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Journal of Social and Ecological Boundaries Spring 2005 1 1 21 46 Copyright 2005 by Author s ISSN 151 9880 Forest as Volk Ewiger Wald and the Religion of Nature in the Third Reich Robert G Lee College of Forest Resources University of Washington R Sabine Wilke Germanics Department University of Washington obert A Pois has argued that a prominent feature of Nazi ideology was a religion of nature 1 In fact Adolf Hitler Martin Bormann Paul Goebbels Hermann G ring Heinrich Himmler R Walther Darr and other Nazi leaders all wrote and spoke about the need for seeing humankind as part of nature subject to the rigors of natural law They shared a vision of timeless reality immune from the traumas of history i e a non transcendent Providence acting through nature By conforming to the laws of nature so the premise went the German people would attain a strength and greatness enabling them to rise above their troubled history and dreary existence This act of collective regeneration to use Mircea Eliade s term would recover the Volksgemeinschaft that was felt to be the true spiritual home of the German people 2 While some have interpreted Nazi millenarianism as a heretical offshoot of Christianity 3 Pois demonstrates how the National Socialist leaders explicitly sought to supplant the Judeo Christian tradition with a religion of nature a religion rooted in the indigenous spirit of Germanic blood and soil 4 The natural religion of National Socialism achieved practical expression in the sanctification of the nation With the turning of the German nation into a sanctified Volksgemeinschaft knowledge that did not serve the interests of this community was not merely extraneous it was heretical 5 A variety of media were used to advance this new ideology by capturing the hearts and minds of the German people Film was one of the most effective means of communication and German filmmak 22 Journal of Social and Ecological Boundaries ers were technically advanced in their art One film Ewiger Wald Eternal Forest released in 1936 stands out both for its artistic merit and appeal to the Germanic forest feeling in focusing directly on a Volksgemeinschaft rooted in German tribal traditions of living in the forest while attributing Germany s troubled history to foreign influences especially the Christianity brought by the Roman invaders 6 In other words Nature with all its violence and beauty was the primary model for conceiving German history and identity in the Third Reich The choice of the forest to represent life forces found in nature was especially effective because of the German people s strong and well articulated forest feeling A German professor of forestry Franz Heske articulated this forest feeling in his book on German forestry written at about the same time that Ewiger Wald was being produced Assuming a Romantic posture Heske states German culture sprang from the forest It is a forest culture In holy groves the ancient Germans worshiped their gods Christian missionaries had to fell the mighty ancient oaks that were dedicated to the Thunder God before the new religion could take root In the old forests the present generation seeks to recapture that reverential awe which is the foundation of morality The culture of the city with its unceasing human turmoil and daily elbow to elbow struggle for bread and for preferment moves the little Ego into the center and finally causes the whole world to be viewed from this minute observation post The civilized countryside with its flat fields its innumerable boundaries fences hedges and boundary stones is everywhere a reminder of exclusiveness and segregation of the ego and of the microcosm subservient thereto Not so in the woods Primordial depths mysterious murmuring and whispering surround the wanderer Loneliness in the face of a gigantic Nature sic in which everything is large everything is complex and yet unified soon makes the little ego dissolve organically into the new totality The egoistic soul expands and becomes like a transparent ball in which the organic streams of the universe flood back and forth The armor falls and man is free 7 Forest as Volk 23 Elias Canetti a mid twentieth century social psychologist talked about the importance of the forest in German society He stated In no other modern country has the forest feeling remained as alive as it has in Germany The parallel rigidity of the upright trees and their density and number fill the heart of the German with a deep and mysterious delight To this day he loves to go deep into the forest where his forefathers lived he feels at one with the trees 8 Nazis clearly understood the German cultural code including the power of the forest as a crowd symbol when they produced Ewiger Wald Robert Pogue Harrison has recently pointed to the cultural significance of the forest as place of lawlessness and enchantment He claims that forests mark the provincial edge of Western civilization in the literal as well as imaginative domains 9 Forests according to Harrison have retained to this day their associations in the cultural imagination of the West Our cultural memory of forests still remains the correlate of human transcendence The German tradition in particular we argue seems to be intertwined with mythical conceptions of the forest which in fairy tales for example is constructed as the supreme authority on earth as the great provider and as the place where society s conventions no longer hold true 10 German forests are at the same time a source of natural right as well as free alluring and dangerous i e a very contradictory and contested space Our analysis will examine the proposition that Ewiger Wald called upon forest feelings with the purpose of transferring these attachments to the Nation with the Nation representing a Volksgemeinschaft We argue that the film intends to present the forest as a symbol for the German people who like the forest would enter a transcendent eternal realm realized in Nazi strength and pride This portrayal of the forest as the German people is rooted in a Romantic vision In the context of the anti rationalist sentiment in German culture upon which the Nazis capitalized one might even claim as David Welch has done that t he German penchant for trees was not dissimilar to the mountain genre that emerged during the Weimar Republic An anti rational and anti critical element was present in both tendencies 11 These tendencies also embrace the 24 Journal of Social and Ecological


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