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Himmler was excited over Finnish Kantele
Book reveals hushed-up cultural cooperation
By Pirkko Kotirinta
Finnish anthropologist Yrjö von Grönhagen met German SS leader Heinrich Himmler in 1937 at Himmler’s home, along with German music researcher Fritz Bose.
The scientists were led into Himmler’s study, and they were surprised at what they saw. Hanging on the wall of the study was a copy of a photograph that had recently been taken by Grönhagen, of Timo Lipitsä, a Karelian runonlaulaja, or “poem singer”. The photo, which had been given to Himmler a year earlier, hung over Himmler’s desk as if it were an icon.
Von Grönhagen (1911-2003) and Bose (1909-1975) brought new gifts from Karelia.
The Nazi leader was especially enthusiastic about the kantele, a traditional Finnish stringed instrument. Bose played for him, and the kantele was given to Himmler, who immediately ordered ten more for the SS.
Does this sound familiar in any way? The information is from a book by author Heather Pringle, The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust, which was recently translated into Finnish. The work by a respected Canadian writer of popular science touches upon Finland and the other Nordic Countries, especially the rock paintings in Sweden’s Bohuslän Province, while describing in detail the activities of the Third Reich’s Ahnenerbe research institute.
The book is the most thorough account of the foreign expeditions of Ahnenerbe.
Ahnenerbe, or Deutches Ahnenerbe, Studiengesellschaft für Geistesurgeschichte ("Study society for primordial intellectual history, German Ancestral Heritage”), was established in 1935 for the stated purpose of studying the legacy of Germany’s Aryan forefathers. Its real purpose was to create myths. According to Pringle, its leading researchers dedicated themselves to falsifying the truth, and to churing out carefully tailored information to support the racial doctrines of Adolf Hitler.
Pringle tells of the most imaginative arguments used to prove the glorious past of the Aryans. In addition to Northern Europe, expeditions were conducted in Tibet, Iraq, Greece, Libya, and Croatia.
When the Second World War broke out, Ahnenerbe’s work was co-opted for the war effort, and for solving “the Jewish problem”. Especially chilling is the chapter on a skeleton collection, which tells about the mustard gas experiments by anatomist August Hirt (1898-1945) and his work for the establishment of a collection of Jewish skeletons.
Pringle met Bruno Berger (1911-2004), an expert in race research, who took part in the Tibet expedition of Ernst Schäfer, and also took part in the establishment of the skeleton collection, for which he was sentenced as a war criminal.
During their three-hour meeting in 2002 Berger never showed any pity or sympathy toward the 86 Jews whom he was sending to the gas chambers.
Ahnenerbe was interested in Finland and Karelia in the early phase of its activities - specifically through the activities of Yrjö von Grönhagen, who was born in St. Petersburg.
The young aristocrat, who studied at the Sorbonne, had decided to travel on foot from Paris to Helsinki, and to practice “practical sociology” on the way, by collecting greetings in his diary from people whom he met on the way.
During his hike, Grönhagen made it to Germany. For him Germany immediately seemed familiar, because Grönhagen spoke the language, and hated communists.
A Frankfurt newspaper published Grönhagen’s article on the Kalevala, and soon a meeting with Himmler was arranged. Himmler also wrote a greeting into his travel diary: “Germans and Finns always remember that they once had the same fathers.”
It is from this common foundation that the young anthropologist soon got a job in Ahnenerbe, where he rose to the leadership of the recently established Indo-Germanic-Finnish Research Institute in two years, at the age of 26. Grönhagen and Fritz Bose made a research expedition into Russian Karelia in 1936, taking along the illustrator Ola Forssell. Grönhagen returned to Karelia again in 1937 and 1938, alone both times.
On the first trip, Bose had a brand-new AEG tape recorder with him, with a sound quality that was far superior to previous recording devices.
Finnish researcher Risto Blomster says that this was “apparently for the first time in the history of the world” that a tape recorder was used for collecting folk traditions. Tape recorders became more commonplace in the 1940s.
Grönhagen was among the directors of Ahnenerbe only for a few months. The new chairman of the institute, Dr. Walter Büst dropped him as incompetent.
The focus of research moved from the north to the east, partly because Hitler preferred to emphasise the assumed connections between Aryan culture and ancient high cultures.
The intense interest that Himmler felt toward the Nordic region as a target of research irritated Hitler:
“It is bad enough that the Romans built magnificent buildings while our forefathers were still living in clay huts; now Himmler is starting to dig up these clay hut villages, and gets excited about every fragment of a clay pot, and every stone axe that he happens to find”, Hitler once said to Albert Speer.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 14.10.2009
PIRKKO KOTIRINTA / Helsingin Sanomat