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Sixty years ago, when memories of the Second World War were raw and painful, few people could have predicted our enduring fascination with Nazi Germany. Heather Pringle's engrossing book, The Master Plan, explores a little-known corner of Nazi history: the story of the Ahnenerbe, an institute founded by Heinrich Himmler to investigate "the science of ancient intellectual history".
The past 10 years have seen a flood of books, films and television documentaries. With funding from the SS, it sent German scholars on eight foreign expeditions to discover the roots of the Aryan race and Nordic culture.
Many of them survived the war to become respected writers, teachers and archaeologists, their crimes forgotten.
Like so many people associated with the Nazi regime, they benefited from the collective amnesia of the post-war years, and from the simple necessity of picking up the pieces and beginning again.
Both Hitler and Himmler believed, entirely erroneously, that true Germans were descended from an Aryan ideal and that Nordic culture, from language to folk music, had proved itself superior over the course of history.
A total of ,975,469.00, plus a yearly legal rate of 9% interest, was determined by the courts to be paid by the defendants for punitive and economic damages.Enthusiasm for all things Nordic was extremely fashionable in the early part of the last century.Pringle notes, for example, that J R R Tolkien drew on the legends of the Edda and the Kalevala in The Lord of the Rings - legends that were also extremely popular in Nazi circles.Pringle, an eminent scientific journalist with a nose for a good story, shows how the Ahnenerbe drew on the fashionable racial and cultural ideas that underpinned Hitler's own twisted agenda.Like so many Europeans of the early 20th century, the Nazi leader fervently believed in the value of ancient folk traditions as an antidote to the alienating world of technology, cities and consumerism.Some of her findings are almost too good to be true: when Himmler tells his scientists to go looking for evidence of "the thunderbolt, Thor's hammer", which he believed to be "an early, highly developed form of war weapon of our forefathers", it is hard to stifle a laugh.And the tales of the various expeditions are riveting reading, making the adventures of Indiana Jones (another archaeologist mixed up with the Nazis) look tame by comparison.Europe has been a place of battles and political intrigue for centuries.As we approach a vote on the UK's membership of the European Union, we look at what 50 writers, actors, historians, artists and comedians have said about Europe and its nations.Beger had not changed a bit: he still thought that the Jews were a "mongrel race", and he still believed in the perverted "racial science" of the 1930s.Like many of his colleagues at the Ahnenerbe, however, he had never really been punished for his actions.