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Ahnenerbe

The meaning of «ahnenerbe»

The Ahnenerbe (German: [ˈʔaːnənˌʔɛʁbə], ancestral heritage) operated as a think tank in Nazi Germany between 1935 and 1945. Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), established it as an SS appendage devoted to the task of promoting the racial doctrines espoused by Adolf Hitler and his governing Nazi Party, specifically by supporting the idea that the modern Germans descended from an ancient Aryan race seen as biologically superior to other racial groups. The group comprised scholars and scientists from a broad range of academic disciplines.

Hitler came to power in 1933, and over the following years he converted Germany into a one-party state under the control of his Nazi Party and governed by his personal dictatorship. He espoused the idea that modern Germans descended from the ancient Aryans, who he claimed—in contrast to established academic understandings of prehistory—had been responsible for most major developments in human history such as agriculture, art, and writing. The majority of the world's scholarly community did not accept Hitler's racial theories and claims about prehistory, and the Nazis decided to give them greater scholarly backing, establishing the Ahnenerbe with the purpose of providing evidence for Nazi racial doctrine and to promote these ideas to the German public through books, articles, exhibits, and conferences. Ahnenerbe scholars interpreted evidence to fit Hitler's beliefs, and some consciously fabricated evidence to do so. The organisation sent out various expeditions to other parts of the world, intent on finding evidence of ancient Aryan expansion.

The Nazi government used the Ahnenerbe's research to justify many of their policies. For instance, the think tank's claim that archaeological evidence indicated that the ancient Aryans lived across eastern Europe was cited in justification of German military expansion into that region. Ahnenerbe research was also cited in justification of the Holocaust, the mass killing of Jews and other groups—including Roma and homosexuals—through extermination camps and other methods. In 1937 the Ahnenerbe undertaking was renamed the Research and Teaching Community of the Ancestral Heritage (Forschungs- und Lehrgemeinschaft des Ahnenerbe). Some of the group's investigations were placed on hold at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Towards the end of the war, Ahnenerbe members destroyed much of the organisation's paperwork to avoid it incriminating them in forthcoming war-crimes tribunals.

Many Ahnenerbe members escaped the de-Nazification policies in West Germany and remained active in the country's archaeological establishment throughout the post-war decades. This stifled scholarly research into the Ahnenerbe, which only intensified after German reunification in 1990. The Ahnenerbe's ideas have remained popular in some neo-Nazi and far-right circles and have also influenced later pseudo-archaeologists.

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