Uekoetter's "Green and Brown" Condensed and Critiqued
By William Walter Kay
Culture wars like real wars have direct hits, collateral damage, and friendly fire. Professor Uekoetter’s The Green and the Brown: a History of Conservation in Nazi Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2006) is an example of friendly fire. The book was written to contain damage caused by growing awareness that Nazism is the forbearer of German environmentalism but it is yet another trove of facts affirming the Nazi-environmentalist connection. German conservationism, and its attendant tendencies and sentiments, was not a distinct social movement separable from German fascism. Parallel to the Gestapo’s nightmarish dragnet ran a green reign of terror of intrusive eco-activism. German conservationism survived World War II. What follows is a critical condensation of Green and Brown.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
History of a History
German Conservationism 1854-1933
Green-Brown's Golden Years 1933-1945
History of a History
According to Uekoetter, research on the Nazi-environmentalist connection dates to the 1970s but much of this was “a vicious effort to throw dirt on a worthy cause.” (1) Historians published compilations of quotes showing how Nazism permeated German conservationism. (2) Historians concluded German conservationism was on a direct course toward Nazism. Uekoetter assures us the new thinking amongst the “band of environmental historians working on the Nazi era,” of which he is a member, “is unanimous in its rejection of such a line of reasoning.” (3)
German environmentalists coped with the Nazi-environmental connection with a “tradition of forgetfulness.” (4) Amidst the German public: “interest in the Nazi past of conservation was almost nonexistent.” (5) This changed when the German Environment Minister summoned a conference on the topic in Berlin, 2002. Bielefeld U prof J. Radkau was invited and he brought along a doctoral student: Uekoetter. Radkau and Uekoetter published a book on the conference proceedings; then, to refine the environmentalist line, Uekoetter wrote Green and the Brown in 2006.
As an environmental historian, Uekoetter writes of nature protection “in a sympathetic mode” – bias unconcealed. (6) He is an environmentalist and a protector of the German environmental movement. He refers to the Nazis’ National Conservation Law as “excellent” and “one of the best laws of the time.” (7) Nazi animal rights efforts derived from “noble goals.” (8) He personally finds it: “disheartening to see that conservationists observed few taboos in the rapprochement to the Nazis.” (9) It was also “disheartening” for him to retell how green heroes looked to Himmler for support. (10) For Uekoetter the hydrological regulation of a river is the “destruction” of a river. (11) He has a phobia about “geometric design” in landscape. He dismisses a modern German hydrologist with: “it had not yet occurred to this official that thinking in terms of straight and curvaceous lines might be part of the problem.” The cancellation of a hydro-electric dam was a “happy conclusion.” (12)
Uekoetter was aware he was entering dangerous territory. Too much had been unearthed for German environmentalists to go on pretending Nazism was not part of their heritage or was an insignificant accident of history. (13)
Even before the Berlin conference:
“environmentalists, also realized that any discussion of the past would run an enormous risk of being overtly divisive. It is striking that references to the Nazi era were notably rare in the ongoing internal debates. Perhaps lack of knowledge was to blame: the notion of an ‘environmental revolution’ nourished a widespread impression that the environmental movement had no history worth talking about. However environmentalists may also have refrained from meddling with the past because raising the Nazi issue was the discursive equivalent of the ‘nuclear option’: arguing that somebody was standing in line with the Nazis is clearly the ultimate insult in German politics...” (14)
Uekoetter’s band of environmental historians was moved to action because “extreme right-wing parties have made some attempts in Germany to enter the political mainstream in recent years through claiming ecological credentials.” As well, the Nazi-environmentalist connection was: “important to everyone working on international conservation issues, for authoritarian regimes continue to be an unfortunate presence on the global scene. It would be wrong to refrain from conservation work in authoritarians states, but it would be equally wrong to behave like the conservation community during the Nazi era: to simply take advantage of the opportunities that authoritarian regimes offer...” (15)
The main aim of Green and Brown (which it utterly fails to achieve) is revealed thusly:
“There is no way – at least no logically consistent way – to tarnish environmentalism in general through a reference to the Nazi era: in fact such an argument constitutes an abuse of history. If you came upon this book hoping to be told that today’s environmentalists are actually Nazis in disguise, then I hope you paid for it before reaching this sentence.” (16)
Uekoetter hopes by having environmentalists plead guilty to the lesser offence of opportunism they can avoid conviction on the graver charge of fascism. His case is framed as follows:
“It made no sense to stand up against Nazi policies...you had to leap at opportunities. The German conservation movement acted on the basis of an exceedingly simple political philosophy: any legal provision, and any alliance with the Nazi regime, is fine as long as it helps our cause. Rarely does one get the impression, going through the records and books of the Nazi era, that there was something that the conservationists would not do to push their agenda...It is on this attitude that the rapprochement on the conservation movement to the Nazi regime was based, and it is this attitude that needs to be challenged retrospectively. (17)
Uekoetter is fond of quoting historian R. Dominick from whom we learn that of 18 top German conservationists in 1938, ten were Nazi Party members and one had been refused membership. (18) What Uekoetter neglects to relay is that Dominick concluded 60% of German conservation organization members were card-carrying Nazis. (19) Uekoetter places membership in the conservation movement inside the Third Reich at 5 million. Nazi Party membership was also in the low millions. During MOST of the Third Reich MOST active German conservationists were Nazi Party members and MOST Nazi Party members were active in conservationist organizations. We are not dealing with two camps of men. We are dealing a single fascist/conservationist camp. Uekoetter concedes this on several occasions:
“...most members of the conservation community touted nature protection as a quintessential goal of Hermann Goring and Adolf Hitler.” (20)
“The “green” and the “brown” were not two camps at a distance...but two groups that shared many convictions and came to work together to a stunning extent...” (21)
“All that it took to join the conservation community during the Nazi era was a willingness to cooperate with Nazi authorities – and of course, a readiness to be silent about any points of disagreement. As it turned out, the vast majority of the German conservationists were willing to pay the price.” (22)
Uekoetter is satisfied there was never a “seamless merger” between Nazism and German conservationism. The latter’s regionalism and elitism created “stumbling blocks that inevitably stood in the way of a seamless merger.” (23) And: “Conservationists often came to adopt Nazi rhetoric, but a seamless merger of both sets of ideas never materialized.” (24)
In keeping with his opportunism defence much is made of the fact that many conservationists joined the Nazi Party only after 1933. In 1933 Party membership grew from 850,000 to 2.5 million. (A temporary ban on new members was enacted on May 1, 1933.) (25) But German fascism was a movement. There were many fascistic parties and organizations (Fatherland Party, Steel Helmut, Freedom Party, Thule Society, etc.). In the early 1930s these groups united into the Nazi Party. For many conservationists joining the Nazis was not their intro to fascism.
German Conservationism 1854-1933
Like a skeet shooter Uekoetter pops up then blasts apart his own generalizations like:
“In 1933 the German conservation community was a set of ardent nature lovers who generally cared mostly about the outdoors and little, if at all, about politics.” (26)
“...the Nazi era had been a departure from the conservation community’s tradition of political disengagement.” (27)
“Before 1933 they [conservationists] had been a group of nature lovers who cared little about politics and never dreamed of affiliating themselves with a political movement...” (28)
He sees conservationism partially as an outgrowth of the Romanticism promoted by the likes of Wilhelm Riehl whose Natural History of the German People (1854) celebrated rural life, German forests, and the right to wilderness. Formal conservationism is dated to the 1869 founding of a society dedicated to beautifying the Siebengebirge (upper Rhine Valley). This society made hiking trails and purchased land ostensibly for campers. They were soon campaigning against quarry operators. A Society for the Rescue of Siebengebirge was founded in 1886. (29)
German conservationism was often called “Heimat protection.” “Heimat” translates to “homeland” but to Uekoetter it is “a diffuse concept uniting nature and culture, landscapes and people” and “filled with romantic associations.” Heimat protection ranged from “pragmatic conservation work to quasi-religious worship of nature.” In 1900 Heimat protection leagues formed a Federation. (A Bird Protection League also dates to this period.) (30) The plurality of organizations mirrored the regional orientation of conservationists. (Germany was not unified until 1871.) Despite infighting the movement never fractured; there were too many points on which conservationists concurred.
The first state-run conservation agency was the 1905-founded Bavarian State Commission for the Care of Nature. Prussia, which contained two-thirds of the German population, established an Agency for the Protection of Natural Monuments in 1906 with Hugo Conwentz at the helm. The First International Conference for the Protection of the Countryside (Paris, 1909) singled out Prussia for its unique efforts at protecting natural monuments. In 1920 Lippe became the first state with a Heimat protection law. In 1922 the Bavarian Conservation League, which had recently launched a mass outreach, merged operations with the Bavarian Interior Ministry. (31) Anhalt passed conservation laws in 1923. The Westphalian provincial administration and the City of Munster began bankrolling the Westphalian Nature Protection Association in the early 1920s. In 1927 Baden created a network of conservation advisors based on the Prussian model and a state conservation agency. The 1931 state-of-the-art Hessian conservation law embodied ideas gleaned at a conservation expo held a few years earlier. (32)
The Weimar Republic (1918-33) witnessed a trend toward national, as opposed to regional, conservationism. In 1922 Prussia’s Conwentz proposed a single org for all states in the Rhine area. Between 1925 and 1931 conservationists held four National Conservation Conferences. The fourth (Berlin, 1931) called on states to consult with conservationists on all matters of urban and landscape planning. A similar resolution was passed by the Federation for Heimat Protection in 1932. (33)
Weimer era conservation accomplishments were modest compared to prewar years. In some states conservationists lost ground. One exception was Westphalia, which created 56 nature reserves. (34) A setback was the Prussian conservation bill which floundered on “the tricky issue of compensation” for landowners whose property was to be conserved. Protection was limited to “monuments” like popular rock formations or scenic tree clusters. Big reserves or national parks were undoable. Conservationists recalled the Weimar era as frustrating. (35) Despite this, the Dutch Committee for International Nature Protection’s 1931 report claimed: “There is nowhere else in Europe such an extensive organization for the nature protection as among our neighbours to the east.” (36)
Uekoetter admits German conservationism was always ultra-nationalist. “The love of nature is the root of our fatherland,” wrote K. Guenther in his 1910 “seminal monograph on conservation.” In 1913, with the 100th anniversary of the victory over Napoleon and the 25th anniversary of Wilhelm II’s coronation pending, Conwentz declared “communities could express their support for the patriotic cause by putting some scenic part of their surrounding under protection.” Also in 1913, movement luminary H. Lons declared conservation to be “a fight for the power of the nation and the flourishing of the race.” Uekoetter encountered “countless articles” from the 1920s linking Nature to Nation. (37)
German conservationism displayed “all the themes of conservative cultural criticism.” W. Schoenichen, Conwentz’s successor, was “prone to reactionary sentiments and racist ideas.” Schoenichen’s Dealing with Mother Green (1929) instructed Germans on the proper behaviour toward Nature in brazenly elitist tones. (38) The idea that modernity was at odds with conservation was a “common denominator” among nature protectors amongst whom “a rallying cry against the destructive powers of materialism was always sure to get applause.” (39) Conservationism joined in the ubiquitous despair expressed by the choir German writers associated with the rise of fascist sentiment. Conservationists “were by no means immune to the general radicalization of political rhetoric.” (40) In fact, “Rightist ideas had a place in the German conservationist movement long before 1933.” The conservation community exhibited little internal democracy; hence, when “reactionary and racist ideas floated freely through the contemporary literature: not everyone embraced them but nobody took issue with them.” (41) Anti-democratic ideas won a place in conservationism, “not because of all conservationists agreed on these points but rather because few people took issue with them.” The Heimat movement never publicly denounced democracy only for fear of losing state support. (42)
In the 1920s: “racist, volkisch, and anti-Semitic voices became significantly more pronounced, moving from a fringe phenomenon to a prominent part of a still quite diverse choir of conservationists.” A Mountaineering and Hiking Association League resolution stressed the necessity of preserving the German Heimat “after the German nation has lost so many of its values.” (43)
The German Alpine Society adopted an exceptionally anti-Semitic stance. (44)
One movement leader preached: “if we did not find the German Heimat, then all efforts to mould the Germans into one nation would be futile.” Failure to protect nature was “a betrayal of Germandom.” He wrote of throngs of blonde heroes streaming from German forests to fight invading Romans. (45)
Nationalism fused with tree-hugging. A popular treatise on “the Heimat sentiment” bemoaned the “deluge of Western European and American ideas” claiming these would “erode the soil that we are standing on, unless the Germans regain their senses.” Conservationist connecting of people to land morphed into Nazi concepts of “blood and soil.” Hitler’s Mein Kampf made repeated references to capital ‘N’ Nature. During the French occupation of the Ruhr region, the Federation for Heimat Protection played a major role in anti-French agitation. Federation co-founder, Paul Schultze-Naumburg, worked closely with Hitler and Goebbels and became a leader of the Nazis’ Fighting League for German Culture. (46) The conservationist Thuringian Bund’s founder gave refuge to the right-wing terrorists who assassinated the German Secretary of State. By 1930 “rightist ideas won a place in conservation thinking without being challenged significantly.” (47)
Hence, contrary to Uekoetter’s strategically inserted generalizations, pre-1933 conservationists were not merely apolitical nature buffs. By his own account they were a mass movement infiltrated into the state and influencing state policy. They were reactionary, elitist, ultra-nationalist, anti-democratic and racist. Conservationism grew along with fascism.
Green-Brown’s Golden Years 1933-45
In 1933 conservationists welcomed the new regime. They joined the Nazi Party en masse. Their literature proclaimed conservationism as the quintessential Nazi goal. (48) ‘Hitler-Oaks’ were planted in hundreds of towns. (49) Dedicated Nazi E. Gritzbach spouted: “National Socialism is a true nature-protection movement.” A colleague counselled caution: “even the authoritarian government of National Socialism can only gradually come to exorcise the demon that finds its expression in the mistreatment of the landscape.” (50) Conservation advisor W. Lienenkamper, a convinced Nazi, claimed their “First Commandment” to be the “merciless extermination of the utilitarian perspective.” He declared: “Our service needs to be a battle: a battle in words and in writing against ignorance and brutality. Quick intervention if Heimat treasures are under siege. Our work does not tolerate delays, for even a single day can mean destruction beyond remedy.” (51) In 1936 he added: “If Mother Nature is threatened, the true friend of nature does not care about jurisdiction.” (52) A coterminous pamphlet read: “you are worthless as a conservationist if you do not partake with your heart, if you do not act out of love and a deeply held belief in the beauty, in the eternal powers and miracles of our Heimat nature.” (53)
Conservationist author, H. Schwenkel ushered in the Nazi era exclaiming: “the age of purely materialistic design of the landscape...” and “regulated brooks and rivers” was finished. (54) He said rooting German folk character in the land strengthened the case for landscape protection. (55) This echoed Hitler’s directive that: “It is imperative to preserve German landscape, for it is, and always was the ultimate foundation of the power and the strength of the German people.” Hitler intoned: “We will not only create a Germany of power, but also a Germany of beauty.” (56) Schwenkel later added (1938): “the Jew does not know nature protection...Only cultivated man, and almost exclusively Nordic man, develops a completely new relationship with nature” H. Stadler warned Jewish timber merchants had bought “the last of the strong oaks and the last of the beautiful walnut trees” and were exterminating pear trees. (57)
Uekoetter’s book overflows with evidence of an ideological/organizational fusion between German conservationism and Nazism. Examples:
“The distance between the conservation community and the Nazis was much smaller in practice than one would expect...cooperation was far too intensive, and far too cordial to be explained by a partial coincidence of goals.” (58)
“The agreement between conservation and Nazi ideology was always strongest when it came to ways and means.” (59)
“It was institutional links that created an atmosphere of sustained sympathy, if not unbridled enthusiasm, that permeated the conservation literature of the Nazi era.” (60)
Nazis and German conservationists both claimed liberalism “negated life.” Both Nazism and German conservationism denounced philosophical materialism and defined themselves as philosophical idealists. As well, “the marginal role for women in public life during the Nazi era meshed well with sentiments within the conservation movement.” The lone prominent woman within conservationism was the authoritarian leader of the Bird Protection League, Lina Hahnle (61)
During the Third Reich conservationists “enjoyed a large degree of freedom.” Conservationism was “a realm where the Nazi regime allowed, as totalitarian governments go, a considerable degree of independent thinking.” The regime never contemplated “an ideological purge of the conservation community.” (62) Moreover: “there was no contribution, however minimal, from the conservation movement to the German resistance.” (63) There was simply “no path from the conservation community to the opposition.”(64)
What little distance there was between conservationism and Nazism “shrank dramatically” in June 1935 after the passage of the National Conservation Law “giving way to a strong affection if not enthusiasm for the Nazis.” (65) After enduring obstruction by the ministries of justice, education, interior, agriculture, war department and roadways Goring finally got fed up and had Hitler transfer responsibility for conservation to Goring’s Forest Service. In late April Hitler and Goring worked the phones. All ministries dropped their objections to the NCL. (66)
Although it was rightly hailed as “one of the industrialized world’s most wide-ranging conservation laws” many NCL provisions were not new. German states had laws protecting natural monuments and reserves. NCL standardized and reinforced existing legislation. Schoenichen noted that whereas it was possible to designate nature reserves pursuant to the 1920 Prussian Field and Forest Police Law, this was “an undignified state of affairs in that it offered only a back door to the important cause of conservation.” He said NCL did “justice to all significant demands of conservation” and was “the fulfillment of a long-held wish.” From conservationists “praise for the law was almost universal.” Lienenkamper called NCL “an achievement for the ages.” He knew who was responsible: “the Fuhrer gave us the national conservation law”. Hesse’s top conservation advisor agreed: “the national conservation law was created upon initiative of the Fuhrer.” (67) The Berlin Stock Exchange newspaper praised NCL in an issue that devoted much space to describing Berlin’s many natural treasures. (68)
NCL Paragraph 19 dealt with “protection of the countryside” – i.e. stopping activity that might “deface” or otherwise harm “nature or the human experience of nature.” Paragraph 20 stipulated “all government agencies are obliged to consult with the conservation administration before the approval of projects that may lead to significant alterations of the landscape.” This gave conservationists licence to intervene in any activity impacting the countryside. Paragraph 24 empowered conservation officials to protect land without compensating its owner. Conservationists had been petitioning for a Paragraph 24 since a Schwarzburg-Rudostadt conservation law limited indemnification in 1910. (69) After 1935 conservationists still engaged in amicable negotiations with landowners and states continued to pay compensation but conservationists now had the “perfect instrument” for pressuring owners into compliance. (70)
In 1933 the conservation community possessed “scores of fiery members thirsty for action.” (71) Within weeks of the seizure of power Ruhr region conservation advisers waved maps with wish lists of potential nature reserves. NCL’s passage was firing the starting pistol. “Never in German history have so many nature reserves been designated within such a brief period of time.” (72) The number of nature reserves in the Ruhr region doubled between 1935 and 1937. Schleswig-Holstein had 10 nature reserves in 1935; by 1938 it had 22 with 6 more on the way. In his mountainous Sauerland, Lienenkamper filed papers for 19 reserves between 1936 and 1938. Authorities in Wurttemberg created 46 reserves with a total area of 32,111 acres between 1937 and 1943. In Baden, during the same period, 58 reserves were created totalling 17,653 acres. (During the Weimar years, 1918 to 1933, all Germany saw an increase of protected areas totalling 3,152 acres.) By 1940 Germany had over 800 protected areas. (73)
Germany’s leading post-WWII conservationist, Hans Klose, recalled 1936 to 1939 as the “high time for German conservation.” Uekoetter describes these years as “a period of vibrancy, of enthusiastic work, of cooperation with a multitude of agents, a time when conservation had the ear of the powerful – in short a time of euphoria and hope.” He adds: “jeremiads of cultural despair, a fixture in conservation rhetoric since the times of Rudolf and Riehl, became notably rare.” (74) He dwells on the “boom of conservation work during the Nazi era” stressing how only Germany experienced such a boom. (75)
Before the Nazi era conservation activism depended on the initiative of private citizens. The Nazis legislated conservation sentiments and poured money into conservation associations. In 1935 when the Association for Nature Protection asked for 28,000 RM the Finance Ministry gave them 30,000 RM. Uekoetter notes: “the most important partner for conservation officials was the civic conservation movement, and close cooperation between civic and state actors remained the rule in Nazi Germany.” (76) No more could regions or provinces ignore these activists. Protecting nature was no longer something “that one can choose to do or not.” (77) States propagandized their Cause. Failure to report unknown natural treasures to the authorities became a crime. (78)
Never before had conservation work been so diverse and intrusive. Conservation work ranged from small monument protection to large landscape re-design. Some conservationists specialized on micro issues like protecting farmer’s hedges. They could deem a hedge vital for erosion control or bird protection. Schoenichen, wishing to know if leeches were endangered, had conservation advisors find verdant marshes, bare their legs and “slowly wade into the water, lifting their feet every one or two minutes.” (79) A Ruhr conservation advisor policed private pet collections; what he called “animal concentration camps.” Conservationists in Weisenberg demanded a local tavern clean up its appearance because it was marringthelandscape. Conservationists so obstructed the construction of Goebbels’ mansion it took repeated intervention from Goring to finish it. (80) After the German invasion of Sudetenland in 1938, conservationists demanded the military remove the blue arrows they had painted on walls to mark the troops’ path. (81) The Army had to inventory potential natural treasures on its bases. During WWII conservation advisors denounced the “defilement” of forests after soldiers, for military reasons, cleared some trees near the Rhine. Conservationists protested a Leipzig foundry even though it was only one of three in Germany and indispensable for the war effort. (82) The Heimat League of Saxony tried to close a quarry also crucial for the war effort. The Army had to request permission to build a secret installation in a nature reserve. A conservationist, waiving the nationally distributed brochure: The Fuhrer Wants Our Hedgerows Protected, demanded a hedge-clearing farmer be sent to the Russian front as punishment. (The farmer said he had just returned.) (83)
Some Nazi Party members sought to bypass governments and impose conservationist decrees on Party authority alone. These disputes were over power: “none of the party members pursued an agenda that differed markedly from the conservationists’ mainstream.” The most aggressive promoter of Party-run conservationism, H. Stadler, spoke of activism in terms of “counterattacks” and “front duty.” In 1937 the Bavarian Interior Ministry declared Stadler’s Party-based decrees invalid. He had to resubmit his applications for nature reserves to them, a humiliating load of paperwork. After this showdown the consensus became: governments, not Party members, had final authority on conservation matters. (84)
The conservation movement was the only social movement the Nazis never merged into a uniform national organization. (85) The sole effort in this direction began in July 1933 with the launch of the Reich League for National Character and Heimat (RLNCH): a central org for all conservation, regional-cultural, and heritage-preservation associations. By December it boasted 5 million members. League leader, W. Haverbeck, was a top officer in the Hitler Youth and the Nazi student organization. RLNCH sought to change conservationism, appealed to young urbanites and promoted nationalism over regionalism. Conservationists resisted this but it was financial irregularities, not ideological disputes that lead to RLNCH’s discredit in late 1934. Further efforts to consolidate conservationism fell dormant with the exception of bird protectors. A 1938 decree forced all bird associations into one group. (86)
The Bavarian Conservation League (BCL) resisted Haverbeck’s initiatives. They had one of their own appointed President of RLNCH. (87) By the late 1930s the BCL was “the largest conservation organization in Europe.” (Hence, the largest in the world.) BCL patron, Adolf Wagoner, was a notoriously despotic Nazi Gauleitier (regional governor). (88) BCL praised the NCL as “a great leap forward” noting: “Goring has taken conservation into his strong hand; he gave the legislation backbone to our concerns.” (89) The BCL loved Goring: “the same man who is in charge of the Four Year Plan also time and again requests more attention to the protection of nature with supreme vigour.” They viewed conservation work as “the defence against the Bolshevist spirit.” (90) Their 1942 Christmas cards called Nature protection “a counter-weight to the materialist thinking of the Bolsheviks and plutocrats.” (91) As late as June 1944 the Bavarians were busy expanding nature reserves. (92)
BCL was reticent about working with tourist groups. A BCL pamphlet concerning an Alpine park spoke of “serious alpinists of good education [and] idealistic friends of nature” on one side and “men and women with strange appearance and manners” on the other. (93) Across the movement there was opposition to allowing the mob into protected areas. This conflicted with Nazi conservationist strategy which invested significant resources into mass indoctrination under the slogan: “conservation is a matter for the people.” (94) Influential conservationist H. Schwenkel, straddled this conflict. In 1935 he wrote the core aim of conservationism was “to educate the people in the preservation and reverent contemplation of our Heimat nature” so as toinstil “decent and well-mannered conduct towards plants, animals and the landscape.” While in 1938 he pined: “What will become of the German nation when the low mountain ranges (thank god, the Alps are a more difficult case in this regard!) are fully adjusted to the idle drivers of automobiles, to urban luxury and urban habits and when restaurant owners’ interests come to decide on the fate of Germany’s recreation areas.” (95)
In 1935 the Prussian Agency for the Protection of Natural Monuments was renamed the Reich Conservation Agency (RCA) and reconstituted as a national institution. Schoenichen remained in charge. He joined the Party before they consolidated power and is described as a “committed Nazi.” (96) In 1933 he wrote diatribes for the main Nazi paper. In Appeal to the Labour Service (1934) he called for “empathetic immersion into the myth of the Heimat soil” and stressed “the work of the Labour Service must under no circumstance lead to a German landscape full of geometry and concrete.” (97) His Conservation in the Third Reich (1934) eulogized “struggle” in Nature and linked conservationism to volkisch traits of the German race. On outdoor advertizing, he remarked: “it might be a worthwhile cause for inquiry in how far this social-psychic disease [outdoor advertising] is the result of an infection with Jewish poison.” (98)
Soon after the Nazi seizure of power Schoenichen had Prussian conservation advisers draw maps showing all natural treasures. This program went national in 1936 as did his network of conservation advisors. By 1938 this advisor network comprised 55 regional and 880 local organizations. (99) Advisors were unsalaried but the Education Ministry (which initially had jurisdiction over conservation) decreed workload reductions for teachers serving as advisors. Twenty-seven of 34 conservation advisors in Prussia were teachers. In Westphalia and Rhine Province 56 of 95 conservation advisors were teachers. In 1935 when conservation shifted to the Forest Service some teachers found it harder to get workload reductions but the Education Ministry never repealed its decree. (100)
The RCA, and the whole movement, transitioned from simple nature protection to grand projects of landscape planning. In 1937 the RCA sent hundreds on boat trips along the Rhine to discuss landscape planning. They offered landscaping courses. (101) In 1938 Schoenichen passed the mantle to Hans Klose, a teacher who worked full-time in the Forest Service’s conservation department. Uekoetter describes Klose as “a consummate opportunist” yet tells us several times that he never joined the Nazi Party, which is what an opportunist would have done. (102) Klose’s only innovation was to project RCA work eastward following Nazis’ wars of conquest. They compiled lists of potential reserves in occupied Poland. (103)
Insights can be derived from the following six enviro-activist projects undertaken inside the Third Reich:
I. Hohenstoffeln Mountain
German conservationist opposition to quarries dates to the 1836 ‘Rock of the Dragon’ campaign in the Rhine Valley, which led to the country’s first nature reserve. So in 1910 when miners began crushing basalt rocks from Hohenstoffeln Mountain into gravel they were immediately confronted by the Natural History Association of Baden and the Tourist Association of Lake Constance. Protests went unheeded by the mountain’s owner, Baron Ferdinand von Hornstein, who collected his rents in Munich while penning the odd novel. Even the Baron’s cousin opposed the quarry as it jeopardized his forests. In the mid-1920s Baden’s Finance Ministry banned state purchases from the Hohenstoffeln quarry and a Labour Ministry official, writing for the Baden Heimat League, asked conservationists “to arouse the public’s conscience” about the quarry. (104) On the other hand, the quarry’s 200 employees made it important to the local economy, thus supported by mayors and later by workers’ reps within the Nazi Party. (105)
The campaign to close the quarry was led by L. Finckh, a novelist so passionate about the environment he could barely write about Hohenstoffeln’s “desecration.” (106) At a public meeting in 1921 Finckh, first to speak, gave an emphatic critique of the quarry’s threat to their Heimat. Finckh was a fanatical Nazi. (208) He was sued during the Weimar years for referring to quarry operators as “Jewish Shylocks.” He transformed the Hohenstoffeln campaign into a right-wing crusade. He called allies and directors of the mining company “Bolsheviks” and “Freemasons.” He inquired into their ethnic origins. After the Nazi seizure of power he wrote: “Two worldviews are clashing here, the worldview of 1913 and the spirit of 1933. The representatives of purely monetary business are standing on the one side and on the other side all those men who know higher values.” He proclaimed: “the German spirit has won over the American one.” In a 1933 letter to the Journal Land Reform he argued for protecting Hohenstoffeln on social grounds: “quarrying has transformed the sons of peasants into industrial workers; they shall return to their native soil.” He later added “one cannot expect much understanding” of conservationism from workers until “we educators of the people” have won the fight “for the soul of the nation.” In a private letter, he called for expropriating the Baron: “owners who surrender the mountain of their forefathers have forfeited their property rights.” He proposed naming the mountain’s peaks after Nazi martyrs. His 1934 appeal, German Landscape in Peril, was endorsed by a “Who’s Who” of German conservationism: Schultze-Naumburg, Heidegger, Schoenichen, Schwenkel, Klages, Hahnle and Todt. (107)
Finckh crossed the Nazi line against “agitation in the general public” by using a Mountain Climber’s convention in Berlin to stage a rally against the quarry. This led Baden’s Prime Minister to write: “one can and should deal with this question without stirring the passion of the public.” Finckh was placed under Gestapo watch but never arrested. He was investigated by the Party but none could question his loyalty. Prior to his Berlin rally he had no difficulty getting published in Nazi papers but afterwards he was banned. Finckh persevered. He continued “doing the impossible” – i.e. “running a conservation campaign in a state that claimed a monopoly on political campaigns.” As a result of the campaign the mining company was forced to pay 3,000 RM per year to the Baden Education Ministry. “Blood money” spat Finckh. The campaign continued. In November 1934 the German Interior Minister limited quarry operations and in July 1935 Goring’s Forest Service created a reserve on the upper mountain. Not good enough for Finckh. He got Himmler to send a memo to Goring calling for the quarry’s closure. The memo claimed the mountain was the site of an ancient German fortress. Goring ordered the quarry closed. In spite of subsequent protests from the company and local chambers of commerce, operations ceased in 1939. (108)
Schorfheide is an area of lakes and trees 40 miles from Berlin. Nobles hunted there since the 1100s and for centuries monarchs guarded the area’s wildlife. In 1590 the Elector of Brandenburg built a 30-mile fence to prevent game escaping northward. After the construction of Hubertusstock hunting lodge (named after the patron saint of hunters) royal visits became frequent. Kaiser Wilhelm II came every year. Rampant poaching in 1919-20 led to a sharp decline of red deer numbers but their population rebounded after Prussia put much of Schorfheide under protection in 1930. (109)
In early 1933 Goring, in his capacities of Prussian Prime Minister and Chief Forester, set aside 300 Schorfheide acres for personal use. Hitler gave Goring a fund to build a mansion in Schorfheide named Carinhall after Goring’s deceased wife whose mausoleum was on the grounds. The mausoleum’s inauguration, June 1934, was an act of state. Hitler attended. Carinhall construction costs exceeded 7.5 million RM (average family house at the time = 10,000 RM). (110)
The 1935 National Conservation Law specifically named Schorfheide – the only reserve so named. NCL Paragraph 18 created four national nature reserves – hunting grounds for the privileged. These reserves were excluded from the indemnity clause – confiscation was allowed only with “proper compensation.” Schorfheide officially became a national reserve in 1937. It was expanded from 125,000 to 141,200 acres in 1939. (111)
To Goring, a German wilderness should be home to beasts long lost to the Heimat. Substantial sums were spent reintroducing extinct native species at Schorfheide. The reserve boasted 70 bison by 1940. Games-keepers bred wild horses including rare Przewalskis transferred from zoos. Moose breeding was a disaster. A moose likes to roam. The last Schorfheide moose was shot in 1941, in Berlin. Goring founded a big game research facility at Schorfheide and a state-funded Schorfheide Foundation “to awake and deepen a sense of connectedness with nature, especially among the urban population.” In 1942 the reserve was enlarged to 185,500 acres. (112)
In January 1945, with Allied armies winding up for the death blow, Goring’s birthday party guests admired plans for a further expansion of Carinhall. Then Red Army scouts were spotted in the reserve. Goring shot his bison and dynamited Carinhall. A ravenous Red Army hunted down the rest of the game with tanks and machine guns. Of all the species introduced to Schorfheide the only one to thrive was the humble mufflon (a miniature sheep, not native to Germany). (113)
III. Ems River
The Ems River in Westphalia was flood prone. 1925 flood damage exceeded 150,000 RM in one county. In 1927, 3,850 acres of Ems riverside farmland was deluged while farmers near Ems tributaries experienced losses of 400,000 RM. To remedy this, in 1928 the Prussian Hydrological Office prepared a 10 million RM plan to regulate 80 miles of the Ems. Westphalian farmers cheered, claiming controlling the Ems was an issue of economic survival. The availability of cheap Depression-era labour facilitated the project. Uekoetter blames Ems flooding on prior hydrological projects. He re-counts 25 plans starting in 1852 and denounces “plan 26” for its “geometric” shapes and for its shortening of the Ems by 9 miles “between Warendorf and Greven alone.” (113)
IV. Seifert & the Autobahn
Pre-1933 the Ems plan had little conservationist input. While the Weimar years had been relatively good for Westphalian conservationists, their achievements were mostly small reserves (under 10 acres). Large political campaigns, like challenging the Ems regulation, were beyond them and pre-1935 there was no legal requirement to involve conservationists in planning. (114)
Weeks after the Nazi seizure of power the regional Nazi Kultur-Bund declared conserving the Ems “a volkisch obligation.” They stated: “The time will soon be past when the precious treasures of nature were seen from a purely utilitarian perspective as an object of exploitation, for here, as in so many fields, the ideology of National Socialism will enlighten the people.” Two weeks later the Westphalia Heimat League advanced these concerns in a petition. Three days later, the Kultur-Bund endorsed the petition. The provincial government promised “to do everything possible to protect property owners along the Ems from summer floods as well as preserve the Ems as a recreational area for the people of Munster.” This was inadequate; “a groundswell of protest” followed. A local artists’ league issued a new petition in November expressing “strong concerns” about the Ems, arguing “cultural values rank higher than economic advantages.” They alluded to Hitler’s mountain retreat for just as the Fuhrer needed “rest and recreation...in secluded, untouched nature” so too Westphalians needed the Ems. The next petition, authored by a Munster novelist and filed January 1934 was co-signed by: Munster’s land survey director, a biology prof from Munster U and local canoeists, hunters and anglers. The petition expressed “love of the Heimat” while praising Ems’ “primeval character.” It called for re-assessing the entire project, noting: “There is no greater friend of nature, and no one keeps the triad of the fatherland, Heimat and nature more sacred than the Fuhrer.” (115)
The conservationists had opponents. After the third petition, the provincial administration suppressed discussion and sent a harsh letter to their conservation advisor telling him “to prevent the spread” of the petition because of its “completely false and distorted content.” Newspapers were told “to consult with Munster’s county commission...before publishing letters or articles” about the Ems. The Gauleiter was asked “to prevent a new wave of concern in the public at large” instigated by “a small group of self-important people.” (116) Newspapers continued relaying conservationist concerns but generally sought to soothe worries. Discontent re-emerged in 1938 when digging approached Munster. The city land surveyor had a local novelist write to the Reich Conservation Agency. The RCA agreed “there can be no doubt that the present form of river regulation will mean the ruin of the Ems landscape.” (117)
Uekoetter contends there were two Ems regulation projects: one in Nazi propaganda, one in the real world. Nazi leaders promised that “the real character of the Ems landscape will not be destroyed.” But work went ahead. Ems was a Nazi make-work showcase. To maximize labour, digging was done by shovel. Conservation advisors were listened to, especially after 1935, but they could not force major revisions to the plan, only small plantings of trees or selections of native species. From a hydrological standpoint, even small revisions to the plan, such as exempting part of the river, caused big problems as water would burst over the proposed bottleneck. (118)
On November 13, 1938 Munster conservation advisor Dr. Beyer gave a speech. Kristallnacht was raging. A synagogue smouldered a block from where Beyer spoke. He decried the “sinful acts” and the “damage that cannot be remedied.” He was not talking about Kristallnacht. He was talking about the new “canal-like” appearance of the Ems. His admonitions about the “conflict between romanticism and technology” won thunderous applause. (119)
The Ems project was abandoned due to labour shortages in 1941 after 53 miles of regulation. (120) Uekoetter stresses work done under the Nazis “destroyed” the Ems but this was not the Nazis’ fault. Work progressed according to a pre-Nazi plan and the design was standard hydrology unconnected to Nazism. Work resumed along these lines after 1945. Rethinking the project began in the 1970s along with the growth of environmentalism. In 1974, 2,000 citizens signed a “Hands Off the Ems” appeal. The 1933 dream of a reserve along the Ems was fulfilled by a 1992 European Union Habitats Directive. (121)
A key Nazi green was Fritz Todt. Before being placed in charge of weapons production in 1940 he was Inspector General of German Roadways during the Autobahn’s construction. He founded Landscape Advocates which won praise from conservationists largely because of Alwin Seifert, the group’s “charismatic” leader who, after 1940, was Reich Landscape Advocate. A “politically savvy environmentalist,” Seifert was close to Nazi Party Deputy Rudolf Hess until Hess’ 1941 flight to Britain. Seifert received a monthly salary of 2,500 RM until 1945 (average monthly salary – 155 RM). (122)
Uekoetter admires Seifert and pouts that calling Seifert a “dedicated advocate of Nazi blood-and-soil ideology” (as many do) is “thinking in clichés.” Seifert’s racism differed subtly from run-of-the-mill Nazi racism. He adhered to the racism of fellow Nazi Party member F. Merkenschlager who was ostracized after a falling out with Darre. “Seifert was clearly much too eclectic in his thinking and far too independent intellectually to become a narrow-minded believer in Nazi doctrine.” However, Seifert “did not shy away from Nazi rhetoric.” He “draped his convictions in Nazi rhetoric.” He competed with a rival landscape architect over who was the greater anti-Semite. (123)
Uekoetter claims Seifert, not Darre, was Nazi Germany’s best proponent of organic farming. Seifert was liaison between Anthroposophists and the Nazi state and tried to convince the latter to implement organic farming on a national scale. He militantly opposed draining wetlands, cultivating new land or regulating rivers. Such activities threatened Germany with the “desertification” that caused the American Dust Bowl. Hydrology’s “mechanistic” approach had to be replaced by a holistic one respecting Nature’s inter-connectedness. His motto: “there is a limit to all kinds of manipulations in nature that we may not transgress.” He said using human feces in fertilizer undermined German racial superiority. He despised non-native species. The blue spruce was: “public enemy number one.” (124)
Uekoetter undergoes contortions to portray the Nazis as neither aggressive nor environmentally-sensitive road-builders while preserving Seifert’s reputation. The Nazi’s 2,050 mile Autobahn pales compared to the 1820-50 period when German roads grew from 9,180 to 32,920 miles. (125) Still, Uekoetter wants “to abandon the myth of an exemplary reconciliation of nature and technology in the Autobahn project.” Seifert is not to blame. He fought for smooth curved roads, not the straight lines and sharp corners engineers favoured. His views prevailed only after a 1937 spat when he walked out for nine months. By then 600 miles of Autobahn were done and construction begun on a longer stretch. (126)
V. Wutach Gorge
The Wutach River rises on southwest Germany’s highest mountain and flows through the Black Forest before reaching the Rhine near Basle. “Wut” means fury and refers to the Wutach’s tendency to rage out of control as it descends 3,000 feet on its short run. After a nasty flood on Christmas 1925 a damage report was written by H. Schurhammer, an engineer for a nearby town. He proposed not repairing the damage but to “leave the Wutach Valley mostly to itself and thus make the first step towards the creation of a nature reserve.” This buoyed Schurhammer’s career in the conservation movement. He became Baden’s conservation advisor and one of Seifert’s Landscape Advocates (the only engineer to hold such a post). (127) He joined the Nazi Party in 1937. (128)
With Schurhammer’s report circulating, Baden’s Natural History Association organized excursions through the Wutach Gorge. In 1927 Baden conservationists issued a petition for a Wutach reserve. Signers included the Baden Black Forest Association, Natural History Association, Baden Heimat League and a tourist group. Baden’s parliament unanimously supported their proposal in a resolution specifically referring to blocking a proposed hydro-electric dam on nearby Lake Schulsee. The men behind Schluchseewerk Hydro-electric opposed a Wutach nature reserve. They were joined by the mayor of an upstream town who feared closure of a local paper mill. As well, forest owners opposed restrictions on forest use without compensation. (129)
When Nazis placed Schurhammer in charge of the Wutach Gorge in 1936, the reserve initiative shifted into gear. Property owners accepted limitations on forest use. In 1938 the Baden Education Ministry submitted a draft decree to the Forest Service requesting protection of 1,430 acres of Wutach Valley. But given Germany’s dire need for energy, the push for the hydro-dam intensified. When Schurhammer learned of this in early 1941, he immediately protested. His concerns relayed via the Baden Education Ministry to the Finance Minister compelled the Inspector General for Water and Energy to decree that dam planners must consult conservationists. In January 1942 Schurhammer secured a ruling that the hydro-electric plan be vetted through his office even if this suspended a vital war effort project. This tied up the entire project because without precise figures on available water (Wutach was to deliver 30%) construction could not begin. (130)
Schurhammer had allies. In September 1942 a Tubingen U geology prof denounced flow reductions in the Wutach and Freiburg U’s Natural Science faculty publicized the valley’s importance for research and teaching. From the Forest Service, H. Schwenkel expressed support for an untouched Wutach as did L. Heck. Seifert came out against the dam in early 1943. In appeasement Schluchseewerk issued revised plans that doubled the flow remaining in the Wutach. (131)
Back in February 1942, after Todt’s mysterious death, Albert Speer became war effort boss. He oversaw a radical ramping-up of production. He wanted a Schluchseewerk dam and said he would intervene if the Forest Service blocked it. Reich Commissioner R. Wagner wrote to the Forest Service condemning those who “do not sufficiently take the delicate situation of our electric power supply into account.” An unimpressed Schurhammer reiterated his position in a November 1942 memo. (132)
Spring 1943: German 6th Army surrenders at Stalingrad; Goebbels screams “Total War”; General von Unruh proposes closing the Reich Conservation Agency. At a hastily called meeting in Berlin (March 1943) the Forest Service capitulated to the hydro-dam, citing the revised plans. A disgusted Baden conservation official christened this the “hour of proof” when “true defenders of nature protection” stood firm and when cowards in the Forest Service “surrendered the conservationists’ cause” (133)
Other conservationists never surrendered and sought rescission of the Forest Service decree. They concluded: “if there is any path towards success, it goes via the SS.” They asked Himmler to intervene. Himmler’s office declined, saying he was busy “mastering extremely important and urgent tasks.” However, in Himmler’s place SS General Hoffmann (a Baden police chief) “discovered his love for the Wutach Gorge and vowed to fight for the nature reserve.” By January 1944 Hoffmann’s involvement was bearing fruit and Schurhammer declared the matter in a state of flux. Later that year Schurhammer lectured at Freiburg U about how diverting of Wutach for electricity threatened Nature. An anti-Schluseewerk protest movement resurfaced in the 1950s and the plan was shelved in 1960. (134)
VI. German Plan East
Eastern Europe was where “conservation and racism finally met in a way that was more than sheer rhetoric, resulting in ghastly plans that...displayed a shocking degree of inhumane thinking.” A central player, H. Wiepking-Jurgensmann, wrote a 1942 landscape planning textbook wherein he claimed to see the “cruelties of the Eastern races...engraved, razor sharp, into the grimaces of their native landscapes”. He worked for both Himmler’s Reich Commissariat for Strengthening of German Nationality (RCSGN) and Goring’s Forest Service. The Reich Conservation Agency also designed nature reserves in the east but it was in the RCSGN where “members of the conservation community became accomplices to genocide.” (135) Uekoetter relays how this involvement in genocide “was not an ideological challenge to the conservationists’ mainstream.” (136) Detailed plans for Soviet lands were designed by eminent conservationists whose expertise the generals found indispensable. RCSGN’s Planning and Land-Use Commission director Konrad Meyer was an agriculture prof at Berlin U and Prussian Academy of Science member. He had a hardcore racist, anti-democratic mindset and was known for pushing radical repressive means. He was an SS officer. For both Meyer and Wiepking-Jurgensmann the joy of working for Himmler was the “complete freedom” to landscape on a grand scale “without any need to take the petty demands of the local population into account.” (137)
General Plan East covered 270,000 square miles of Soviet land. (Germany comprised only 225,000 square miles.) The Plan dates to a 1941 SS meeting where Himmler informed the assembled that “the destruction of thirty million Slavs was a prerequisite for German planning in the east.” RCSGN landscapers’ goal was to create a space where the “German man feels at home, settles down, falls in love with his new Heimat and becomes ready to defend it.” L. Heck, a Forest Service conservationist described Plan goals: “to change a deserted foreign landscape into a German one.” The Plan called for deporting two thirds of the area’s 45 million inhabitants to Siberia. They never got the chance to implement the Plan but a test run around Lubin killed thousands. (138)
Much German conservation movement history was lost by intentional file destruction at war’s end. (139) More damage was done by revisionism:
“...the conservation movement developed a set of ideas and attitudes that, though highly dubious from a historical standpoint, managed to quell the nascent discussion within a matter of years. Briefly, the argument was that conservation was not a political issue and that the conservation law of 1935 had only coincidently been passed under the Nazi regime...this attitude survived a generation of wartime conservationists and persists even to the present.” (140)
The party line was there was no need to discuss conservationism’s relationship to Nazism because connection between the ‘two’ was insignificant. Uekoetter: “the popular notion that there was no significant link between the conservation movement and National Socialism persisted in conservation circles long after the conservationists of the Nazi era had left the scene.” (141)
Uekoetter focuses on Hans Klose’s post-war career who, he repeats, never joined the Nazis. Klose’s non-party status, rare among top German conservationists, made him poster-boy for the post-war movement. (Klose may have been quarter Jewish. The Party investigated an applicant’s ancestry.) (142)
The Reich Conservation Agency (RCA), with Klose at the helm, survived the war. It secured funding from Hanover (later Lower Saxony) and served as that state’s conservation advisor. When funding from Lower Saxony expired, April 1, 1948, the RCA scrounged funds from four different states on three-month contracts before being rescued by the Economic Council on April 1, 1949. The Council’s budget became ‘West Germany’s’ budget. In 1951 one of West Germany’s two chambers of parliament abolished the RCA but this decision was soon reversed. RCA, renamed Federal Agency for Nature Protection and Landscape Preservation, moved to Bonn in 1953. The agency, now named Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, is Germany’s supreme conversation authority. (143)
May 1945: the Third Reich surrenders. June 1945: a RCA circular summons “conservationists to the front” stating: “we can tolerate those people within our ranks who are fanatically willing to fight for the cherished nature of our Heimat, nowadays more under threat than ever.” (144) Their first mission was saving the National Conservation Law. They were relieved as one state after another reported Allied authorities had cleared the law. (145) A second mission was preventing excessive regional fragmentation. In 1947 the Bavarian Interior Ministry prohibited its conservation officials from working with the RCA. In 1951 Baden passed its own amendments to the National Conservation Law. However the German conservation community’s traditional preference for national legislation and unity ultimately won out. A third mission was burying the past. In 1946 Klose declared “if there has been an apolitical part of German society, averse to party strife, it was the Heimat community, the associations of conservationists, hikers, mountaineers, and historians.” Uekoetter responds: “It is easy to show that Klose’s assertion was false”. (146)
Klose had allies including Allied authorities. British officers helped rebuild the Bird Protection League. (147) Closer to Klose, the Bavarian Conservation League in 1947 declared: “The disastrous collapse of our community indicates that there was something wrong in our relationship towards nature.” Intimacy with pristine nature was cited as the only antidote to “aberrations of mass psychology.” (148) Klose’s own 1947 polemics focused on “democracy, whose manifestations so far have not been very convincing.” He expressed a conservationist constant: democracy is worthy only if it helps the Cause. (149)
Conservationists returned to bemoaning the “dwindling respect for nature” and the “estrangement between man and the natural environment.” At a 1951 conservation conference a speaker declared, “modern man is a mystery to us.” Hence, 1950s German conservationism came to sound like its turn of the century forbearer. Everything after 1920 was shrouded in graceful silence. They rediscovered the Heimat, the love of local nature, as their bridge to a public whom they viewed with suspicion. 20% of German films produced between 1947 and 1960 championed Heimat sentiments. (150)
Denazification failed. Many culpable Nazis escaped prosecution and “verdicts focused overwhelmingly on party members who were guilty of minor misdemeanours.” Conservationists rationalized their Nazi Party memberships in ways that allowed continued activism. In August 1945 Klose wrote: “Colleagues who are relieved from their full-time jobs or are otherwise incriminated will need to resign from their posts as conservation advisors...” However, nudge wink, “...we may expect only a few resignations because we conservationists have, with few exceptions, refrained from political activity.” Klose exploited his reputation as a non-Nazi to write affidavits others could present to denazification boards. “Even in difficult cases, conservationists could be confident that some colleague would be willing to attest to an inner distance to the Nazi regime.” A report for Schwenkel said he was apolitical and had once spoke critically of Hitler in 1943. “Schwenkel complemented this whitewashing” with a 1950 revision of his Pocketbook For Conservation wherein “he provided a pleasant citation from Goethe where the 1941 edition had quoted Hermann Lons celebrating the German love of nature.” A list of his writings omitted a 1938 anti-Semitic essay. (151) In contrast to the “don’t ask don’t tell” West German approach, East Germans had no difficulty connecting conservationism to fascism to spur its demise. (152)
Many careers begun in the Nazi era continued in West Germany. Conservationists were no exception. Uekoetter finds the continuity of personnel in the judiciary more worrisome. (153) Conservationists in the 1950s were much the same people as in the 1930s. Uekoetter notes: “It is sobering to see what conservationists could get away with.” G. Niethammer, an SS man whose 1942 paper on the birds of Auschwitz expressed gratitude to the Camp commander, became director of Bonn’s Zoological Museum and President of the German Ornithologist Society. Himmlerite, Wiepking-Jurgensmann and Meyer, were never held accountable for their war crimes and both found teaching jobs at Hanover U. Uekoetter finds it “shameful” that “people of this kind were allowed teach the next generation of German conservationists.” (154)
The next generation of conservationists came to the fore in the 1960s, “a phenomenon that was instrumental in the rise of a modern environmental movement in West Germany.” Uekoetter unconvincingly proffers: “the conservation community mostly ignored this trend and stuck to its own circles, favouring administrative work behind the scenes over spearheading a people’s movement.” These “new” conservationists allegedly seized opportunities resulting from submerged mass environmental sentiments. However he concedes: “it would be misleading to depict the rise of environmentalism as a definite watershed that totally transformed the German conservation movement in all its parts; after all, continuity was far too strong in terms of personnel, institutions and ideas.” Part of German conservationism’s makeover was a 1980s rebellion within the Bird Protection League. The trendy young rebel leader J Flasbarth became League president and transformed it into one of Germany’s major environmental groups. (155)
The German Green Party postures as “leftist” even though it was founded in the late 1970s with major input from reactionaries like Herbert Gruhl. Other “key political initiatives” within German environmentalism “came from people who cannot qualify by any measure as leftists.” For example, “the first wave of environmental legislation in the early 1970s was the result of the initiative of the German Minister of the Interior Hans-Dietrich Genscher”: a member of the distinctly non-leftist FDP. Klaus Topfer, Environment Minister from 1987 to 1994 and later Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, was prominent in the conservative Christian Democrats. (156)
Uekoetter exposes his naivety when describing American environmentalism with statements like: “environmentalism became closely affiliated with the political left in the United States” and: “the contemporary move by the American president Richard Nixon to embrace environmentalism was clearly a response to a popular sentiment that found its best-known expression in the legendary Earth Day celebration of April 22, 1970.” (157)This is a superficial analysis; a movement self-history censoring elite involvement. He treats David Brower’s departure from the Sierra Club to form Friends of the Earth as a movement cataclysm rather than the calculated corporate restructuring it obviously was.
Green and Brown is larded with unfalsifiable non-starters like: “the general public [during the totalitarian Third Reich] clearly entertained a considerable degree of sympathy for the conservationists cause” (158) and “the Nazis never made the protection of nature a truly urgent part of their policy.” (159)
Uekoetter twice calls Himmler’s interest in conservation “sporadic” but he does not support this assertion and must be aware of ample evidence to the contrary. His efforts to de-green Goring are laughable. Did you know only four pages of Goring’s semi-official biography are devoted to his conservation work? How about the fact that after 1945 conservationists said dealing with Goring had been unpleasant.
The book is littered with dubious factoids designed to distance Nazism from conservationism. At a 1939 Stuttgart garden exhibit, first prize went to a landscaper whose work lacked Nazi monumentalism and who formerly had Jewish clients! (160) Uekoetter wastes pages on an anonymously written poem given by one Nazi-conservationist to another about a personified river dreading hydrology. (161) To Uekoetter the poem shows Nazis were not truly green. The poem shows a truly lunatic fringe inside a green Nazi Party. Here’s the clincher: Hitler was a fake hiker. “Hitler’s walks on the Obersalzberg always led gently downhill to a special tea house, where a car was waiting to carry him back up again.” (162)(The Fuhrer...a wus!...who knew?)
Another Uekoetter argument: Nazi ideology is unconnected to environmentalism because Nazi ideology never existed. This “polycentric dynamic” view denies Nazism was a coherent set of ideas. (163) “The polycentric approach stresses the administrative chaos in Nazi Germany.” The Third Reich was: “a showcase of this institutional anarchy.” (164) This is the historical equivalent of philosophic solipsism...Nazi Party!?! What Nazi Party?...they were just a bunch of randomly colliding individuals. An old one-liner on the faction-weary US political circuit is: “I’m not a member of any organized political party, dammit I’m a Republican.” If the German Nazi Party was not a coherent political organization possessing an ideology, then no such animal ever existed.
Uekoetter attempts to reduce the size of Nazi-conservationism by any subtracting conservation activism benefitting hunters – and there was much of that. Hamburg’s Gauleiter made a nature reserve on city outskirts, fenced it off at state expense, declared it off-limits to the public, stocked it with deer and awarded himself the hunting rights. The pragmatic Bormann complained of a 1942 Nazi meeting where so many speakers took turns telling hunting tales it was impossible to address topics of greater significance. Goring’s conservationism in particular is attacked for having the ulterior motive of hunting. His Schorfheide Foundation’sis trashed because its “budget reserved no less than 225,000 RM for hunting expenses!” (171) He discounts Baron Hornstein’s cousin’s protests about the Hohenstoeffl quarry because he was really only worried about his hunting reserve. Uekoetter is oblivious to conservationism’s prime motive. Conservationism is about keeping land out of agricultural/urban/industrial usage. If hunters use protected land (as happens the world over), this does not vitiate conservation objectives. As well, Uekoetter does not reject conservation efforts later benefitting hikers, bird-watchers or sightseers.
Uekoetter’s main argument boils down to: Nazis were not real environmentalists because they compromised green goals for political expediency; in particular to accommodate the war drive. For example, in 1934 the Nazis launched a campaign against outdoor advertizing (“a topic always sure to arouse the conservationists”) but after the campaign ran into opposition it was curtailed. (165) In 1933 Nazis rushed through strict laws governing the treatment of animals including a vivisection ban and a criminalization of kosher butchering. The laws had non-anthropocentric rationales: “We no longer punish animal torture because it hurts human feelings due to man’s compassion for the creation but because the animal as such needs protection against abusive behaviour.” Nazi leaders prided themselves as friends of animals. Himmler proclaimed Germans were “the only nation of the world with a decent attitude toward animals.” When the Nazis realized vivisection was important to research they relaxed the laws but continued to restrict laboratory work. (166) The Interior Minister’s reorganization of animal protection groups limited their involvement on university animal protection commissions. To Uekoetter this back-pedalling reveals the Nazis were not true conservationists. He never explains the animal rights/conservation connection.
Uekoetter provides innumerable examples of how WWII “push(ed) conservation ever further down on the political agenda.” (167) The Forest Service planned massive parks across Germany but when they unveiled these plans in 1940 the consensus was that they should be shelved “until the peaceful work of the German people resumes.” (168) Himmler lost interest in the green General Plan East after Stalingrad and work on the Plan essentially stopped (though it was never officially abandoned.) (169) Uekoetter flogs how Goring’s chairmanship of the Four Year Plan and its focus on war preparation disqualifies him as a conservationist. (170) None of this evidences that the Nazis were not green but merely that green economics ran counter to any rational military-industrial strategy.
Uekoetter does not get conservationism’s relationship to agricultural economics. He admits as much: “the relationship between nature protection and agriculture also awaits a more thorough inquiry than this book could provide.” (172) In passing he notes how “the Treaty of Versailles forced Germans to put large tracts of wasteland, precious from a conservation standpoint, into agricultural use.” (173) He mentions how in the 1920s declining agricultural commodity prices caused a crisis requiring government intervention. (174) Yet he never connects restricting agricultural land to maintaining high food prices. He does not see this motive behind Schoenichen’s 1933 article on the perils of land reclamation nor in Seifert’s crusade against wetland drainage. He holds out the Labour Service’s “dramatic” programs as evidence of the Nazi’s lack of commitment to conservationism. He acknowledges the Labour Service existed as a giant and growing make-work scheme before the Nazis era. Moreover: “the Nazis valued the Labour Service in the first place for its contribution to a spiritual national awakening, rather than for its material achievements.” Under the Nazis the Labour Service improved drainage on 4,000 square miles of farmland. An area of forest and wetland over 20 times this size was left untouched and drainage improvement is not “reclamation” – i.e. the making of new farmland out of wilderness. (175)
The Nazi dream plan circa 1933 was to increase German forests from 25 million to 31 million acres. On this Uekoetter makes two assertions: “between 1933 and 1945, the annual average increase in forest land was only 3,700 acres” and “the Nazis’ systematic overuse of forests because of demands of re-armament and autarky which thinned out the German forests.” Given the demands for food, fuel and wood Germany was experiencing, the fact they expanded forests as opposed to decimating them is evidence of forest zealotry.
In 1934 the Nazis elevated W. von Keudell, a Dauerwald forestry advocate, within the Forest Service. German foresters hitherto favoured clear-cutting and re-planting trees of the same age and species. Dauerwald promoted holistic ecology through selective harvesting and re-planting forests of mixed age and species. Dauerwald gave the Nazis “an abundance of propagandistic analogy between German forest and German volk.” Von Keudell was forced out in 1937 for resisting increased wood production. Forest Service decrees continued to refer to Dauerwald and their Rescue of Deciduous Forest program was popular with conservationists. But, Uekoetter claims: “the German war economy demanded an ever-increasing amount of wood, with cutting yields reaching 150 per cent of sustainability as early as 1935.” This statement, based on a single article, is doubly dubious. The war economy was not in effect in 1935 and “sustainable forestry” is a notoriously subjective concept. According to Uekoetter’s conspiracy theory, Dauerwald’s selective harvesting “camouflaged” excessive cutting. (176)
Uekoetter blames Nazis for thinning German forests 14% between 1936 and 1945 but does not factor in his own assertion that: “Toward the end of the war with the supply of coal increasingly unreliable, people resorted to the use of wood and began pillaging local forests, and nature reserves were not spared in the process.” He claims West German forests were thinned 27% between 1936 and 1950 but later says “People in south-west Germany still vividly recall the clear-cutting of forests directed by Allied authorities.” (177) Uekoetter is grasping at twigs. A more accurate assessment comes from historian S. Schama (whom Uekoetter dismisses): “no German government had ever taken the protection of the German forests more seriously than the Third Reich.” (178)
Uekoetter is at odds with many historians. He warns us to read Groning and Wolschke-Bulmahn’s work on the Nazi-environmentalist connection “with a good deal of scepticism.” Why? “Their recent attacks on fellow researchers (including the present author) have drawn criticism beyond the research community.” (179) He urges greater caution regarding Anna Bramwell. He professes that within German academia her depiction of Nazi Agriculture Minister Darre as a “green” and her notion of a “green party” in Nazi Germany are discredited. (180) Bramwell is five times damned because: 1) she emphasized conflicts between her hero Darre and his hero Seifert in her first book, then downplayed these disagreements in her second book stressing their mutual enthusiasm for Anthroposophy; 2) she wrongly wrote: “Nazi Germany was the first country in Europe to form nature reserves”; 3) Darre was not significantly involved in nature protection; 4) Darre became interested in organic farming only after 1945; 5) there was never a “green faction” in the Nazi Party. (181)
On point 1) – there is no point here; Darre and Seifert were two green peas in a green pod. Point 2) Bramwell wasn’t playing trivial pursuit. The semantically dubious assertion that Nazi Germany created Europe’s first “nature reserve” was part of a larger case she was making about Nazi Germany being the most pro-conservationist regime of the epoch. Uekoetter shares this view. Point 3) wilderness protection was neither Darre’s portfolio nor his main Cause. He was the Agriculture Minister and a peasantist; a rural conservationist. Point 4) Darre promoted organic farming for many years. Bramwell offloads an ox-cart of facts on this issue based on primary sources, often German state documents. Her research on this topic earned her a PhD from Oxford. Point 5) Uekoetter’s book is all about people fighting for “green” policies in the Nazi era. These people were almost all card-carrying Nazi Party members. Hence, they were a “green faction” within the Nazi Party. (Duh!?!)
Uekoetter reflexively resists indictments of the Nazis’ environmental toll. Hitler would never have signed a decree like Stalin’s of August 29, 1951 (“one of the darkest days for nature protection”) which opened 90% of Russia’s nature reserves for development. (182) Forests fared better under fascism: “Mussolini supported the planting of forests to make the climate cooler and embolden the Italian warrior spirit, thus adhering to the same parallelism between landscape and national characters that characterized much of German conservation literature...Mussolini set aside some 8,000 acres for a nature reserve over the objections of the minister of agriculture, thus creating Circeo National Park...” (183) Uekoetter reminds us “Nazis encouraged the consumption of whole-wheat bread” and it wasin “Nazi Germany that researchers discovered the link between smoking and lung cancer, and the regime launched an ambitious anti-smoking campaign.” (184) As well, Nazi-era motorization pales compared to the increase in road traffic and resulting dependency on oil imposed on Germany by the Americans after WWII. Automobile usage was always far higher in the USA than Germany. Germany’s controversial shift to cars and industrialized agriculture were consequences of American domination. The environmental toll of the American era “was clearly greater than that of the Nazi era.” (185)
Environmentalism is the continuation of fascism. A continuation is not a repetition. Characteristics like militarism and anti-Jewish hysteria are currently in remission. Fascism was/is a protean aristocratic reactionary social movement mutating in an ever-changing industrial-urban world. Conservationism was/is a non-severable part of this movement.
A signature feature of fascist economics is the domestic cartel. Cartelization of a major multi-player industry like steel or chemicals is problematic enough but the cartelization of real estate, conservationism’s objective, requires a social movement. Cartels demand solidarity and enforcement. Cartel members can not produce however much they want or sell at whatever price. Entry into the market must be restricted. Farmland must not be created without consent. Farmland must not be urbanized without consent. Conservationism is landowners policing landowners.
Conservationism is part of a land use strategy aimed at maximizing land values. Its main organizers and beneficiaries are major landowners. Across Western Europe, then and now, major landowners are aristocrats. Uekoetter does not use the word “aristocracy.” He makes no mentions of a German “landed interest.” Imagine a history of US manufacturing that never used “businessmen” or “capitalists” or “manufacturers.” This is where history becomes lobotomy.
Incredibly, Uekoetter makes no mention of Ernst Haeckel, the founding father of German ecology. To discuss Haeckel’s career and views would unearth more green roots of German fascism. As well, Uekoetter touches too briefly on romanticism and animal rights and does not touch at all the youth movement, paganism, neo-feudalism, monarchism and other tentacles of aristocratic reaction with which German conservationism and fascism were entwined. Uekoetter and his merry band of environmental historians are part of a green-fascist denial movement.
Uekoetter, Frank; The Green and the Brown: A History of Conservation in Nazi Germany;CambridgeUniversityPress, Cambridge 2006.
Staudenmaier, Peter; Ecofascism Lessons From the German Experience, AK Press (see the “links” section of ecofascism.com for full copy)