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Heinrich Himmler's Cultural Commissions
Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia

How the Nazis co-opted folklore to serve their vision of the German Reich

German scholars were early pioneers in folklore and historical linguistics. As the Nazis rose to power, however, these disciplines were distorted into racist pseudoscience. Under the direction of Heinrich Himmler's SS-Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Inheritance), folklore became a tool for constructing a unified German realm and a manufactured lineage from ancient and "pure" Germanic and Nordic blood.

Drawing on extensive research in public and private archives and interviews with family members of fieldworkers, James R. Dow uncovers both details of the SS cultural commissions' work and the continuing vestiges of the materials they assembled. Teams of poorly qualified and ideologically motivated collectors were sent to South Tyrol in Italy and Gottschee in Slovenian Yugoslavia, from which ethnically German communities were to be resettled in the German Reich. Although a mass of information on narratives, songs and dances, beliefs, customs, local clothing and architecture, and folk speech was collected, the research was deeply tainted and skewed by racialist and nationalist preconditions. Dow sharply critiques the continued use of these ersatz archives.


Author. Photo credit, NameJames R. Dow is a professor emeritus of German at Iowa State University. He is the author of German Folklore: A Handbook and The Study of European Ethnology in Austria. He is the editor of numerous books, including The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend and The Nazification of an Academic Discipline.



“An immense body of data, an important service to readers and to the history of the field.”
Journal of Folklore Research

“Dow unshrouds folklore's manipulation by Nazi leaders, and thank goodness for that, even if it is uncomfortable to confront. He has unearthed, and deftly explained, an incredible storehouse of material from Himmler's cultural commissions, probably the largest organized field collecting project in history. The lessons he astutely draws are critical for understanding the Nazi era and are relevant to today's cultural politics. A great achievement.”
—Simon J. Bronner, author of Explaining Traditions

“Dow analyzes the motives of the protagonists of Himmler's Cultural Commissions, and his treatment of the ideological preconditions for the field investigations is compelling. A major contribution to our understanding of Nazism.”
—Konrad Köstlin, University of Vienna


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May 2018
LC: 2017046342 GR
280 pp. 6 x 9
28 b/w illus.

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Cloth $79.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-31650-1
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