Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus [Nature Protection and National Socialism]

Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus [Nature Protection and National Socialism]

Wonders, Karen E

Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus [Nature Protection and National Socialism]. Edited by Joachim Radkau and Frank Uekötter. Frankfurt am Main and New York: Campus Verlag, 2003. 487 pp. Notes, list of contributors. 49.90 Euro.

In Germany, the environmental movement and green politics have a uniquely strong presence as well as a long and rich history. One of the founding fathers of global awareness and ecological thinking- environmentalists at times point out-was the Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt. Yet in Germany’s historical past we encounter other “environmentalists” with whom today’s Greens would prefer not to be bracketed, namely members of the so-called “green wing” of the National Socialists, who initiated a number of animal and nature protection laws. How to deal with this ironic and in some ways unpalatable fact that the “bad guys” did such “good things”? A number of recent studies have addressed the situatedness within German history of Nazi nature preservation. In Imagining the Nation in Nature (2004), Thomas Lekan looks at landscape preservation and German identity for the period 1885-1945, examining among other things the link between the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. Also Christof Mauch, in Nature in German History (2004), includes an attempt at locating Nazi concern for flora and fauna.

In the collection reviewed here, the Bielefeld environmental historian Joachim Radkau and several of the contributors to this volume directly tackle the question of on whose shoulders today’s German environmentalists stand. Focusing on the post-WWII period, Radkau and his co-editor Frank Uekötter bring the historical perspective to bear on current affairs and include two contributions by the federal minister for the environment and Green politician Jürgen Trittin. How can post-WWII German Greens be nature preservationists and not be seen as historically aligned with the Nazis? Two different answer are to be found in the volume, of which the first, given by Trittin, is the basic observation that the Nazi claim to nature has not turned the natural world into a Nazi possession and therefore does not in and by itself compromise or invalidate the later political mission of nature preservation. Radkau’s and many other fine contributions offer a second approach, showing the fascinating diversity of levels at with people during the Third Reich interacted with the politics of “Naturschutz.” Some of these may prove congenial to us, unsullied by the crimes of the fascists, others not, such as that of the “Blutund-Boden” ideology. The volume contains twenty individual contributions, covering five sub-themes, on overarching perspectives, on legal and institutional aspects, on ideas and concepts, on the biographies of particular conservationists, and on coming to terms with the NS past after 1945.

Two small points of criticism. The first is that very little if any attention is paid to the subject of hunting, a practice closely related to issue of wildlife preservation and national parks, nor to wildlife art, which was much admired by leading Nazis. Secondly, the volume lacks an index and general bibliography. These points apart, Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus is a rich and first-rate contribution to the burgeoning studies of the politization of nature.

Reviewed by Karen E. Wonders, who is a research fellow at the Institute for the History of Science at Göttingen University. Part of her current work is in the field of environmental art history.

Copyright Environmental History Jul 2004

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