How Green Were the Nazis?
By William Walter Kay
The eleven authors of How Green Were the Nazis? were painfully aware that contemporary studies of German conservatism’s evolution into Nazism routinely highlight the naturalistic and ecological underpinnings of this political current. An appeal to the authority of ecology for political guidance is widely acknowledged as being basic to Nazism. A need to refute this scholarly consensus motivated the writing of How Green Were the Nazis? …but alas, in vain. The eleven clods (environmentalists all) formed a circular firing squad around their target. They shot holes through one another’s arguments then fled the scene leaving behind piles of good ammunition.
What follows is a critical condensation of How Green Were the Nazis?. (All paginated quotes are from the edition cited in the Bibliography.)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
German “Environmentalism” 1848-1933
Environmentalism in the Early Third Reich
Reich Forest Master Goring
Air Pollution Policy in the Third Reich
How Green Was Darre?
Martin Heidegger – Green Plato
The Geopolitik of Landscape Architecture
German “Environmentalism” 1848-1933
The word “environment” was not part of German political discourse until the 1960s. Previously, “homeland protection” and “nature protection” were used in ways that today would be subsumed under the “environmentalist” label. The concept “land stewardship” also circulated as did “landscape-care.” Architectural preservation and landscape conservation went hand in hand. In other words, German “environmentalism” in the 1848-1933 period consisted of overlapping nature protection, homeland protection, and landscape-care organizations.
Romanticism typified late 19th century German nature-protection advocates. Depicting Nature as an awe-inspiring primordial shrine animated the movement’s base of teachers and civil servants into demanding picturesque valleys remain un-desecrated.
A coterminous ideological current held out a naturalistic vision of the German nation as a cohesive organic entity: the Volk-organism. This concept was linked to the cult of nature science that swept Europe in the wake of the Darwinian revolution. “Ecology” was coined by Ernst Haeckel – a Volkish movement pioneer.
Volkish and Naturalist movement members both contended Man’s contact with Nature had been ruptured by the growth of industry and of a rootless urban population. Environmental degradation was blamed on the materialistic world-view’s stripping Nature of its divine and patriotic essences. They attacked unchecked capitalism and lambasted farmers for clearing hedgerows and bushes. They called for the preservation, on aesthetic grounds, of winding streams and pleasant meadows.
In the late 19th century the Prussian provinces of Rhineland and Westphalia spawned Germany’s first nature-protection and homeland-protection organizations. By the 1890s such groups were founding parks.
By 1905 hundreds of prominent individuals and associations from across Germany advanced the conservationist agenda. State conservation agencies, spouting scientific rationales, emerged. The founding director of Prussia’s Office for Natural Monuments worried aloud about agricultural expansion driving wild species to extinction. Conservationists across Germany, especially in Bavaria, followed this lead by focusing on both ecologically and aesthetically valuable places. They equated the commercial development of these locales with Germany’s destruction.
Activist poet Hermann Lons, in 1906, opined:
“…the nature protection movement was a struggle for the preservation of the health of the entire people, a struggle for the power of the nation, for the prosperity of the race.” (P. 26)
Prussia enacted a “Law against the Disfigurement of Exceptionally Scenic Areas” in 1902 and again in 1907. Prussian guidelines recommended road-builders consult with local homeland-protection groups before building major projects.
An early green cause celebre was hydroelectricity’s impact on scenic spots. After the formation of the Homeland Protection Bund many academics, including Max Weber, fought to preserve the waterfalls atop the Rhine. These disputes spilled over into the Weimar era.
This movement surged after WWI. Spokesman Hans Klose commented:
“…for every hundred people that once bemoaned the disfigurement and destruction, there are now a thousand.” (P. 7)
When Herman Lons died in 1914 he had sold 20,000 poetry books. By 1934 his sales topped five million.
In the 1920s scores of enviro-groups agitated – some successfully. The Westphalian Museum for Natural History protected 56 regions by 1932. The Ruhr Settlement Association, founded in 1920, had by 1930 protected 141,000 hectares (37% of the Ruhr region) despite an influx of 500,000 workers into the area. Such organizations blamed a paucity of legislation for dooming their efforts to protect key areas like Lake Laacher or to prevent hotel building around the Eifel lakes.
By the late 1920s Germany hosted Europe’s most powerful and articulate environmental movement. This was a movement saturated with Volkish ideology, with many outspoken fascists in its ranks. All members expressed nostalgia for the pre-Enlightenment world and emphasized the spiritual aspect of their political project. They recruited young people with wilderness outings and folk songs. Central to their ideology was hostility to unregulated capitalism.
In 1927 noted conservationist Professor Hans Schwenkel decried the “predominance of money” and the “over-valuation of productivity” – abhorrences he claimed had inspired nature protectionism.
Heinrich Haake, a later President of the Homeland Protection Bund, wanted to end the “limitless individualism” which allowed owners to build whatever they liked. He wanted only buildings that fit into their natural environments and surrounding historical styles with “nuance and honesty.”
Walter Schoenichen, Director of the Prussian Office for Natural Monuments in the 1920s, lamented the “unscrupulous thirst for profit that holds nothing as holy or worthy of reverence than the welfare of the cash register.”
Schoenichen praised the Nature-loving soul of the German race as he denounced the impact of mining, railroads, and canals on Germany’s countryside – crimes committed by those smitten with the un-German spirit of commerce. He hoped to do away with the spirit of capitalism and democracy. In 1933 he joined the Nazi Party and published a book defending Germany’s pristine moors and heaths from predatory capitalism. He espoused the “blood and soil” doctrine and the corollary tenet that landscape shapes culture.
Many Weimar-era conservationists shed their reputations as anti-modern Romantics by re-branding their cause as future-oriented land-use planning. The first President of the Homeland Protection Bund, Paul Schultze-Naumburg, had argued since 1910 that one could reconcile Nature and industry through careful planning. In 1930 he joined the Nazi Party and laid the framework for Nazi land-use policy with his essay “The Creation of the Landscape.” Liberal arbitrariness would be overcome through central planning.
German environmentalists cheered the Nazi’s rise to power. Several Nazi leaders (Richard Walther Darre, Walter von Keudell, Fritz Todt, etc.) were widely known to hold green views on agriculture, forestry, and road building.
Weimar-era environmentalists shared Nazism’s rejection of liberalism and materialism. The Nazi’s anti-Marxism resonated among movement members who, dreading the “red menace,” hoped a vigorous nationalism might supplant class warfare with an appreciation for homeland values. Above all, they felt threatened by the “cancer of urban modernity.” They railed against factories, gaudy hotels, tacky souvenir shops, and formerly bucolic fields now criss-crossed with high tension wires. They touted pre-industrial villages as models. Nazism never fully displaced this older aesthetic, regionalist vision.
Environmentalism in the Early Third Reich
One proffered counterpoint to the ‘Nazis-were-green’ thesis posits that infighting among top Nazis prevented effective implementation of environmental policy. True, in the early months of the Third Reich the Ministers of Justice, Interior, and Education grappled for control over nature-protection policy (until Goring shoved them all aside). At the same time, Alfred Rosenberg’s Fighting League for German Culture and Werner Haverbeck’s Reich League for Volk and Homeland vied for control of the nature-protection movement.
Such infighting is hardly evidence of opposition to environmentalism. On the contrary, it demonstrates how precious green policy and the green movement were to top Nazis. Moreover despite the infighting, the early years of the Third Reich (1933-1936) were the halcyon years of German environmentalism.
Emphasis is rightly placed on the 1935 passage of the landmark Reich Nature Protection Law (RNG) but much green policy appeared before then. In 1933 Bernhard Rust’s Education Ministry decreed a law protecting animals and plants. In the same year Goring tightened hunting rules and issued multiple eco-forestry decrees (see below). As of June 1933 Prussian forest owners could apply for loans to pay Labour Service crews to re-forest their land. 40,000 hectares were re-forested in the program’s first year. As well, the “Law Concerning the Regulation of Land Requirements” was passed before the RNG.
Nevertheless, the RNG was Nature’s Magna Carta; or least that is how Professor Hans Klose described it. Goring commissioned Klose to draft the RNG, an assignment he undertook with diligence and sincerity. The result:
“In July 1935, Germany’s National Socialist dictatorship decreed one of the industrialized world’s most wide-ranging conservation laws. Known as the Reich Nature Protection Law (Reichsnaturschutzgestz or RNG), it impressed observers at the time for several reasons. It created the possibility for protecting entire landscapes and curbing the destructive effects of economic development on the countryside. It provided a unified definition of areas worthy of protection for the entire nation, a long time goal of German advocates for Naturschutz (nature protection). It also required any party wishing to alter the terrain through major construction projects to consult with responsible government officials. Spokespersons for leading Naturschutz journals praised the Nazi regime for passing legislation with such far-reaching potential to preserve Germany’s natural surroundings; in fact, many of them considered the RNG long overdue.” (Page 18)
Under the Weimar Constitution conservation policy had been relegated to state governments. RNG elevated the Prussian Office for Natural Monuments to the national level. A new Reich Nature Protection Office came under Goring’s authority.
RNG provisions included:
Section 5 protected the “remaining portions of the landscape in free nature” from the “one-sided priority of material …and economic interests.”
Section 18 authorized the Reich Forest Master to designate Nature Protection Areas and expropriate land if necessary.
Section 20 required government officials to consult with local conservation activists before issuing permits for landscape-modifying projects.
Section 24 allowed for the denial of indemnification claims from aggrieved landowners. (In 1935 Education Minister Bernhard Rust noted that property rights impeded conservation efforts, adding that Hitler agreed with this assertion.)
Conservationists heralded the RNG as the fulfillment of dreams. The editors of Nature and Homeland declared:
“…the foundation of the Reich Nature Protection Law states clearly and without a doubt that nature protection is an essential part of the worldview of National Socialism.” (Page 32)
Such declarations were common. The RNG made Germany the world’s greenest nation.
Westphalian conservationist William Lienenkamper complained the RNG lacked enforcement and funding. Some authors of How Green Were the Nazis extend this into a broader challenge of the Nazi’s green credentials on the grounds that Reich environmental policy was poorly managed. This is like saying the Nazis were not militaristic because they prosecuted the war so poorly.
This argument also ignores contributions made to environmentalism by lower levels of Third Reich governance. For instance, Rhenish Governor Heinrich Haake’s patronage brought unprecedented financial stability and professional status to Rhenish nature protection. Provincial monies for nature protection quadrupled between 1934 and 1937.
Further, this argument ignores the fact that across Germany, within a little over three years after RNG’s passage, the Nazis established 800 nature parks.
Reich Forest Master Goring
No Nazi more actively promoted eco-forestry than Goring. His policies were ecological to a degree not seen again until the 1980s. Amongst his other titles Goring was: Reich Forest Master, Master of the Hunt, and Supreme Commissioner of Nature Conservancy. In these capacities he employed 74 professors.
Goring’s forest policy requires historical context:
The roots of German “scientific forestry” reach down to a perceived wood shortage in the 1700s. With stated goals of maximizing long-term wood production, German foresters re-stocked forests and re-forested areas previously cleared for agriculture. The result was evenly-aged monoculture conifer forests.
Disenchantment with “scientific forestry” began around 1850 among advocates of a back-to-nature approach aimed at creating forests of unevenly aged conifers and broad-leafed trees. A few generations later Prussian Forest Academy Professor Alfred Moller could eulogize forests as organic ecosystems and call for a forestry based on value not volume. When Moller died in 1922 a handful of forest owners had switched to his “Dauerwald” model.
Dauerwald or “perpetual forest” is now called eco-forestry:
“In other words, the organic view of nature that underlay the Dauerwald model in the 1930s corresponds to a large degree with what we would label holism, environmentalism, sustainability, biodiversity, habitat protection, and ecological management today.” (Page 45)
In 1932 Goring visited the primeval forests owned by Walter von Keudell; a Dauerwald practitioner. Goring apparently liked what he saw.
(Part of the backdrop to Dauerwald’s ascendancy was the depressed wood market of 1928-1932. Competition from low-cost Polish and Soviet imports halved wood prices, prompting many German forest owners to postpone harvests.)
Once in power Goring immediately made Walter von Keudell his Chief of the Prussian State Forest Office. Decrees mandating Dauerwald followed in September 1933. Goring issued tough regulations ending conifer-only planting; a practice he claimed destroyed wildlife habitat.
After the 1934 passage of the Reich Forest Bill, Prussian forest owners could no longer avoid the strictest silviculture standards. Months later a new Reich Forest Office extended Dauerwald to the entire Reich despite its being a largely untested approach to silviculture. Also in 1934 an enlarged afforestation program put unemployed men to work planting forests across Germany.
Dauerwald regulations ordered foresters to: (a) refrain from cutting conifers under 50 years of age (upon penalty of one year in jail); (b) refrain from clear-cutting more than 2.5% of their forest; (c) use single tree selection rather than clear cuts; (d) cut the worst rather than the best trees; (e) refrain from cutting big old trees; and (f) promote mixed species composition. The rules included provisions for habitat protection and watershed management.
It was not all bad news for forest owners. Dauerwald eliminated expenses related to planting and weed control. As well, forest owners received technical and financial assistance to help them comply with the new standards.
Dauerwald propaganda was grafted onto art exhibits, trade shows, coffee-table books, and high-school biology texts. Forestry journals celebrated the bonds between forest and Volk and provided never-ending comparisons between silviculture and politics. Foresters became public speakers. Saxon state foresters attended week-long boot camps at the Nazi Training School in Augustusburg Castle. The 1936 hit film, Eternal Forest, inter-spliced vignettes from a 2,000-year history of the Volk with images of magnificent oaks waving in the breeze.
The twin goals of rearmament and self-sufficiency in forest products conflicted with low-yield Dauerwald methods. As well, the booming economy of 1935-1936 increased demand for wood. The Four Year Plan (announced 1936) required wood harvest increases. Hence, Goring raised cutting quotas 50% above what his Dauerwald men deemed “sustainable.” Between 1934 and 1938, annual German wood harvests rose from 44 to 60 million cubic metres.
Von Keudell could not adapt to the new realities, so Goring replaced him with a party functionary who relaxed Dauerwald policies. Nevertheless, many Dauerwald rules remained in place. Even during WWII, with demand for wood higher than ever, cuts well over the “sustainable” limit had to be approved by the Forest Office.
Goring decreed a similar orderly retreat in his park policy. The Forest Office’s conservancy branch had been designing three massive national parks. These were put on hold until after the war.
The forestry situation changed as the war brought foreign forests under German control. By 1940 Germany controlled the forests of Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, and Norway. The Army cut what it needed locally. Two million cubic metres a year were harvested in France. In addition, Romania, Sweden, and Finland were bullied into cooperation with the monopolistic German wood marketing board.
The book’s post mortem on Third Reich forest policy concludes:
“Between 1933 and 1945, the total net balance of forest area remained positive with an average of 1,500 hectares of new forest created every year. Obviously, this did not amount to a substantial increase in the total German forest of more than 10 million hectares (which the program hoped to increase by a full 2.5 million hectares). Yet the positive net balance must nonetheless be seen as an ecological achievement particularly in view of the intense pressure on forest lands caused by the intensification of agriculture, the expansion of military areas, and the construction of the autobahn network.” (Page 60, emphasis added.)
Some argue that Goring’s weakening of Dauerwald regulations betray a lukewarm commitment to green ideals. However, by the book’s own statement of facts Goring was deeply devoted to eco-forestry and wildlife preservation. He compromised these beliefs due to the mortal exigencies of a colossal two-front war. Even in the face of this existential threat, many green forestry policies were retained. In the final analysis, Goring’s forestry policy was bright vermillion.
Air Pollution Policy in the Third Reich
The chapter on Third Reich air pollution policy seeks to undermine the ‘Nazis-were-green’ thesis by arguing that, despite the abundant evidence demonstrating air pollution to be a Nazi priority, Third Reich policies were mere extensions of policies from previous eras. The exceptionalness of Nazi air pollution policy vis a vis other contemporary countries is sidestepped, as is the zealous role played by elite Nazis in whipping up air pollution phobias (see Darre section below).
Generally, one can counter the main argument by noting that many negative features of the Second Reich – Fuhrer-principle, militarism, imperialism, racism, neo-feudalism, and obscurantism – were carried forward into the Third Reich. Little of what constitutes “fascism” was invented by the Third Reich. These traits were mainly extensions of an old, Europe-wide reactionary legacy. “Green” policies were one such trait.
The Nazis did inherit an established legal practice whereby industrial installations with air pollution risks had to obtain special licences. Such rules date to an 1845 Prussian Trading Regulation requiring entrepreneurs to file construction plans with authorities who then notified the public. Over the latter 19th century a complex air pollution law developed with monetary compensation being the most common dispute settlement method.
The Nazis also inherited a juridical quagmire from WWI regarding the resolution of air pollution disputes involving weapons producers. Secret rearmament necessitated restricting access to the plans for weapons plants. In 1934 a deal was struck whereby military suppliers would not be inspected in the same way as normal plants – but they were still inspected.
In fact, one of the more amazing features of the Third Reich was:
“Even when the demands of air pollution control were in direct conflict with the war effort, the bureaucracy’s reaction was by no means automatic…” (Page 116)
Examples of eco-activism obstructing the war effort abound:
In 1939 Bonn’s nature-protection officer (also Bonn’s Mayor) pleaded with the local anti-aircraft division not to fell an acacia grove.
In 1940 the Nazi Party district organization for Leipzig opposed the licensing of a steel foundry because of its potential for soot and stink.
In 1941 a Bielefeld businessman asked permission to dismantle his smokestack because it was being used as a landmark by Allied bombers. Local activists complained a lower chimney presented a smoke nuisance.
In 1942 a conflict arose over a plant that roasted surrogate coffee for the military. The company had to install a special filter.
In 1943 the Interior Minister issued directives on how to proceed when camouflage smoke screens harmed delicate plant life.
In 1943 Auschwitz’s building department asked the Prussian Institute for Water, Soil, and Air Hygiene to write a report countering air pollution concerns regarding the camp’s new “heating plant.”
In 1944 officials met in Westphalia to discuss the damage emissions from an aluminum smelter were doing to local trees.
The Luftwaffe’s building of emergency landing strips caused numerous conflicts with local enviro-activists.
No other combatant state during WWII tolerated such obstruction. The fact that top Nazis did tolerate it, and at times encouraged it, demonstrates both the depth of their commitment to environmentalism and the legitimacy environmentalism had attained within the Third Reich. Remember, Nazi Germany remains the exemplar of political intolerance. During the nightmare years no political movement had license to agitate, protest, and mobilize – except the greens.
How Green was Darre?
Scrubbing the Nazi stain off environmentalism requires discrediting Anna Bramwell, especially her Blood and Soil: Richard Walther Darre and Hitler’s Green Party. Bramwell’s name appears 46 times in How Green Were the Nazis? She is mentioned as often as Hitler. The main anti-Bramwell hatchet job is hewn by Gesine Gerhard.
Professor Gerhard’s first line of attack can be paraphrased thusly:
The portrait of Darre as benign peasant romanticist was painted by Darre himself at his war crimes trial. Only after his 1950 release did he show commitment to Anthroposophical ideas. His Anthroposophical escapades were a small part of his life’s work. To Darre “soil” was just agricultural property. He saw agriculture not in green terms but as a stepping above Nature to control the environment.
There is ample evidence from other contributors to How Green Were the Nazis? to repel this attack. In their chapters:
Darre is referred to as a “green” on multiple occasions.
Darre is called the principal formulator of “blood and soil” ideology.
Darre condemns artificial fertilizers for threatening the organic connection between Man and Nature. He launches a campaign to research farmers’ attitudes toward biodynamic farming in 1940 and he publically defends organic farmers in 1941.
Darre writes Hitler in 1941 to complain about Gestapo harassment of Anthroposophists. (In this letter Darre assumes Hitler is sympathetic since he recalls that Hitler ate only biodynamically farmed vegetables.)
While many leading Nazis support organic farming, and the SS even runs organic plantations, Darre is the main voice for organic farming in the Nazi cabinet. His support of organic agriculture resonates throughout the Party.
If one is not limited to the data found in How Green Were the Nazis? then mention could be made of the many Darre quotations, found by Bramwell and others, wherein Darre comes off as every bit as much of a soil-worshipping crank as Seifert or Steiner. Also, Agricultural Minister Darre surrounded himself with biodynamic activists. Finally, one need not get bogged down in picayune distinctions between “biodynamic” and “organic.” They are essentially the same thing and it was Darre who personally coined the phrase “organic food.”
Professor Gerhard’s second line of attack on Darre’s green creds consists of a broad critique of Third Reich agricultural policies. Mere references to the ecological principles underlying the blood-and-soil doctrine, she scolds, do not alone make Nazi agriculture green. Countering this line of attack requires a little explanation.
In the perennial green utopia, the countryside is populated with myriads of tiny, low-tech farms. This dream lives on in farmers’ markets, locavorism, community gardens and in the massive organic foods industry. While such sentiments remain part of modern environmentalism, they were a more important part of early 20th century environmentalism. Rural romanticism was the reactionary rule of the day, and Darre wholeheartedly embraced this.
Darre’s two books, published in 1929 and 1930, were hits in right-wing intellectual circles. The latter book envisioned a new ruling class based in the countryside. Through his membership in the rural romanticist Artamanen youth group, Darre met Himmler and other Nazi leaders.
Darre was introduced to Hitler by Paul Schultze-Naumburg at Schultze-Naumburg’s residence in 1930 (the host being Germany’s most august conservationist). At this meeting Hitler hired Darre to organize farmers for the Nazi Party, thereby fulfilling Darre’s wish of building a united green front that could finally give agriculture one voice in its struggle against urban-industrial interests. Through the Nazi’s Agrarian Apparatus he weaved a web of activists reaching into the smallest of villages.
After acquiring power, the Nazis made Darre the Reich Peasant Leader. This gave him control over the Reich Food Estate (RFE) – a compulsory organization whose membership included anyone engaged in growing, processing, or selling agricultural products. The RFE had 17 million members and 33,000 employees.
Under Darre, the RFE enabled farmers’ air pollution claims against their industrial neighbors. For example, in Saxony the RFE supported a lawsuit by beekeepers against a metal-works. In 1935 Darre ordered local RFE offices to document all local air pollution conflicts. Darre became personally involved in many conflicts. RFE’s well-oiled team of experts put industrialists at such a disadvantage they established the defensive Research Institute for Air Pollution Damage in 1941.
However, Darre’s passion was not air pollution; it was removing farmland from the capitalist market, thereby ensuring continuity of small peasant operations. Darre’s Hereditary Entailment Law granted peasant male heirs, typically the eldest son, an inalienable right to inherit their father’s land. Hence the land could not be sold or mortgaged. Estate sizes were set at between 7.5 hectares and 125 hectares.
Large landowners were reticent precisely because of the limits on estate size, but in practice these limits were not enforced. In fact, the number of Entailment estates turned out to be far fewer than originally planned.
Small farmers welcomed the law’s protection against foreclosure but resented the increased interference. Darre, with Hitler’s support, defended the law emphatically. Critics were discredited, money was spent on propaganda, and public debate outlawed.
The Hereditary Entailment Law hindered investment in farm modernization and thus conflicted with the Four-Year Plan, which called for yield increases achievable only by expensive mechanization. Nonetheless, the law remained intact until Darre’s replacement loosened its restrictions in late 1943.
Darre pushed hard in the Nazi cabinet for policies forcing organic agricultural methods onto all farmers. However with war clouds on both horizons, even Darre conceded this was the wrong time to embark on a massive transformation toward low-yield agriculture. Hence, German food production remained, for the most part, dependent on efficient farming methods including the use of chemical fertilizers.
Another challenge to Darre’s green status relates to his forest policy. Darre had jurisdiction over forests located on farm property (25% of the German forest). This caused friction because his vision of millions of tiny organic farms required forest clearances – an abomination to other greens. Darre’s “inner colonization” was praised by some as turning wasteland into farmland but denounced by others as a “careless drive for output.” Landscape architects assured purists that the reclaimed land could be restored, but purists contended that through the draining of marshes and straightening of streams the land’s ecological authenticity was forever lost. It is worth noting that the land reclamation program also engaged in traditional beautification measures such as cleaning fields and planting trees.
Moreover, this was an intra-movement struggle. Today, wind power and bio-fuels are considered “green” but many other greens protest the impact on wilderness that these technologies have.
To conclude: Darre’s trajectory tracks Goring’s. Both came out forcefully for green policies and both were forced by circumstances, mainly WWII, to compromise their principles. Neither abandoned their green ideals.
Martin Heidegger – Green Plato
“Contrary to what Heidegger and Heideggerians have long maintained, historical research has demonstrated beyond doubt Heidegger’s early enthusiasm for National Socialism. Heidegger sympathized with the Nazis before 1933, he actively maneuvered to become rector, he publically joined the Nazi Party on May Day, and the ceremony around the Rectoral Address included Nazi flags and the singing of the ‘Horst Wessel Song.’ While Jews and political opponents were removed from the university (like his teacher Edmund Husserl) or even forced to flee the country (like his intimate friend Hannah Arendt) Heidegger showed enthusiastic support for the destruction of the Weimar Republic and for the new regime. He praised the Fuhrer principle for the university sector, while striving to attain such a position for himself. In speeches and newspaper articles he identified himself with Hitler’s rule, going so far as to state in autumn 1933, ‘The Fuhrer himself and alone is and will be Germany’s only reality and its law.’ He not only approved in principle of the Nazi cleansing, but also tried to use the new regime to destroy the academic careers of colleagues, for example by initiating a Gestapo investigation.” (Page 172-173)
Heidegger’s claim that he opposed the Nazi regime after ending his rectorship in 1934 is a lie. He remained a loyal Nazi Party member until 1945.
Coming from a staunch Catholic background Martin Heidegger originally studied to be a priest. His disillusionment with Catholicism did not signify a loss of religiosity. He yearned for communal religious consciousness. Like Nietzsche he believed he lived in a nihilistic age because no religion was strong enough to shape history.
Heidegger’s traditionalist views aligned with those of the Homeland Protection Bund. His dress and style were inspired by the Romantic youth movement. He favored natural lifestyles in harmony with regional landscapes. He favoured German technology in harmony with nature. While not a Luddite, he joined the chorus denouncing the “monstrousness” of hydroelectricity. He did not share the wilderness ideal but, like most German greens, he preferred planned landscapes. Idealizing the peasant-artisan economy, and judging cities negatively, he supported back-to-soil resettlement campaigns and other anti-urbanization measures. He rejected a professorship at Berlin’s Friedrich Wilhelm University because, so he claimed, he needed to stay connected to the Black Forest.
Being and Time (1927), Heidegger’s main Weimar-era work, touched on heritage and collective destiny but centred on finding ways toward “authentic existence.” Heidegger soon became openly fascist. After reading Ernst Junger’s Total Mobilization (1930), Heidegger expressed contempt for constitutionalism, democracy, and human rights. He advocated rule by an elite led by a Fuhrer.
As the Nazis gained power, Heidegger crowed “the glory of the greatness of the new beginning.” Suddenly “authentic existence” meant complete identification with the destiny of the Volk as expressed by Hitler. In a May, 1933 letter he declared his utopia would be “volkish totalitarianism.”
In 1933-1934 Heidegger exhibited Promethean ambition. In writings freighted with martial terminology, he likened the philosopher to a soldier. He believed Plato’s vision of the philosopher as advisor to the ruler was becoming reality. He believed he was that philosopher. His lectures concluded with straight-arm salutes.
During his 1936 lecture series Heidegger wore his Nazi Party badge and clearly self-identified as a Nazi. He called on Germans to rescue Western civilization from Marxism and Americanism and he extolled the supremacy of German culture. His 1940 lectures presented Nietzsche as the quintessential Nazi philosopher and the “will to power” as the Third Reich’s core doctrine.
After WWII Heidegger clung to German chauvinism and anti-Semitism and he lauded the “truth and greatness” of Nazism. He blamed the nihilistic crisis on “humanism.” Distinctions between totalitarian and democratic systems were superficial. Heidegger remained an anti-democratic elitist and resolute anti-American to the end of his days.
Heidegger’s writings continue to exert tremendous influence inside and outside academia. More importantly, “environmental thought increasingly draws on his work.” His post-war philosophy exhibited a clear green mindset.
His “The Question Concerning Technology” (1954) repeated themes Ludwig Klages voiced in “Man and Earth” (1913) – the classic critique of unchecked industry. The metaphysical essence of destructive modernity, Heidegger argued, was scientific-mechanical thought. The lack of appreciation for Nature made unscrupulous use of the environment seem appropriate. The empty technological frenzy exemplified by the USA uprooted Man from Earth.
After the war Junger also published a book denouncing modern technology. In fact, many celebrity academics (Gunther Anders, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno) voiced fears that dominating Nature entailed dominating human nature.
Finally, Martin returned to his roots. In a 1966 Spiegel interview (Only God Can Save Us) he reiterated that Earth was not raw material but a holy place. The spread of new beliefs and the arrival of a new God may break the hubris of modernity, but change will be apocalyptic.
The Geopolitik of Landscape Architecture
Two entwined academic/policy genres figured prominently in the Third Reich: Geopolitik and Landscape Architecture. Both dealt with “the land” albeit the former from a theoretical angle and the latter from an applied perspective. This article tracks these threads of thought through the biographies of two leading theorists. This is followed by a cameo of how their theories manifested in occupied Poland.
The Wilhelmine era’s principal Political Geographer, Friedrich Ratzel, was an outspoken conservative-nationalist who, like Haeckel, originally studied zoology from the then novel perspective of Darwinianism. Ratzel preached a racialized science fused with reactionary ruralism. Volk and land were one. Several of his pupils became prominent Volkish spokesmen. Wilhelmine Political Geography reincarnated itself into the Weimar era as “Geopolitik” while preserving its precursor’s ecological orientation.
In 1934 the Nazi Party decreed:
“Geopolitical training for all parts of the party is extremely valuable for political training, as is the dissemination of geopolitical thought overall.” (Page 223)
Every schoolchild in the Third Reich studied Geopolitik.
Rising alongside Geopolitik was Landscape-Care. Circa 1890 “landscape” emerged as a recognized category of German publication. Circa 1930 Germany was inundated by books with “landscape” in their titles. Many nature-protection and homeland-protection leaders rebranded themselves as landscape-care activists.
Weimar-era Landscape Architecture, as a profession, was the preserve of a few dozen men who designed gardens for wealthy clients and occasionally parks for cities. They were full-time Geography Profs, part-time Landscape Architects. This changed qualitatively in the Third Reich:
“Landscape architects and urban planners enjoyed an unusually high status within the political and social structure of Nazi Germany…” (Page 243)
Previously conservationists set aside small regions on a case-by-case basis. Landscape Architects drafted grandiose, comprehensive land-use plans.
Reich Landscape Advocate Alwin Seifert (1890-1972) is best known for being the landscape advisor for the Autobahn project. He was a passionate gardener and avid conservationist. His ideology changed little over the course of his eventful life; he evinced enduring commitment to landscape; but not to democracy. Some consider Seifert: “the most prominent environmentalist in the Nazi regime.”
Since the late 1800s German intellectuals had held forth about their preferences for either rare natural landscapes or omnipresent cultural landscapes. Seifert seized the middle ground with designs linking nature to culture. This put him at odds with those who sought purely to protect nature from the encroachments of modernity. Love of wilderness did not propel Seifert.
Seifert studied architecture at Munich’s Technical University. After WWI he lectured at this university while earning extra money dabbling in landscape design.
In the 1920s Seifert joined Bavaria’s Nature Protection Bund – one of Germany’s largest conservation groups. Bund members were just then reformulating their agenda to accommodate a limited amount of industrial development. Seifert lambasted Romanticism as “sentimental flower painting.”
In 1930 Seifert embraced organic farming; becoming an ardent proponent of Rudolf Steiner’s methods. Seifert claimed that clearing farmland of hedges and shrubs caused ecological problems such as desertification, soil deterioration, and species extinction – in addition to a loss of beauty and balance in the landscape.
In January 1934 Fritz Todt, the Third Reich’s Chief Engineer, hired Seifert as his landscape adviser. Seifert in turn hired 15 colleagues for his landscape team; each preached and practised organic farming and each was an avid hiker.
Seifert’s team clashed with the civil engineers. Landscape advocates favoured natural, curvilinear patterns while engineers wanted roads and rails to be as straight as possible. Seifert’s push for monumental embankments alongside transportation routes, often with trees planted several rows deep, further aggravated the engineers. By the late 1930s Seifert’s men were making headway.
Siefert’s influence reached into the Reich Labor Service (a make-work program that reclaimed land and corrected rivers) after Todt convinced Labor Service managers to use Seifert’s men as advisers. After 1936 all Labor Service plans were vetted by a landscape expert. Five landscape advocates were hired by the Labor Service. Likewise, the Transportation Secretary consulted Seifert’s men when planning river corrections.
Seifert’s men “naturalized” industrial features by embedding them into the contours of the landscape. They went beyond aesthetics by stressing the ecological benefits of their plans. The landscape was an organic whole wherein minor intrusions might have major unforeseen consequences. To one pundit, landscape disfigurement resulted from disrespecting micro-climatic bio-zones. (He betrayed his authoritarian aspirations by publically dreaming of a day when landscape advocates could rap the knuckles of the masses.)
Seifert’s first campaign outside the realm of the Autobahn consisted of dire public warnings of impending desertification, an issue he had been railing-on about for years. With Todt’s blessing, Seifert published a paper on desertification in the journal German Technique. Typical of ecological prose, the paper starts by describing an impending sea-change in our understanding of Nature. The mechanical, rational mindset was giving way to an intuitive, respectful view of Mother Earth. The article then attacks hydraulic engineers for lowering water tables and blames river straightening for all manner of downstream damage. Coppices on river banks must never be cut.
Seifert popularized “organicism,” a concept prevalent in ecology circles on both sides of the Atlantic. His cautionary tale was the ‘American Dust Bowl.’ He watched with satisfaction as the US Soil Conservation Service implemented measures similar to ones he proposed, and even re-introduced beavers.
Seifert enjoyed strong backing from Todt, whose domain ultimately extended to the management of all water and energy projects. Todt called Seifert his “conscience.” Todt himself sponsored research on native species, especially those hearty enough to survive on their own (i.e. weeds). When Darre asked Todt to silence Seifert for his “wrongheaded fantasy-ridden scribblings” Todt replied that Seifert had his full support and added that Rudolf Hess supported Seifert as well.
Hess definitely shared Seifert’s interest in biodynamic agriculture. Seifert designed a garden for Hess’s home, and he boasted of plans of doing likewise for Hitler after the war. Seifert designed a greenhouse for Hitler’s mountain retreat, found a gardener for the property, and ensured delivery of organic vegetables.
Reich Nature-Protection Agency Director Hans Klose said Seifert’s contacts with the Nazi elite were better than his own. In 1939 Hitler awarded Seifert the title of Professor. On Seifert’s 50th birthday Todt christened him: Reich Landscape Expert.
Seifert served as a go-between for the Anthroposophical Society and the Nazi state. The Union of Anthroposophist Farmers was banned by the Gestapo in 1935 but their biodynamic methods flourished. Seifert tried to convince the regime to mandate biodynamic farming on a grand scale.
Seifert successfully halted or mitigated plans for several hydroelectric dams. He fundamentally altered the plans for Austria’s Kaprum Dam. During this struggle, disgruntled engineers nicknamed him “Wild Alwin.”
Seifert’s career suffered setbacks after Hess’s 1941 flight to Britain and Todt’s 1942 death by airplane crash. Hitler protected Seifert until Seifert condoned student protests in 1943. Thereafter Seifert was on probation. In June 1944 the Reich Chancellery declared him unfit for professorship. He later used this to portray himself as a victim of Nazi persecution. His autobiography reworks his Third Reich years into a self-sacrificing fight for Nature.
Seifert was no naïve innocent. The more he fought with civil, hydro, and chemical engineers, the shriller and more racist his rhetoric grew.
Himmler kept Seifert fully abreast of efforts to generate gas from the feces of Auschwitz inmates. One of Seifert’s handpicked men worked full-time at the camp. Constructing this experimental sludge station killed thousands of inmates.
Seifert was very well acquainted with the organic herb garden at the Dachau concentration camp near his home. Brutal conditions at this herb garden claimed the lives of 1,000 workers.
None of this would have bothered Seifert much. He was a “fanatical anti-Semite.” His attitude toward other ethnic groups was not much better. In occupied Poland he led the call to “cleanse the towns of past Polish mismanagement.” (Page 245)
Seifert suffered few repercussions for his wartime activities. His major postwar project was designing the landscape around the Moselle River channels. The “emblematic conservationist,” Seifert, also wrote a how-to book on home composting that sold hundreds of thousands copies across Europe. It’s still in print.
Geopolitik’s main spokesman, Karl Haushofer, was Rudolf Hess’s commanding officer during WWI, and the two later studied together at the University of Munich. Haushofer shared Hess’s interest in the occult. Hess introduced Haushofer to Hitler.
Haushofer fully imbibed the anti-modern, anti-urban, and anti-democratic ethos of the fascist milieu. He detailed the “blood and soil” view of the Volk as a living organism in his book The National-Socialist Idea in the World.
The triumphant Nazis made Haushofer the President of the German Academy, an academic association tied to ethnic Germans across Eastern Europe. Haushofer’s Geopolitik Journal was distributed abroad to facilitate this network of foreign contacts. Back home, Haushofer was a celebrity who gave regular radio addresses.
Haushofer’s publisher, Kurt Vowinckel, was another prominent member of the influential Geopolitik Working Group who thus helped define Geopolitik. Vowinckel, an early Nazi Party member, stood closer to the regime’s inner sanctums than did Haushofer. Darre also had a strong interest in Geopolitik, and Haushofer’s son published articles in Darre’s journal Odal.
To this crowd Geopolitik was more than a science; it was as an inner mood, a spiritual attitude. Even so, certain Nazis rejected Geopolitik as too materialist, arguing that true Political Geography had to be entirely idealist.
The Second Reich laid plans to conquer Poland during WWI. At that war’s outset Germany’s preeminent landscape architect, Hermann Koenig, claimed the hoped-for acquisitions in the East presented an opportunity to:
“…eliminate the urban-development sins of past decades. The dictatorial power of the victor will offer our generation the rare chance to operate artistically on totally new ground. (Page 244)
In WWII eastern military conquests fulfilled Koenig’s dream by allowing landscape planners to partake in monumental project towards a greener future. According to the editors of How Green Were the Nazis?:
“General Plan East was about bringing humans, nature, and race into harmony in order to establish a new agrarian way of life for Aryan colonists. Here green and Nazi thinking came together to a degree not seen elsewhere.” (Page 13)
Just as the Reich Nature Protection Office immediately extended Nazi nature-protection laws onto occupied Poland, German landscape architects followed the Wehrmacht into Poland and immediately imposed comprehensive land-use plans. They no longer designed gardens and parks but entire regions. The entire land-planning profession participated in this endeavor, with fatal consequences for millions of people. “Landscape cleansing” razed countless farms and villages.
In October 1939 Hitler anointed SS Commander Heinrich Himmler as his Reich Commissioner for Strengthening Germandom with a mission to oversee settlement of new territories. Himmler was keenly interested in this project; especially in its land planning component. Himmler’s chief landscape architect, Berlin Professor Heinrich Wiepking-Jurgensmann, foresaw:
“…a golden age for the German landscape and garden designer that will surpass everything that even the most enthusiastic among us had previously dreamed.” (Page 247)
Landscape architects enthusiastically extolled Nazism in their publications. Poles and Russians were depicted as subhuman. Wiepking-Jurgensmann considered Slavs incapable of designing landscapes or managing natural resources. In one of his publications a photo of a dilapidated Polish farmhouse is accompanied by a caption reading, “Suggestion: Removal of ‘Farmers’ and Afforestation.”
Professor Konrad Meyer, another SS man known for his totalitarian approach to landscape planning, ran the University of Berlin’s Institute for Agriculture and Land Politics. In a Reich Commission document, Basics of Planning for the Building-up of the Eastern Areas, Meyer spelled out details that were first aired at a January 1940 conference of landscape planners. The document reads:
“In the following material, it is taken for granted that the entire Jewish population of this area, roughly 560,000 people, has already been evacuated or will leave the area in the course of the winter. Therefore it is practical to count on a population of nine million people… At the same time 3.4 million Poles should be deported little by little…” (Page 248)
The displaced Poles were to be taken to train stations, divided into small groups, then dispersed across the country and left to fend for themselves. Within weeks of Meyer’s speech, in the Saybusch Action, the Army displaced 17,413 Poles to create small farms for suitable Germans. This was a beginning…
Extermination camps were well known to the planners. The Reich Office for Spatial Order designed concentration camps.
Despite the landscape-planning profession’s inextricable links to war crimes, Wiepking-Jurgensmann, Meyer et al carried on as professors and consultants after 1945. No denazification of German landscape planning ever took place.
Let us dispatch two stragglers before confronting more serious matters.
One argument from How Green Were the Nazis? contends that German environmentalists of the 1918-45 era differ from contemporary environmentalists because the former were mainly concerned with aesthetics while the latter press scientific, ecological concerns. This is an odd argument to pop out of a book which elsewhere chronicles a dozen examples of environmentalists from the earlier era couching their activism in scientific, ecological terms. Ecological pretexts for blocking development date to the 1860s when “ecology” was concocted. In fact, it was precisely for those purposes that ecology was concocted. Moreover, appeals to aesthetics continue to be standard environmentalist practice. The most hackneyed of propaganda images deployed by modern enviro-organizations remains the aerial photograph of stunning greenery (of locales best enjoyed from grand distances).
A similar argument stresses how racism was a prominent feature of Nazism while modern environmentalists are anti-racist. The Nazis, it is claimed, were mainly motivated by racism, not environmentalism, and thus were not green by contemporary standards. Defects in this argument abound. For starters, racism remains a feature of modern environmentalism. In key countries, notably Canada, Australia, and Brazil, much green activism is fronted by movement-paid aboriginals whose blood-and-soil indigenous-ism recycles old-school Nazi propaganda. As well, although kept under wraps, environmentalism in Germany and elsewhere contains a faction of unreconstructed Nazis. In addition, through its conjoined movements, environmentalism indirectly foments racial discord in the USA. Environmentalists directly play the race card with their “environmental justice” campaigns. Movement organizations themselves are brazenly, unapologetically white-dominated. Environmentalism’s land conservation program in the developing world consists of white elites driving poor dark-skinned people from newly declared parkland. Most importantly, racism was not essential to fascism. The supremacy of the landed estate and the removal of land from the open market were central to fascism; and they remain essential to environmentalism.
The Cold War’s end relieved western academics from the mundane duties of paying lip service to objective materialist perspectives. They are free again to flutter about the luminescent monopole of subjective idealism. Thus, the history of Germany collapses into a history of German professors’ turgid prose. Untethered political ideologies once more sail as high as cirrostratus clouds o’er the munching herds.
The rare mentions of class in How Green Were the Nazis? refer to nebulae like “middle class” and “peasants” – categories which, of course, are undefined. Regarding social structures like: landed interest, aristocracy, landlordism, rent, etc., the book contains almost no discussion. Regarding the tectonic clash between the landed estate and the entrepreneurial class – again, no discussion. The book is a bath of revisionist, idealist apologetics drawn by blinkered, grovelling hacks.
Even drudges have accidental moments of near lucidity. Witness this sentence:
“Time and again, feudal rulers expropriated land and expelled peasants in order to create parks and hunting preserves designed for exclusive pleasures.”
The sentence opens with an on-point reference to rentier elites yanking land out of development. However, the sentence’s second half tells us they were just doing it for fun – for scenic and recreational purposes. Thus, the political economy of land supply is censored. Throughout the Middle Ages aristocrats drove the toiling rural masses from recently cleared lands back onto old estates where extortionate rents and taxes could be extracted. Landed elites must control the supply of land. They often use thick forests to limit the availability of land.
A case study in economics denial is the 40 pages the book devotes to German forest policy before and during the Third Reich. Hidden in the verbiage is a lone obscure reference to a shadowy “monopolistic German wood marketing board.” The effort to cartelize the forest industry should have been the main plot line of this historical narrative. The syndicate of forest magnates who forced smaller forest owners into compliance should have been the protagonist of this narrative. The imposition of low-yield silviculture, the turning of forests into parks, and other efforts to restrict annual harvests each had the effect (amongst others) of keeping wood prices high. These corporatist strategies were sold to the public as: saving Nature, preserving scenery, or maintaining ecological balance. Rather than focusing on the aristocrats who were cartelizing the forest industry, How Green Were the Nazis? focuses on the verdant verbiage of Forestry profs and eco-poets, i.e. the aristocrats’ PR boys.
Finally, the book holds this gem:
“Environmental ideas are not necessarily married to progressive political views and can be used by different regimes.”
The authors meant this as a concession – as an acknowledgement that: “Yes, the Nazis were green, BUT sadly, green ideas can be exploited by rogues.” The implied assumption here is that, today, environmental ideas are used by progressive politicos. In reality, environmentalism blocks progress in too many places and at too many levels to briefly list. The idea that Climate Change might be a colossal fraud would never occur to the authors. The truth is:
Environmentalist ideas are necessarily married to reactionary political views.
How Green Were the Nazis? : Nature, environment, and nation in the Third Reich edited by Franz-Josef Bruggemeier, Mark Cioc, and Thomas Zeller; Ohio University Press; Athens, Ohio, 2005.