual Prehistory), began its activity as a research center for “intellectual” prehistory and became affiliated with the SS in 1935. 1936 joins Hitler’s SS Reichsführer and is led by Nazi police chief Heinrich Himmler.

By 1937 it became the main propaganda tool of Nazi archeology, subsuming smaller organizations such as Reinerth’s archeological group and thickening its line of “researchers” such as Herman Wirth, who had claimed to prove that the cradle of European civilization was Europe. north. The organization included both professional archaeologists, but with extremist visions, such as Hans Reinerth or Oswald Meghin, as well as amateurs without specialization in the field and enthusiastic about the regime.

The main objectives of the organization referred to the study of the territory, the ideas and achievements of the Indo-Germanic peoples, the popularization of the research results and the encouragement of the participation of the population in the activities of the archeological group. Despite his scientific claims, Himmler was more passionate about the occult and mysticism and wanted to bring to the fore prehistory that would capitalize on the preeminence of the Germanic ancestors from the beginning of civilization. At Ahnenerbelucrau humanists from all fields, which considerably hindered a historical-archeological activity, but on the other hand amplified the possibilities to create national mythology that would support the regime.

Reconstruction of the results of the excavations at the Externsteine (rocks 1–4) in 1937 (Source: Archaeology Archive)

Pseudoarchaeology offers some of the most fanciful presentations honoring German heritage, such as Externsteine, a sandstone considered a key element in Germanic worship, or Sachsenhain, where the death of 4,500 Saxons at Widukind’s revolt becomes an opportunity to glorify sacrifice.

Extravagant activities of the group include a trip by Edmund Kiss to Bolivia in 1928, which concludes that the temples in the Andes are similar to alleged Nordic constructions dating back thousands, even millions of years, a 1938 study by Franz Altheim in the Middle East that wanted to prove that the internal struggles in the Roman Empire were between the Semitic and Aryan populations, an expedition in 1936 to the island of Rügen, Sweden to study rock art that they classified as proto-Germanic, an expedition to Tibet in 1938 to demonstrate superiority Aryan race and Vril theory based on Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s book: Vril. The Coming of a Race, published in 1871, deals with the science fiction theme of a very spiritually advanced underground antediluvian civilization that would have had the same origin as the Aryans.

A smaller organization was Amt Rosenberg. Rosenberg focused on the idea that history is a process centered on the eternal struggle between pure northern and Semitic peoples, between Germanic culture, and Jewish evil. He speculated about the Atlantean origins of the Germans, their biological and mental advancement that enabled them to apply extreme solutions to maintain purity. Pseudoarchaeology has worked hard to outline the legitimacy of the regime and a portrait of civilization meant to replace historical truth with a rich imaginary, an expression of the desire to base foreign policy on pseudo-scientific arguments. Propaganda through archeology and history was made all the easier as the lack of interest in pre-Ahnenerbea research led to a faster imposition of the ethnocentric vision among the poorly informed public.

Gustav Kossinna and the theory of historical cultures

Special mention should be made of Gustav Kossinna, the pioneer of Nazi archeology and an important forerunner of ethnicity in archeology. In works such as Die deutsche Vorgeschichte, eine hervorragend nationale Wissenschaft, Die Herkunft der Germanen. A book entitled Eine Einführung in die deutsche Vor- und Frühgeschicht, develops the cultural-historical method based on the correspondence between well-defined archaeological cultures and various ethnic groups. In his concept of the ideal Nordic race he saw the key to an unwritten history.

Gustaf Kossinna (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Germans would have decisively boosted the historical course — a well-made, tall, light-colored race with a strong character, outstanding physical and intellectual abilities, and an ideal attitude toward life and the world. The Germans of Tacitus, as imagined in the pseudoscience of totalitarianism, sought examples of cultural elevation through simplicity, bravery, perseverance, and discipline. Kossinna became post-mortem, not so much because of his academic merits as because of his political influence, conceptual views, and leading figure in popular National Socialist prehistory. His followers occupy leading positions in the discipline, once the ideological prescriptions are adopted, with which the popularization of the research subject is compatible. Wahle’s methodological critique took place only in 1941.

After losing the war, Kossinna was anathematized, along with his method, but unfortunately also for political and not scientific reasons. The reasons for the ideological manipulation of his theories, which are ultimately based on archaeological knowledge, used by other researchers, such as Gordon Childe, who introduced Kossinna’s theory to Britain in 1920. Archaeological cultures on a well-defined ethnic group (so the Germans have continuity in the territory since ancient times) are based on a retrospective method, which involves the transfer of conditions present in the past, in order to deduce situations from prehistory.

Working retrospectively from early historical times to the developments of prehistoric peoples, Kossinna imagined a continuity in cultural areas that exist only at the concept level. We find the same continuity of ethnicity in the attempt to create a connection between the Germans of Tacitus and the Germans of the Third Reich, to draw a chronology of a group, ordering the written and unwritten material. In this sense, Montelius’s typological method has a fundamental role, because it facilitates the establishment of temporal horizons for the chronological ordering of the material.

Kossinna’s next step was to use the cartographic method to differentiate those cultural provinces characterized by a particular homogeneity. Kossinna’s interpretation of these units has two aspects that are important to distinguish: on the one hand, they were seen as an expression of ethnic groups, and on the other hand, they were equated with the first tribes of which there is historical documentation. We have written documents about the Germans from Tacitus, which replaces the link between the ancient history of the Germans and their contemporary history.

But Kossinna goes back even further in time, amplifying the hypothetical character of identifying peoples. However, it was not his method that was criticized, but his conclusions about ethnicity. In his vision, the people are the same as the race, a vision that flowed into the ideology of the German super-race, animated by the nationalist enthusiasm of the time. In addition, given the rather precarious stage of research at the time, reconstructions and instrumentalizations of some sources could be made relatively easily.

Besides all this, the efforts were not in vain as the Aryan population believed it all. Although thinking about it the Aryan race would have believed absolutely anything that would come out of Hitler’s mouth. If a book was introduced within a German library, it had been deemed by the government as a reliable source of information.

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