Vorherbst Magazine

Tiago Saraiva:
Excerpt from Fascist Pigs (2016) 

Historian of science Tiago Saraiva on Nazi Minister of Food and Agriculture Richard Walther Darré and his paranoid fascination with the conspiracy to murder German pigs
Eber Robust 301

Eber Robust 301, Dresden, 1920, photographer: unknown. Source: Oskar Busch, Die wichtigsten Blutlinien in der Zuchtgenossenschaft für das Meißner Schwein in Meißen (Sachsen) (Berlin, Verl. d. Deutschen Gesellschaft f. Züchtungskunde, 1921), 149.

Breeding and Feeding Pigs and Germans

Richard Walther Darré—the main agrarian ideologue of Nazi Germany, who popularized the motto “Blut und Boden” and who was Minister of Food and Agriculture from 1933 to 1942—earned his credentials in völkisch circles through essays such as “Das Schwein als Kriterium für nordische Völker und Semitten” (“The pig as a distinguishing feature for northern peoples and Semites”).1 In that essay, the pig was called “the leading animal” of the Germanic people. Not only did Darré argue that the sacrificial pig was a favorite among the gods of ancient Aryans; he argued that the pig’s physiological properties justified such distinguished treatment. Pigs, he noted, were not easily transported over long distances and thus were not suitable livestock for the nomadic Semites. The northern forests, home of the true Germans, provided acorns for pigs, whose high fat content helped local people to survive harsh winters. Pigs performed the distinction between agrarians and nomads—or in Nazi terms, between rooted Germans and uprooted Jews. Such considerations seem to lead to the mystical and archaic dimensions of Nazism and may suggest insoluble contradictions between Nazi ideology and modern rationality. Nevertheless, the life trajectory of Darré himself and his high esteem for the place of pigs in the German national community provide a vantage point from which to explore the entanglements between science and Nazism.

After his experience on the Western Front in World War I, which gave him the veteran status so typical of the members of fascist movements all across Europe, Darré tried to resume his studies at the Deutsche Kolonialschule in Hamburg in 1919. But only a year later, he was expelled, having been accused of lying. In 1922 he enrolled in the University of Halle to study agronomy.2 Before the war, that university’s agricultural institute had been considered the best in all Germany. When Darré arrived there, two of its most distinguished faculty members, Theodor Roemer and Gustav Frölich, were committed to transforming plant and animal breeding into respectable academic disciplines through thorough use of Mendelian genetics.3 Historians have already called attention to the importance of the work undertaken by Roemer at the Halle Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding.4 Frölich and the Halle Institute for Animal Breeding and Dairy have received considerably less historical scrutiny, a historiographic gap that this chapter aims at filling.

We know that Darré attended the classes of both Frölich and Roemer at Halle, and also those of the paleontologist Johannes Walther.5 And though it is never easy for biographers to establish what remained in college students’ heads from materials taught in lectures, there is no reason to doubt Darré’s own account of the profound effects of those three scientists on his enduring interest in everything related to heredity.6

In particular, it is hard to overlook the fact that Darré worked as a “voluntary assistant” under Frölich from February to June 1925, dealing with the problem of the different patterns governing color inheritance of Cornwall and Berkshire hogs. Darré explored the possibility that the explanation for such differences was to be found in the diverse histories of domestication of the different breeds, which constituted the basis of his essay “Die Domestikation der Hausschweine,” graded “good” by Frölich. This concern for the intertwined natural histories of humans and domesticated animals was also Darré’s main argument in his essay “The pig as a distinguishing feature for northern peoples and Semites.” And, as Gesine Gerhard has already noted, Darré apparently had no difficulty transferring the methods of animal breeding he had learned with Frölich to the breeding of humans, as may be concluded from his insistence on breeding a “new aristocracy from Blood and Soil” (the title of his most celebrated essay).7 The animal breeder needed to establish the bloodlines of the different breeds that constituted the basic units of his work; the human breeder, Darré suggested, needed to produce in Germany a pure Nordic race in order to restore a true national community free from dangerous exotic elements.8

Darré’s first work after leaving Halle consisted in tracing the bloodlines of Hannoverian Horses, which he explicitly compared to the task of re-creating the ideal Nordic man. Historians thus are certainly not pushing analogies too far in suggesting that Darré’s blood-and-soil utopia and his program for breeding a new “rural aristocracy” out of the German peasantry owed much to his acquaintance with animal breeding. Darré’s proposal that breeding wardens (Zuchtwarte) screen the men and women who would live on the new hereditary landholdings (Hegehöfe) that would guarantee the re-creation of the Nordic race was not much different from the institutional arrangements that were imposing new standards on animal breeding in Germany. Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS) Heinrich Himmler, who had studied agriculture in the Technical University in Munich and who before Darré joined the party was the man responsible for Nazi agrarian ideology, recognized in Darré an indisputable authority in matters of heredity and made him chief of the Race and Settlement Office (Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt, abbreviated RuSHA) in 1932.9 Not only was Darré trusted with the task of selecting the families of brave Germans to settle in eastern European; he was also responsible for the selection of applicants to the SS and for permissions for SS members to marry. Who would have been more appropriate for the job of selecting the humans forming the SS clan than an expert in pig breeding?

As suggestive as these analogies between humans and pigs may be, we now know how little practical effect they had in cultivating an SS aristocracy. The approximately 20,000 marriage applications by SS members awaiting processing by May of 1937 justified Himmler’s decision to relax the time-consuming requirements of the procedure. In the previous year, Himmler had already suspended the demand that an SS applicant produce a family tree stretching back to 1800.10 Compiling an SS clan book comparable to the animal studbooks and registers was never easy, even in such a controlled environment. Extending it to the whole German peasantry, as Darré dreamed of doing, proved even more difficult.11 And later, when the RuSHA officials faced the challenge of screening millions of people in the occupied eastern Europe territories for German blood in order to build a Ethnic German List from which to settle the region, the arbitrariness of racial examination was obvious, the decisive element being the “immediate impression gained by the assessor at the examination”12 The Nazis’ murderous racial policies had a reach unknown to any other political regime, but their implementation was always messier than Nazis were ready to admit.13

Darré argued in “Das Schwein als Kriterium für nordische Völker und Semitten” that with no pigs there were no true Germans. The domestication of pigs, he suggested, was a crucial component of the process of forming a Northern race distinct from the Semitic ones. Raising pigs was taken as a constitutive element of being German. Racial distinctions were not only a matter of different biological origins but also a matter of different relations to the soil, such as those that pigs made possible. In Martin Heidegger’s conception of race, Germans, being “rooted in the soil,” were “able to create for themselves a native land, even in the wilderness,” whereas “the nomads … left numerous wastelands behind them that had been fertile and cultivated land when they arrived.”14 As is suggested throughout this book, the biological organic nation was defined as much through food as through race. According to Darré, race was defined through practices of food production: Germans were separated from Jews by pigs.

The new nobility (Adel) promoted by Darré relied not only on identifying human blood lineages but also on the production of pigs and potatoes, attaching Germans to the soil. If, as the SS story reveals, there is good reason to doubt the effectiveness of the Nazi state in applying genetics to form a new racial national community, this book suggests that we should nevertheless pay close attention to the historical role of breeding plants and animals in the making of Nazi Germany.

Darré’s pig talk was not only about a mystical distant past of forests, acorns, and ancient Aryans. He was trying to address the very concrete experience of hunger familiar to the German population during World War I. In Der Schweinemord (1937), Darré offered a reinterpretation of the policies of drastically reducing the size of the German pig herd in the war years as a plot by Jewish academics to eliminate the German race.15 The effort by the Ministry of Interior during the conflict to guarantee that the 25 million hogs held by German peasants would not compete with humans for potatoes and grain in a context of food rationing was described as a Jewish plot that contributed directly to the death by starvation of three quarters of a million Germans. According to Darré, Jewish experts in academic institutions and in government offices, who had poor statistics and poor knowledge of the actual conditions of husbandry, declared a “war on pigs” that reduced the size of the German herd by about 15 million. The surplus of potatoes not consumed by pigs in 1915 failed to reach the population as a result of a lack of central control over distribution, and many tons of potatoes rotted in poor storage conditions. With the above-mentioned late blight epidemics of the potato crop of 1917 and the increasing demand for potatoes to compensate for the lack of pork and lard, the situation turned disastrous.16 Darré singled out Walther Rathenau, an industrialist who headed Germany’s department of economic management in 1914 and 1915, as the head of the plot. Darré accused Rathenau of being one of the Elders of Zion, and of intentionally depleting the food supplies of the Reich.17

But Der Schweinemord held some lessons for the future. First, at the outset of World War I Germany clearly had not prepared to sustain an international blockade. The experts who controlled German agriculture were accused of being unable to think in true nationalist terms, with much of the country’s husbandry dependent on imports of feed from the Americas. The experts’ insistence on relying on international markets to feed German animals had allegedly put the country in a precarious position. According to Darré, the war had demonstrated that the existence of the Volk depended as much on arms as on nutrition.18 In order to guarantee Germany’s independence, food production in peacetime should be organized in the same way as a mobilization for war.

This line of thought led to the important second lesson on the significance of centralizing control of agriculture production in a big state structure such as the Reichsnährstand (RNS). Nutritional independence and centralization were to guide the actions of the RNS. Contrary to common interpretations positioning Darré among the Nazi ruling elite as someone resisting the pressures for increased production by more aggressively militaristic figures such as Hermann Göring and emphasizing his excessive concerns with sustaining German peasant traditions, Darré always combined the themes of peasant revival with those of mobilization for food production, equating the Volk with an organism dependent on nutrition for survival.

  • 1 Richard W. Darré, Das Schwein als Kriterium für nordische Völker und Semitten (J. F. Lehmanns, 1933). The essay was first published in 1927 in Volk und Rasse, a leading publication of the völkisch movement that was edited by Friederich Lehmann.
  • 2 On Darré, see Horst Gies, Richard Walther Darré und die nationalsozialistische Bauernpolitik in den Jahren 1930 bis 1933 (PhD dissertation, Frankfurt am Main, 1966); Anna Bramwell, Blood and Soil: Richard Walther Darré and Hitler’s Green Party (Kensal, 1985); Gesine Gerhard “Breeding pigs and people for the Third Reich: Richard Walther Darré’s agrarian ideology,” in How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich, ed. F.-J. Brueggemeier, M. Cioc, and T. Zeller (Ohio University Press, 2005).
  • 3 Harwood, Technology’s Dilemma, pp. 126–131.
  • 4 Historians have namely highlighted the importance of the Institute in establishing a new relation between academic and commercial plant breeders in which the former produced new varieties in rough form to be finished off and multiplied by the latter. See Wieland, ‘Wir beherrschen’; Harwood, Styles of Scientific Thought.
  • 5 Hermann Reichle, Reichsbauernführer Darré. Der Kämpfer um Blut und Boden. Eine Lebensbeschreibung (Verlag und Betriebs-Gesellschaft, 1933), pp. 28–31. Johannes Walther was the author of Allgemeine Paläontologie, Geologische Fragen in biologischer Betrachtung (Berlin, 1919; second edition, Berlin, 1927) and the editor of Goethe als Seher und Erforscher der Natur (Halle, 1930) and Das deutsche Landschaftsbild im Wandel der Zeiten: Eine Einführung in die Geologie Deutschlands (Leipzig, 1933). In his panegyric biography, H. Reichle claims that Walther was important for Darré for his understanding of the role of environmental factors in the emergence of the Nordic race.
  • 6 Richard W. Darré, “Professor Frölich als Lehrer und Wissenschaftlicher,” Kühn-Archiv 52 (1939): VII.
  • 7 Gesine Gerhard, “Food as a weapon: Agricultural sciences and the building of a greater German Empire,” Food, Culture & Society 14, no. 3 (2011): 335–351. The Erbhof (hereditary farm) law of 1933 elevated ‘peasant’ to an honorary title reserved to the owners of farms which were prevented from being sold in the market, passing instead from generation to generation within racially pure families. A coat of arms was granted to peasant families, and the farm’s official name was solemnly entered in the Land Register. The classical works on the rural dimensions of Nazism are Clifford R. Lovin, “Blut und Boden: The ideological basis of the Nazi agricultural program,” Journal of the History of Ideas 28 (1967): 279–88; John E. Farquharson, The Plough and the Swastika: The NSDAP and Agriculture in Germany 1928–45 (SAGE, 1976); Gustavo Corni and Horst Gies, Brot—Butter—Kanonen. Die Ernährungswirtschaft in Deutschland unter der Diktatur Hitlers (Akademie, 1997); Gustavo Corni and Horst Gies, Blut und Boden. Rassenideologie und Agrarpolitik im Staat Hitlers (Schulz-Kirchner, 1994). 
  • 8 Ibid.
  • 9 Peter Longerich, Heinrich Himmler (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 414–417.
  • 10 Ibid., pp. 352–356.
  • 11 Corni und Gies, Brot—Butter—Kanonen.
  • 12 Longerich, Heinrich Himmler, p. 600. See also Isabel Heinemann, Rasse, Siedlung, deutsches Blut: das Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt der SS und die rassenpolitische Neuordnung Europas (Wallstein, 2003).
  • 13 On the Nazi racial policies, see Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann, The Racial State: Germany 1933–1945 (Cambridge University Press, 1991); Edouard Conte and Cornelia Essner, La Quete de la Race (Hachette, 1995); Peter Weingart, Jürgen Kroll, and Kurt Bayertz, Rasse, Blut und Gene: Geschichte der Eugenik und Rassenhygiene in Deutschland (Suhrkamp, 1988); Robert N. Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis (Harvard University Press, 1988); Paul Weindling, Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870–1945 (Cambridge University Press, 1993); Sheila Faith Weiss, The Nazi Symbiosis: Human Genetics and Politics in the Third Reich (University of Chicago Press, 2010). 
  • 14 Quoted from page 143 of Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy (Yale University Press, 2009).
  • 15 Richard Walther Darré, Der Schweinemord (Zentralverlag der NSDAP, 1937).
  • 16 Ibid., pp. 124–125.
  • 17 Ibid., p. 138.
  • 18 Ibid., p. 9.

Excerpt from: Tiago Saraiva, Fascist Pigs. Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism (Cambridge Mass, London: MIT Press, 2016), 101–106.

Tiago Saraiva is one of the participants of Our Little Fascisms, Interviews and debates (28.9.–29.9.).


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