The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust by Heather Pringle
|The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust by Heather Pringle|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: The Master Plan is meticulously researched, interesting, well-written and accessible. In conclusion, however, Pringle seems to advocate retribution over building for the future and the book lacks even a nod toward thinking about how politics should deal with current scientific research on biological determinism. One for the WWII scholar perhaps, but it has little to add for the rest of us.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 480||Date: November 2006|
Heinrich Himmler is a name that makes one shudder. As chief of the SS, he was one of the most influential figures in the Third Reich and the chief architect of the Final Solution. He didn't have much use for Christianity. Himmler was interested in finding scholarly proof of Aryan superiority. To that end, he created the Ahnenerbe, an academic think-tank instructed to follow every lead that could hope to create a scientific basis for the political opinions the Nazis held about race. The Ahnenerbe was given palatial offices, laboratories and a seemingly bottomless purse. It employed not only Germany's best scholars, but a rag tag bunch of fantasists, adventurers and opportunists.
Before the outbreak of war, the Ahnenerbe financed field trips to Scandinavia to investigate cave paintings, to Asia to conduct "racial measurements". It collected folk tales, runic symbols, specimens and did a little spying along the way. During the war, it pillaged artifacts and treasures, and commissioned some of the most appalling of the concentration camp medical experiments. As we all know now, the science wasn't science at all. It was, on an intellectual level, asinine, suppressing inconvenient conclusions and presenting the rest in a twisted miasma of propaganda. On a moral level, it produced a level of human suffering on an unimaginable scale.
Heather Pringle has produced an awesomely researched book about the Ahnenerbe. It's a real belt and braces job. The Nazi regime isn't the only horrific regime in history, but its cool organisation and the industrialisation of its horrors has never been matched. Pringle brings this across wonderfully in a book that is never dry and is always accessible. In this sense, it's a great piece of work.
However - and there are a few howevers - I do wonder what The Master Plan has to offer that is new. We know about the Holocaust. We know about the ludicrous science the Nazis used to justify it. We know about the looting of treasure. We know about the sadistic SS leader, Heinrich Himmler. We know it all only too well. I don't say that such a thing can ever be done to death, but I do think that sixty years on, historians should be bringing something new to the subject or choosing a different one. During those sixty years, science has moved on. Biological determinism isn't the laughable area of scientific enquiry that it once was. It seems that nature has more influence than nurture after all. Nazi science may have been ludicrous, but biological determinism isn't. Where does that leave us? It doesn't leave Pringle anywhere. She doesn't address it at all. I think it desperately needs addressing. If we are determined by our genes, and if we refuse to address it, where is our defence against extreme right wing politics in the future? Neo Nazis could hijack science that is not faulty at all, and that, to me, is a terrifying thought.
Pringle also spends a final chapter railing against the tiny number of German scientists who were actually prosecuted after the war. Again, sixty years on, I don't find it helpful. Worrying about nonagenarian war criminals enjoying relatively comfortable retirements doesn't move us on, doesn't address the future. I think studies of the past need to address the future if they are to be of real value.
The Master Plan is an admirable book, despite my criticisms. I'm all for accessible historical texts and this is a great example. It's complicated but readable, academic but interesting, and we really should never forget the crimes of the Third Reich. I recommend it to WWII buffs who want to add reliable detail to their knowledge, or to those who are very new to the subject. For the rest of us though, I fear it has little of real use to add to the huge volume of work on these detestable people that has already been published.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust by Heather Pringle at Amazon.com.
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