September 12, 2007

Why Germans love Indians

Karl May and the origins of a German obsession"There are the German poets and thinkers, the German forest, the German 'comfortableness,' German efficiency, the German longing for Italy, and there is Winnetou," it pronounced. "Winnetou is the quintessential German national hero, a paragon of virtue, a nature freak, a romantic, a pacifist at heart, but in a world at war he is the best warrior, alert, strong, sure."

"Eleven Winnetous," the author, Dirk Kurbjuweit, added, referring to the German soccer team, "and we would be world champions."

That was pretty much what Hitler told his troops when he distributed May's books as object lessons; never mind that May himself had been a vocal pacifist.
And:Zeilinger wouldn't go so far as to say that May demonized the United States, which clearly he didn't, although Hans Ottomeyer, the director of the museum, who wandered by to listen in on the conversation at that point, said: "May taught Germans that America was a wild place. There were natives and intruders, and he taught us to be suspicious of intruders, half of whom are good, half are very bad."Comment:  So Nazi Germans, like Indians, were a small, virtuous group of people surrounded by evil enemies. Nazi Germans, like Indians, were normally peaceful but turned into unstoppable warriors when threatened.

No wonder Hitler loved May's books and distributed them to his men. He basically projected the cowboy myth onto "good" Indians and used it to attack "bad" Indians (Jews, gypsies, anyone who opposed the Third Reich).


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
One of the reasons Germans 'love' Native Americans is that Hitler's eugenicists told him that Native Americans were Aryans. Thus it was that Native American POWs were unwilling recipients of privileged treatment in the POW camps. They never wanted or even asked for that kind of attention, but they got it all the same. It far is differing from the privileged attention that Native American POWs got in Japanese prison camps, but it was akin. Mainly, the Japanese treated Native POWs differently because they weren't Caucasian. As writerfella has reported on this blogsite heretofore, much of the Nazi death camp procedures were based on written American documentations about Native reservations, as was proven by the Bureau of Ethnology books found at Bergen-Belsen and that only have survived to this time because they were not burned as ordered by Allied officers in 1944. writerfella still anticipates receiving those volumes when the man who saved them passes away. There is a whole other can of worms that remains to be opened, and it will be...
All Best
Russ Bates

Anonymous said...

"One of the reasons Germans 'love' Native Americans is that Hitler's eugenicists told him that Native Americans were Aryans."

Hitler read Karl May`s books as a child. He didn`t have any eugenicists at that time. He also loved Charlie Chaplin, "Gone with the wind" and Disney cartoons.

I think both of you misunderstood the article. Karl May was hugely popular throughout Continental Europe before the Nazi movement began. And he was extremely popular not only among the perpetrators of the Holocaust but also among the victims.

Karl May`s literatur became popular in the 19th century. A text by Tacitus was discovered in which he described the Germanic tribes as "noble savages" (he like Karl May apparently has never been to the country he wrote about). Germany was about to become a state, hence they were looking for a common identity and picked Tacitus`text for national purposes. At the same time reports from the Native Americans came to Germany via emigrants (with names like Schmidt). The Germans learned that they used to live in tribes and heard of people across the Atlantic who still did. That was the common denominator and they projected their own glorified self-image upon then-present time Native Americans. That happened in the 1860s, 1870s.

Rob said...

Karl May was hugely popular among European Jews? I'd like to see the evidence of that.

May's literature became popular when Hitler was a boy. It arguably shaped the thinking of a generation of Germans, including Hitler.

That Germans were looking for a common identity doesn't challenge my point. They identified with Old Shatterhand, the Germanic superman, and Winnetou, the alleged Aryan who learned English and became a Christian. They identified with these two "noble" figures against the hordes of degenerate and rapacious Indians they encountered.

Similarly, Hitler rallied "good" Germans (i.e., Aryans) against "bad" Germans (Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, et al.) So the theme of a book like Winnetou closely mirrors the Third Reich's reality half a century later. Namely, a small group of "noble" Aryans threatened by a world of degenerate and rapacious barbarians.

Anonymous said...

sORRY for taking so long to respond. Yes, he was popular amonst Jews. Those who admired Karl May included Albert Einstein and Franz Kaffka.

I don`t know whether you know any of these, but they were actually Jewish. And Albert Einstein admired him until his death. Apparently he saw no connection between Karl May and Hitler.

Old Shatterhand never had the same influence in Germany as his counterpart Winnetou. People might have been able to identify more with OS, but Winnetou was the person that fascinated them.

I can`t stand this anti-intellectual rants where people who have no clue about the subject use pseudo-scientific essays to connect dots of their narrow-minded understanding of history.

"Similarly, Hitler rallied "good" Germans (i.e., Aryans) against "bad" Germans (Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, et al.) So the theme of a book like Winnetou closely mirrors the Third Reich's reality half a century later."

So does Harry Potter...Nothing special about that.


Rob said...

Yeah, I've never heard of Einstein or Kafka. My college and post-graduate education (two master's degrees) didn't teach me anything about history, science, or literature. I've been writing about political and social issues for two decades, but I have no idea whom you're talking about.

Actually, I read Kafka's The Metamorphosis in high school, more than 30 years ago. And I've mentioned Einstein 21 times (so far) on So yes, I've heard of them. Duh.

I said I wanted evidence, not anecdotes. Show me the evidence that large numbers of European Jews loved Karl May's books. Hint: Two Jews (Einstein and Kafka) aren't a large number. Thousands or millions are a large number.

I analyzed the roles of Old Shatterhand and Winnetou in the German imagination in some detail. Even if Germans like Winnetou best, it may be because he emulates Old Shatterhand, the white Christian knight. Winnetou isn't an Indian with Indian beliefs and values; he's a white man in redface.

Since I've spent hours noting the connections between Hitler, May, and Winnetou, I'm guessing I know more about the subject than you do. If you disagree, read my arguments and dispute them. Your opinion that you know something I don't is worthless.

David A. Meier's claim about Hitler forms the core of my argument. Since you haven't said anything to challenge it, I'll simply repeat it. Let me know if and when you can address it:

His favorite game to play outside was cowboys and Indians. Tales of the American West were very popular among boys in Austria and Germany. Books by James Fenimore Cooper and especially German writer Karl May were eagerly read and re-enacted. May, who had never been to America, invented a hero named Old Shatterhand, a white man who always won his battles with Native Americans, defeating his enemies through sheer will power and bravery. Young Hitler read and reread every one of May's books about Old Shatterhand, totaling more than 70 novels. He continued to read them even as F├╝hrer. During the German attack on the Soviet Union he sometimes referred to the Russians as Redskins and ordered his officers to carry May's books about fighting Indians.

D said...

Rob, I find your extreme aggressiveness in many of your comments uncalled for. It also seems bizarre that you challenge that Jewish Germans would not have loved Karl May's Winnetou. by assuming that you assume that they were different culturally than the Christian Greman population. You are "othering" them. Winnetou was popular among Germans... period.