Formation July 1, 1935
Founder Heinrich Himmler
Legal status Eingetragener Verein
Purpose political propaganda,
pseudo-scientific research
Official language

The Ahnenerbe was an institute in Nazi Germany purposed to research the archaeological and cultural history of the Aryan race. Founded on July 1, 1935, by Heinrich Himmler, Herman Wirth, and Richard Walther Darré, the Ahnenerbe later conducted experiments and launched expeditions in an attempt to prove that mythological Nordic populations had once ruled the world.

The name Ahnenerbe (pronounced [ˈaːnənˌɛʁbə]) means "inheritance from the ancestors." Originally, the official mission of the Ahnenerbe was to find new evidence of the racial heritage of the Germanic people; however, due to Himmler's obsession with occultism it quickly became his own occult tool and started using pseudoscience. The group was formerly called the Study Society for Primordial Intellectual history, German Ancestral Heritage (Studiengesellschaft für Geistesurgeschichte‚ Deutsches Ahnenerbe), but it was renamed in 1937 as the Research and Teaching Community of the Ancestral Heritage (Forschungs- und Lehrgemeinschaft des Ahnenerbe).

Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS and founder of the Ahnenerbe

History and development

In January 1929, Heinrich Himmler was appointed the leader of the fledgling Schutzstaffel (SS). He launched a massive recruitment campaign that expanded the SS from fewer than 300 members in 1929 to 10,000 in 1931.[1] Once the SS had grown, Himmler began its transformation into a "racial elite" of young Nordic males. This was to be accomplished by a new bureaucracy, the Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt-SS (Race and Settlement Office of the SS), known as RuSHA. Himmler appointed SS-Obergruppenführer Richard Walther Darré to lead the organisation, which determined if applicants were racially fit to be in the SS. This brought about a campaign meant to educate new applicants about their Nordic past through weekly classes taught by senior RuSHA graduates using the periodical SS-Leitheft.

Starting in 1934, Himmler began financially supporting and visiting excavations in Germany. This brought him into contact with archaeologists like Alexander Langsdorff, Hans Schleif, Werner Buttler and Wilhelm Unverzagt, director of the Staatliches Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin. Initially, there were two departments within the SS engaged in archaeology: the Abteilung Ausgrabungen of the Persönlicher Stab des Reichsführers der SS and the Abteilung für Vor- und Frühgeschichte at the RuSHA. The latter ("RA IIIB") was established in 1934 and was supposed to serve as a "general staff" for all SS activities related to prehistory. It was responsible for archaeological research and related propaganda and led by Rolf Höhne, a geologist. Höhne was eventually replaced by Peter Paulsen, an archaeologist, in October 1937. The department did not conduct any excavations itself, but was intended to extend the influence of the SS over other institutions, especially those responsible for education/research and monument preservation. In fact, Langsdorff did this in Himmler's personal staff. The department also tried to make use of pre-history in the training and indoctrination of SS members. When the RuSHA was restructured, the department was dissolved with its responsibilities passing to the Ahnenerbe. The Abteilung Ausgrabung in Himmler's personal staff was established in 1935 on the initiative of Langsdorff. In March 1937, Höhne joined the leadership of this department. By 1937, it was responsible for SS excavations and maintained its own personnel for this activity.[2]

On July 1, 1935, at SS headquarters in Berlin, Himmler met with five racial experts representing Darré and with Herman Wirth, one of Germany’s most famous but also most controversial prehistorians. Together they established an organization called the "German Ancestral Heritage—Society for the Study of the History of Primeval Ideas" (Deutsches Ahnenerbe—Studiengesellschaft für Geistesurgeschichte), shortened to its better-known form in 1937. At the meeting they designated its official goal, “to promote the science of ancient intellectual history,” and appointed Himmler as its superintendent, with Wirth serving as its president. Himmler appointed Wolfram Sievers Generalsekretär (General Secretary) of the Ahnenerbe.

Through 1937, the Ahnenerbe was essentially engaged in amateur völkisch research. Financial and academical pressure caused Himmler to start looking for an alternative to Wirth as early as the spring of 1936. In September, Hitler negatively referred to Wirth's beliefs regarding Atlantis and their influence on "Böttcherstrasse architecture" in a speech at the Reichsparteitag.[2]

In March 1937, the Ahnenerbe was given a new statute, implementing the Führerprinzip and giving Himmler extensive powers. Wirth was deposed as president and appointed honorary president, a powerless position. Himmler's position as Kurator was given more power.[2]

Walther Wüst was appointed the new president of the Ahnenerbe. Wüst was an expert on India and a dean at Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, working on the side as a Vertrauensmann for the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, SS Security Service). Referred to as The Orientalist by Wolfram Sievers, Wüst had been recruited by him in May 1936 because of his ability to simplify science for the common man.[1] After being appointed president, Wüst began improving the Ahnenerbe, moving the offices to a new headquarters that cost 300,000 Reichsmark in the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin. He also worked to limit the influence of “those he deemed scholarly upstarts,” which included cutting communication with the RuSHA office of Karl Maria Wiligut.[1]

The Generalsekretariat led by Sievers was turned into the institution's Reichsgeschäftsführung. The Ahnenerbe was renamed Forschungs- und Lehrgemeinschaft Das Ahnenerbe e.V.. It was moved from the RuSHA to Himmlers's personal staff.[2]

Wirth and Wilhelm Teudt lost their departments in Ahnenerbe in 1938. In 1939, the statutes were changed again and Wirth was deposed as honorary president. Himmler's and Wüsts' titles were switched—Himmler now became president. Next to Wüst, the academic with most influence in the institution after 1939 was Herbert Jankuhn, who in 1937 still had categorically rejected cooperation with the "unscientific" Ahnenerbe.[2]

Ahnenerbe was a mix between an SS department and an Eingetragener Verein. Membership was open to all natural and legal persons. Its staff were SS members, many also working in other SS positions, and thus subject to SS jurisdiction.[2]

In late 1936, Ahnenerbe took over the publication of Teudt's magazine Germanien, first in cooperation with Teudt, then without him. The monthly now became the official voice of Ahnenerbe and was aimed at a wider audience. From December 1936, the magazine was distributed free of charge to all SS leaders.[2]

Cooperation with other SS departments was initially limited but improved after 1937. Contacts with the SD-HA and the editorial team of the SS weekly Das schwarze Korps intensified. Ahnenerbe eventually had the scientific responsibility for the SS-Leithefte and in conjunction with the SS-HA, Ahnenerbe established Germanische Leitstelle and Germanischer Wissenschaftseinsatz.[2]

In 1939, the Ahnenerbe held its first independent annual convention, at Kiel. The event's success contributed to the trend that archaeologists were increasingly turning to the Ahnenerbe and away from Alfred Rosenberg's rival Reichsbund für Deutsche Vorgeschichte.[2]

In fiscal year 1938/39, the budget for the excavations department was 65,000 Reichsmark, about 12% of the Ahnenerbe's total budget. More than a third of that went to the Haithabu activities. Under Jankuhn's direction four more archaeological departments were set up: in April 1938 the Forschungsstätte für naturwissenschaftliche Vorgeschichte (a laboratory for analyzing pollen) was established at Dahlem under the leadership of Rudolf Schütrumpf. The Forschungsstätte für Wurtenforschung at Wilhelmshaven led by Werner Haarnagel, the Forschungsstätte für germanisches Bauwesen led by Martin Rudolph and the Forschungsstätte für Urgeschichte directed by Assien Bohmers followed in 1939.[2]

The organization was incorporated into the Allgemeine SS (General SS) in January 1939.


The Ahnenerbe had several different institutes or sections for its departments of research. Most of these were archeological but others included the Pflegestätte für Wetterkunde (Meteorology Section) headed by Obersturmführer Dr Hans Robert Scultetus, founded on the basis that Hanns Hörbiger's Welteislehre could be used to provide accurate long-range weather forecasts,[3] and a section devoted to musicology, whose aim was to determine "the essence" of German music. It recorded folk music on expeditions to Finland and the Faroe Islands, from ethnic Germans of the occupied territories, and in South Tyrol. The section made sound recordings, transcribed manuscripts and songbooks, and photographed and filmed instrument use and folk dances. The lur, a Bronze Age musical instrument, became central to this research, which concluded that Germanic consonance was in direct conflict to Jewish atonalism.



In 1935, Himmler contacted a Finnish nobleman and author, Yrjö von Grönhagen, after seeing one of his articles about the Kalevala folklore in a Frankfurt newspaper. Grönhagen agreed to lead an expedition through the Karelia region of Finland to record pagan sorcerers and witches. Because there was uncertainty about whether the Karelians would allow photography, the Finnish illustrator Ola Forsell also accompanied the team. Musicologist Fritz Bose brought along a magnetophon, hoping to record pagan chants.

The team departed on their expedition in June 1936. Their first success was with a traditional singer, Timo Lipitsä, who knew a song closely resembling one in the Kalevala although he was unaware of the book. Later, in Tolvajärvi, the team photographed and recorded Hannes Vornanen playing a traditional Finnish kantele.

One of the team’s final successes was in finding Miron-Aku, a soothsayer believed to be a witch by locals. Upon meeting the group, she claimed to have foreseen their arrival. The team persuaded her to perform a ritual for the camera and tape recorder in which she summoned the spirits of ancestors and "divine[d] future events." The team also recorded information on Finnish saunas.


Scan from Wirth's 1931 book Was Heisst Deutsch?

After a slide show on February 19, 1936, of his trip to Bohuslän, a region in southwestern Sweden, Wirth convinced Himmler to launch an expedition to the region, the first official expedition financed by the Ahnenerbe. Bohuslän was known for its massive quantity of petroglyph rock carvings, which Wirth believed were evidence of an ancient writing system predating all known systems. Himmler appointed Wolfram Sievers to be the managing director of the expedition, likely because of Wirth’s earlier troubles balancing finances.[1]

On August 4, 1936, the expedition set off on a three-month trip, starting at the German island of Rügen, then continuing to Backa, the first recorded rock-art site in Sweden. Despite the existence of scenes showing warriors, animals and ships, Wirth focused on the lines and circles that he thought made up a prehistoric alphabet. While his studies were largely based on personal belief, rather than objective scientific research, Wirth made interpretations of the meanings of ideograms carved in the rock, such as a circle bisected by a vertical line representing a year and a man standing with raised arms representing what Wirth called “the Son of God.”[1] His team proceeded to make casts of what Wirth deemed the most important carvings and then carried the casts to camp, where they were crated and sent back to Germany. Once satisfied with their work at the site, the team set out on a trek through Sweden, eventually reaching the Norwegian island of Lauvøylandet.


In 1937, the Ahnenerbe sent the archaeologist Franz Altheim and his wife, the photographer Erika Trautmann, to Val Camonica, to study prehistoric rock inscriptions. The two returned to Germany claiming that they had found traces of Nordic runes on the rocks, supposedly confirming that ancient Rome was originally founded by Nordic incomers. Also, an expedition to Sardinia was planned in the 1930s, but the reasons for it still remain unknown.[4]

Western Eurasia

In 1938, Franz Altheim and his research partner Erika Trautmann requested the Ahnenerbe sponsor their expedition from Central Europe through Western Asia to study an internal power struggle of the Roman Empire, which they believed was fought between the Nordic and Semitic peoples. Eager to credit the vast success of the Roman Empire to people of a Nordic background, the Ahnenerbe agreed to match the 4,000 Reichsmark put forward by Hermann Göring, an old friend of Trautmann's.[1]

In August 1938, after spending a few days traveling through remote hills searching for ruins of Dacian kingdoms, the two researchers arrived at their first major stop in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. There Grigore Florescu, the director of the Municipal Museum, met with them, and discussed both history and the politics of the day, including the activities of the Iron Guard.

After traveling through Istanbul, Athens, and Lebanon, the researchers went to Damascus. They were not welcomed by the French, who ruled Syria as a colony at the time. The newly-sovereign Kingdom of Iraq was being courted for an alliance with Germany,[1] and Fritz Grobba, the German envoy to Baghdad, arranged for Altheim and Trautmann to meet with local researchers and be driven to Parthian and Persian ruins in southern Iraq, as well as Babylon.

Through Baghdad, the team went north to Assur where they met Sheikh Adjil el Yawar, a leader of the Shammar Bedouin tribe and commander of the northern Camel Corps. He discussed German politics and his desire to duplicate the success of Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud who had recently ascended to power in Saudi Arabia.[1] With his support, the team traveled to their final major stop, the ruins of Hatra on the former border between the Roman and Persian empires.

New Swabia

The third German Antarctic Expedition took place between 1938 and 1939. It was led by Alfred Ritscher (1879–63).



Excavations that had been ongoing at Hedeby since 1930 were formally put under the aegis of Ahnenerbe in 1938 by Jankuhn.[5]

Murg Valley

In 1937 and 1938, Gustav Riek led an excavation of the Grosse Heuneberg in the Murg Valley, where an ancient fortress had been discovered much earlier. They also studied the nearby tumulus burial mounds, which continue to be excavated today.[6] A private expedition by Richard Anders and Wiligut into the Murg Valley had nothing to do with the Ahnenerbe.


Quite likely the Ahnenerbe’s greatest discovery in Germany was in the southern Jura mountains of Bavaria. During an excavation of the Mauern caves, R. R. Schmidt discovered red ochre, a common pigment for cave paintings made by the Cro-Magnon.

In autumn 1937, Assien Bohmer, a Frisian nationalist who had applied to the SS Excavations Department earlier that year, took over the excavation. His team proceeded to find artifacts such as burins, ivory pendants, and a woolly mammoth skeleton. They also discovered Neanderthal remains buried with what appeared to be throwing spears and javelins, a technology thought to have been developed by the Cro-Magnons.

Bohmers interpreted this to mean that Cro-Magnons had left these stones in the caves over 70,000 years before, and this was therefore the oldest Cro-Magnon site in the world. To validate his claims, Bohmers traveled around Europe speaking with colleagues and visiting exhibitions, notably in the Netherlands, Belgium and France.[1]


At the Parisian Institute for Human Paleontology, Bohmers met with Abbé Henri Breuil, an expert on cave art. Breuil arranged for Bohmers to visit Trois Frères, a site whose owners allowed only a small number of visitors.[1] First, however, Bohmers took a quick trip to London, followed by a tour of several other French points of interest: La Fond de Gaume (a site featuring Cro-Magnon cave paintings), Teyat, La Mouthe and the caves of Dordogne. Then Bohmers moved on to Les Trois-Frères.[1]

Bayeux Tapestry

The Ahnenerbe took great interest in the 900-year-old Bayeux Tapestry. In June 1941, its staff oversaw the transport of the tapestry from its home in Bayeux Cathedral to an abbey at Juaye-Mondaye, and finally to the Chateau de Sourches. In August 1944, after Paris was liberated by the Allies, two members of the SS were dispatched to Paris to retrieve the tapestry, which had been moved into the basement of the Louvre. Contrary to Himmler’s orders, however, they chose not to attempt to enter the Louvre, most likely because of the strong presence of the French Resistance in the historic area.


Beger conducting anthropometric studies in Sikkim

In 1937, Himmler decided that he could increase the Ahnenerbe’s visibility by investigating Hans F. K. Günther’s claims that early Aryans had conquered much of Asia, including attacks against China and Japan in approximately 2000 BC, and that Gautama Buddha was himself an Aryan offshoot of the Nordic race. Walther Wüst later expanded on this theory, stating in a public speech that Adolf Hitler’s ideology corresponded with that of the Buddha, since the two shared a common heritage. However, according to contemporary research Hitler himself was not interested in Buddhism or Tibet.[7]


The altar of Veit Stoss

After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Wolfram Sievers wrote to Himmler stressing the need to appropriate exhibits from numerous museums.[8] The Reich Main Security Office Standartenführer Franz Six oversaw SS-Untersturmführer Peter Paulsen, who was commanding a small team that entered Kraków to obtain the 15th-century Veit Stoss altar. Because the Poles had foreseen the German interest in the altar, they had disassembled it into 32 pieces, which were shipped to different locations, but Paulsen located each piece, and on October 14, 1939, he returned to Berlin with the altar in three small trucks and had it stored in the locked treasury of the Reichsbank.[1] After conferring with Hitler, who had not initially been told of the operation to capture it, it was decided to send the altar to an underground vault in Nuremberg, for safety.

Reinhard Heydrich, then head of RSHA, sent Paulsen back to Kraków in order to seize additional museum collections,[1] but Göring had already sent a team of his own men, commanded by SS-Sturmbannführer Kajetan Mühlmann under the supervision of Dagobert Frey, to loot the museums. Mühlmann agreed to let Paulsen take items of scholarly interest back to the Ahnenerbe, while keeping artworks for Göring. During the looting, however, Hans Frank, the head of the German General Government in occupied Poland, issued an order dated November 22, 1939, prohibiting the “unapproved export” of Polish items. Paulsen obeyed the order, but his colleague Hans Schleif arranged for five freightcars of loot from the Warsaw Archaeological Museum[9] to be shipped to Poznań, which was outside Frank’s control. In return, Schleif was appointed as a trustee for Wartheland. Paulsen later tried to take credit for the freightcars' contents in his report to RuSHA, but was reassigned.[1][10]

Eduard Paul Tratz of the Ahnenerbe also removed some exhibits from the State Zoological Museum in Warsaw to the Haus der Natur, the museum in Salzburg of which he was founder and director .[11]


After the German Army conquered the Crimea in early July 1942, Himmler sent Herbert Jankuhn, as well as Karl Kersten and Baron Wolf von Seefeld, to the region in search of artifacts to follow up the recent display of the Kerch “Gothic crown of the Crimea” in Berlin.

Jankuhn met with senior officers of Einsatzkommando 11, part of Einsatzgruppe D, while waiting at the field headquarters of the 5th SS Panzer Division. Commander Otto Ohlendorf gave Jankuhn information about the Crimean museums.[12] Traveling with the 5th SS Panzer, Jankuhn’s team eventually reached Maykop, where they received a message from Sievers that Himmler wanted an investigation of Mangup Kale, an ancient mountain fortress. Jankuhn sent Kersten to follow up on Mangup Kale, while the rest of the team continued trying to secure artifacts that had not already been taken by the Red Army. Einsatzkommando 11b’s commander Werner Braune aided the team.

Jankuhn was ultimately unable to find Gothic artifacts denoting a German ancestry, even after intelligence about a shipment of 72 crates of artifacts shipped to a medical warehouse. The area had been ravaged by the time the team arrived and only 20 crates remained, but they contained Greek and stone-age artifacts, rather than Gothic.[1]


In June 1943, 27-year-old Untersturmführer Heinz Brücher, who held a PhD from Tübingen in botany, was tasked with an expedition to Ukraine and Crimea. Hauptsturmführer Konrad von Rauch and an interpreter identified as Steinbrecher were also involved in the expedition.

In February 1945, Brücher was ordered to destroy the Ahnenerbe's 18 active research facilities to avoid their capture by advancing Soviet forces. He refused, and after the war continued his work as a botanist in Argentina and Trinidad.[13]

Cancelled expeditions


The Gateway to the Sun in Tiwanaku.

After winning 20,000 Reichsmark in a writing contest, Edmund Kiss traveled to Bolivia in 1928 to study the ruins of temples in the Andes. He claimed that their apparent similarity to ancient European structures indicated that they had been designed by Nordic migrants millions of years earlier.[14] He also claimed that his findings supported the World Ice Theory, which claimed that the universe originated from a cataclysmic clash between gigantic balls of ice and glowing mass. Arthur Posnansky had been studying a local site called Tiwanaku, which he also believed supported the theory.

After contacting Posnansky, Kiss approached Wüst for help planning an expedition to excavate Tiwanaku and a nearby site, Siminake. The team would consist of 20 scientists, who would excavate for a year and also explore Lake Titicaca, and take aerial photographs of ancient Incan roads they believed had Nordic roots. By late August 1939, the expedition was nearly set to embark, but the invasion of Poland caused the expedition to be postponed indefinitely.


In 1938, the Ahnenerbe's president, Walther Wüst, proposed a trip to Iran to study the Behistun Inscription, which had been created by order of the Achaemenid Shah Darius I—who had declared himself to have been of Aryan origin in his inscriptions.[1] The inscriptions were recorded atop steep cliffs using scaffolding that was removed after the inscriptions were made. Unable to afford the cost of erecting new scaffolds, Wüst proposed that he, his wife, an amanuensis, an Iranian student, a photographer, and an experienced mountaineer be sent with a balloon-mounted camera. The onset of the war however, saw the trip postponed indefinitely.

Canary Islands

Early travelers to the Canary Islands had described the Guanche natives as having golden-blond hair and white skin, and mummies had been found with blond tresses—facts which Wirth believed indicated that the islands had once been inhabited by Nordics. His colleague Otto Huth proposed an autumn of 1939 expedition to study the ancient islanders’ racial origins, artifacts and religious rites. At the time, the Canary Islands were part of Francisco Franco’s Spanish State (Estado Español). Because Franco refused to side with the Axis when the war started, however, the trip was cancelled.


Bruno Schweizer had already traveled to Iceland three times in 1938 when he proposed an Ahnenerbe expedition with seven others to the country in order to learn about their ancient farming practices and architecture, record folksongs and dances, and also collect soil samples for pollen analysis.[1]

The first setback for the expedition was the ridicule of the Scandinavian press, publishing stories in February 1939 claiming the expedition was based on false ideas about Icelandic heritage and sought old church records which did not even exist. An enraged Himmler publicly shut down the trip completely, but after calming down he allowed the planning of the trip to be secretly continued. The final setback occurred when Himmler’s personal staff was unable to get enough Icelandic crowns—Iceland’s currency. Not being able to quickly solve this problem, the trip was rescheduled for the summer of 1940.[1] In May 1940, the British invaded neutral Iceland, but when the war had started the expedition had already been shelved.

In 1940, following the British occupation of Iceland, the Ahnenerbe-funded Bruno Kress, a German researcher who was in the country at the time, was rounded up along with other German nationals present on the island. Kress was interned in Ramsey on the Isle of Man, but was allowed to correspond with Sievers through letters.[15] Kress’s Grammar of Icelandic was eventually published in East Germany in 1955. Kress also later worked for the East German Staatssicherheit (Stasi).

Other Ahnenerbe activities

Master Plan East

After being appointed Commissioner for the Strengthening of the German Race, Himmler set to work with Konrad Meyer on developing a plan for three large German colonies in the eastern occupied territories. Leningrad, northern Poland and the Crimea would be the focal points of these colonies intended to spread the Aryan race. The Crimean colony was called Gotengau, or “Goth district” in honor of the Crimean Goths who had settled there and were believed to be Aryan ancestors of the Germans.[1]

Himmler estimated Aryanization of the region would take twenty years, first expelling all the undesirable populations, then re-distributing the territory to appropriate Aryan populations. In addition to changing the demographics of the region, Himmler also intended to plant oak and beech trees to replicate traditional German forests, as well as plant new crops brought back from Tibet. To achieve the latter end, Himmler ordered a new institution set up by the Ahnenerbe and headed by Schäfer. A station was then set up near the Austrian town of Graz where Schäfer set to work with seven other scientists to develop new crops for the Reich.

The final piece of the puzzle fell in place after Hitler read a work by Alfred Frauenfeld which suggested resettling inhabitants of South Tyrol, believed by some to be descendants of the Goths, to the Crimea. In 1939 the South Tyrolean were ordered by Hitler and Benito Mussolini to vote on whether they wanted to remain in Italy and accept assimilation or alternatively emigrate to Germany. Over 80% chose the latter (for details see: South Tyrol Option Agreement). Himmler presented Master Plan East to Hitler and received approval in July 1942.

Full implementation of the plan was not feasible because of the ongoing war, but a small colony was in fact founded around Himmler’s field headquarters at Hegewald,[16] near Kiev. Starting on October 10, 1942, Himmler’s troops deported 10,623 Ukrainians from the area in cattle cars before bringing in trains of ethnic Germans (volksdeutsche) from northern Ukraine.[1] The SS authorities gave families needed supplies as well as land of their own, but also informed them of quotas of food they needed to produce for the SS.

Failed seizure of Tacitus manuscript

The Ahnenerbe had tried to gain possession of the Codex Aesinas, a famous mediaeval copy of Tacitus' Germania. Although Mussolini had originally promised it as a gift in 1936, it remained in the possession of the Count Aurelio Baldeschi Guglielmi Balleani outside Ancona, from where the Ahnenerbe tried to obtain it after Mussolini was deposed.[17][18]

Headquarters relocation

On July 29, 1943, the Royal Air Force's firebombing of Hamburg led Himmler to order the immediate evacuation of the main Ahnenerbe headquarters in Berlin. The extensive library was moved to Schloss Oberkirchberg near Ulm while the staff was moved to the tiny village of Waischenfeld near Bayreuth, Bavaria. The building selected was the 17th century Steinhaus. While much of the staff was not ecstatic about the primitive conditions, Sievers seemed to have embraced the isolation.[1]


Financially, the Ahnenerbe was separate from the NSDAP treasury and had to find funding from other sources including membership dues and donations. After 1938, it received funds from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. In addition, a foundation (Ahnenerbe-Stifterverband) was established, set up with funds from business leaders.[2] One of the largest donations, approximately 50,000 Reichsmark, came from Deutsche Bank boardmember Emil Georg von Stauß associates, including BMW and Daimler-Benz.[1] The foundation also received royalties from patents partially held by the SS (see below). During the war, Ahnenerbe also received money from other SS departments and profited from the Arisierung of Jewish property—its headquarters in Dahlem had been purchased at half its market value. In 1940, another estate in Munich was added.[2]

In 1936, the SS formed a joint company with Anton Loibl, a machinist and driving instructor. The SS had heard about reflector pedals for bicycles, that Loibl and others had been developing. Assuring that Loibl got the patent himself, Himmler then used his political weight to ensure the passing of a 1939 law requiring the use of the new reflective pedals—of which the Ahnenerbe received a share of the profits, 77,740 Reichsmark in 1938.[1]

Medical experiments

The cadaver of Berlin dairy merchant Menachem Taffel. Deported to Auschwitz in March 1943 along with his wife and child who were gassed upon arrival. He was chosen to be an anatomical specimen in the Jewish skeleton collection, shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof and killed in the gas chamber in August 1943

The Institut für Wehrwissenschaftliche Zweckforschung ("Institute for Military Scientific Research"), which conducted extensive medical experiments using human subjects, became attached to the Ahnenerbe during World War II. It was managed by Wolfram Sievers.[19] Sievers had founded the organization on the orders of Himmler, who appointed him director with two divisions headed by Sigmund Rascher and August Hirt, and funded by the Waffen-SS.


Sigmund Rascher was tasked with helping the Luftwaffe determine what was safe for their pilots—because aircraft were being built to fly higher than ever before. He applied for and received permission from Himmler to requisition camp prisoners to place in vacuum chambers to simulate the high altitude conditions that pilots might face.[1]

Rascher was also tasked with discovering how long German airmen would be able to survive if shot down above freezing water. His victims were forced to remain out of doors naked in freezing weather for up to 14 hours, or kept in a tank of icewater for 3 hours, their pulse and internal temperature measured through a series of electrodes. Warming of the victim was then attempted by different methods, most usually and successfully by immersion in very hot water, and also less conventional methods such as placing the subject in bed with women who would try to sexually stimulate him, a method suggested by Himmler.[20][21]

Rascher also experimented with the effects of Polygal, a substance made from beets and apple pectin, on coagulating blood flow to help with gunshot wounds. Subjects were given a Polygal tablet, and shot through the neck or chest, or their limbs amputated without anaesthesia. Rascher published an article on his experience of using Polygal, without detailing the nature of the human trials, and also set up a company to manufacture the substance, staffed by prisoners.[22]

Similar experiments were conducted from July to September 1944, as the Ahnenerbe provided space and materials to doctors at Dachau to undertake “seawater experiments”, chiefly through Sievers. Sievers is known to have visited Dachau on July 20, to speak with Ploetner and the non-Ahnenerbe Wilhelm Beiglboeck, who ultimately carried out the experiments.


Walter Greite rose to leadership of the Ahnenerbe’s Applied Nature Studies division in January 1939, and began taking detailed measurements of 2,000 Jews at the Vienna emigration office—but scientists were unable to use the data. On December 10, 1941, Beger met with Sievers and convinced him of the need for 120 Jewish skulls.[23] During the later Nuremberg Trials, Friedrich Hielscher testified that Sievers had initially been repulsed at the idea of expanding the Ahnenerbe to human experimentation, and that he had “no desire whatsoever to participate in these.”[24]

Post–World War II


Wolfram Sievers


Many of the ideas inherited or developed by the Ahnenerbe remain influential. Canadian author Heather Pringle has particularly drawn attention to the influence of Edmund Kiss' various 'crackpot theories' concerning such matters as the World Ice Theory and the origins of Tiwanaku upon subsequent writers such as H.S. Bellamy, Denis Saurat and, later, Graham Hancock.[25]

In popular culture

The Ahnenerbe formed the basis for the depiction in the Indiana Jones franchise of Nazis searching for religious artifacts.[26][27]

The Ahnenerbe is frequently referenced in The Laundry series of novels by Charles Stross.

Much misinformation about the Ahnenerbe has circulated, due in part to adaptations of the group in fiction, and historically dubious conspiracy theories that sometimes confuse the Ahnenerbe with the roughly contemporaneous Thule Society, or the historically unverified Vril society.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Pringle, Heather (2006), The Master Plan: Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust (Google Book, search inside), Hyperion, p. 307, ISBN 1401383866.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Halle, Uta; Mahsarski, Dirk (2013), "Forschungsstrukturen", in Focke-Museum, Bremen, Graben für Germanien - Archäologie unterm Hakenkreuz, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, pp. 57–64, ISBN 978-3-534-25919-9
  3. Gratzer, Walter Bruno (2001). The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-deception, and Human Frailty. Oxford University Press. pp. 235–36. ISBN 978-0-19-860435-8.
  4. "XENOI Immagine e parola tra razzismi antichi e moderni". academia.edu (in Italian).
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