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The Passion of Max von Oppenheim

Lionel Gossman

III. “The Kaiser’s Spy” under National Socialism; “Leben Im ns-Staat, 1933–1945”

12. Max von Oppenheim, ″Half-Jew,″ during the National Socialist Regime

Texte intégral

Oppenheim and the race question

  • 1 Michael Stürmer, Gabriele Teichmann, Wilhelm Treue, Wägen und Wagen, p. 373.

1Having outlined what is known of the relation of some younger members of the Oppenheim family to the Nazi regime in the years 1933-1945, we can now turn back to their senior, Max von Oppenheim. Politically and socially conservative, a fervent nationalist committed to achieving world power status for Germany, the ″Kaiser′s spy″ probably supported Hugenberg′s Harzburger Front, just as Waldemar and Friedrich von Oppenheim appear to have done, and may well have expected, as they are likely to have done, that the populist anti-Semitism of the NSDAP would moderate once the Party came to power, or at least would not affect those who were only partly Jewish by birth and not at all by affiliation. By the time the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Oppenheim bank comes around in 1939, Max von Oppenheim wrote optimistically to Waldemar in December 1935, ″the current unfriendliness with regard to the Jewish origins of the Oppenheims will certainly have faded.″1

  • 2 Gabriele Teichmann, ″Grenzgänger zwischen Orient und Okzident″ in Faszination Orient, pp. 84, 86-8 (...)

2Of that unfriendliness, he had had some experience. In 1935 there had been a move to expel him, as a Mischling ersten Grades (″half-Jew″) from the Union-Klub. Though he had been able to gather enough influential support to prevent this, he had been deeply offended at being treated in such a dishonourable manner, as he saw it, by people he had always thought of as belonging to his own world. Also in 1935, as noted earlier, Eduard von der Heydt, head of the Heydt Bank, from whom he had borrowed money, using some of his finds from Tell Halaf as collateral, cited non-payment of the debt as justification for his intention to seize some of the sculptures and remove them to his private estate in Ancona, Switzerland. Oppenheim got wind of his plans, however, and von der Heydt was barred from entering the Museum. Enraged, he wrote a letter to the Deutsche Bank containing extremely offensive comments about Oppenheim. Given Oppenheim′s outlook and view of himself as a German aristocrat, there was only one possible line of action. Max Freiherr von Oppenheim challenged his offender to a duel using pistols. Von der Heydt, however, refused on the grounds that as an Aryan and a member of the NSDAP he could not engage in a duel with a non-Aryan. Oppenheim took the matter to a court of honour, won his case, and obtained an apology from von der Heydt.2 But the experience of being told that he was not satisfaktionsfahig [duel-worthy] cannot have been anything but deeply troubling and humiliating for a Herr Baron who was used to mixing with the aristocracy and had always considered himself and presented himself as belonging to the German élite.

  • 3 Aus fünf Jahrtausenden morgenländischer Kultur. Festschrift Max Freiherrn von Oppenheim zum 70. Ge (...)
  • 4 Gabriele Teichmann, ″Grenzgänger zwischen Orient und Okzident″ in Faszination Orient, pp. 85-86.
  • 5 Max Freiherr von Oppenheim, Tell Halaf (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1943-2010), vol. 3 (1955), ed. Anton M (...)

3In matters concerning the Tell Halaf finds, the research foundation that he had set up and that bore his name (the Max Freiherr von Oppenheim Stiftung), as well as his own scholarship, Oppenheim also might have sensed a change of attitude toward him. A Festschrift in his honour, with contributions from 26 leading scholars of the arts, languages, religions, and mythologies of the ancient Near East, had appeared in 1933.3 Nevertheless, his attempts to put his foundation on a secure financial basis by having it transformed into an institution financed by the state met with no success. As he sought a proper permanent home for the finds by having them acquired by and transferred to the Vorderasiatisches Museum, the museum authorities were similarly unco-operative. They wanted the objects but believed that, in view of Oppenheim′s age, they could only gain by playing a waiting game. In addition, Oppenheim′s scholarly competence was questioned and the excavation techniques he had used at Tell Halaf were faulted. Above all, his acceptance of Ernst Herzfeld′s dating of the Temple Palace sculptures to the 3rd millennium B .C. drew criticism. Though this criticism was largely justified—Oppenheim had held obstinately to Herzfeld′s chronology despite its rejection by a wide range of scholars in many countries—the tone of the criticism was new. It now reflected an eagerness in some scholarly circles to discredit and marginalize an interloper from a wealthy Jewish banking family who had been able to buy his way, as it were, into domains where he did not properly belong.4 In addition, as Herzfeld had had to give up his chair at Berlin University on racial grounds in 1935 and had emigrated to the United States (where he became a permanent member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton), there was now merit in attacking his dating of the Tell Halaf sculptures. According to the editor of the posthumously published third volume (1955) of the great scholarly study and catalogue of Tell Halaf, Oppenheim did come to reject Herzfeld′s chronology ″at the end of his life.″5 One may well wonder whether he did so freely or in order to distance himself prudently from his former collaborator.

  • 6 Cit. Gabriele Teichmann, ″Grenzgänger zwischen Orient und Okzident″ in Faszination Orient, pp. 87- (...)

4Publication of the massive scholarly study and catalogue of Tell Halaf that Oppenheim and his collaborators had been working on for several years and of his extensive research on the Bedouins, which likewise relied on significant input from collaborators, had also become problematical, and since he was now in his seventies, the issue was pressing. As he and his team of co-workers began getting the first volume of his study of the Bedouins ready for the press, he was informed by the foundation supporting the publication of the work that special permission would be required from the Reichsschriftumskammer, the recently founded state writers′ association set up by Goebbels, to which anyone publishing in Germany had to belong and from which non-Aryans were excluded. Oppenheim called on his old friends at the Auswärtiges Amt to intervene on his behalf. He wrote to Foreign Minister von Neurath, a diplomat of the old school, seeking support for his publication plans and at the same time inquiring politely, out of concern for one of his main collaborators, Erich Bräunlich—and also perhaps in order to draw attention to the fact that the authorship of the book in question was not exclusively non-Aryan—whether having worked with him could constitute a problem for his Aryan co-writers. To the Reichsschriftumskammer he wrote requesting that ″an exception be made in his case″ on account of his many and varied contributions. The exception was granted—it is not known to whose influence this was due—and in 1937 the Leipzig company of Harrassowitz was informed that ″as a publisher and member of the Reichsschriftumskammer,″ the firm ″would not encounter difficulties if, on this one exceptional occasion, a contract was signed for publication of a scholarly work with an author who could not provide proof of Aryan descent.″6

  • 7 See Stefan Wild, ″National Socialism in the Arab near East between 1933 and 1939,″ Die Welt des Is (...)
  • 8 Julius Jordan, ″Leistungen und Aufgaben der deutschen Ausgrabungen im Vorderen Orient,″ Der Orient (...)

5The following year the first volume of Die Beduinen appeared, with the author′s clearly Jewish-sounding name, Max Freiherr von Oppenheim, prominently featured on the binding and the title page. The second volume followed six years later in 1943, with Oppenheim′s name still similarly displayed, while the names of his collaborators, who were in fact responsible for much of the work, were listed only in fairly small print on the title page, after the volume number. They were Erich Bräunlich, Dean of the Faculty of Philology and History at the University of Leipzig, and Werner Caskel, a loyal, longtime assistant of Oppenheim′s, who, being by Nazi standards half-Jewish, like Oppenheim, had lost his teaching position at Greifswald University but, again like Oppenheim—thanks perhaps to his association with the latter—was never molested by the regime. In fact, Caskel was suggested as a suitable translator of Mein Kampf into Arabic.7 In the same year, 1943, at the height of the Second World War, the first volume of the massive, profusely illustrated, and richly informed scholarly study and catalogue of Tell Halaf appeared with the distinguished Berlin publisher de Gruyter. Once again, Oppenheim′s name was prominently displayed on the cover and on the title-page. In 1933, moreover, Oppenheim had been granted a monthly stipend of 1000 Reichsmarks by Hitler′s then Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, an old associate of Oppenheim′s from World War I days, to enable him to work on this publication. With the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, this subsidy had been withdrawn. Nevertheless, thanks to the support of Professor Helmuth Scheel—Director of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, editor of the Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft [Journal of the German Oriental Society], and a specialist in Ottoman history—Oppenheim had again been in receipt, since 1941, of a stipend of 1300 Reichsmarks per month from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft [German Research Foundation] to help him bring the project to completion. At a conference of German scholars of the Middle and Far East in Berlin in 1942, at which the opening address was given by the fanatical Nazi Paul Ritterbusch, head of a section of the Reichswissenschaftsministerium responsible for harnessing the humanities and social sciences to the war effort, Oppenheim was not among the twenty-two university scholars invited to deliver papers. But that was probably because he did not hold and never had held an academic position. His name, unlike that of Jewish scholars such as Ernst Herzfeld or Eugen Mittwoch, was not simply erased from the records. On the contrary, his accomplishment at Tell Halaf was described, praised, and even illustrated in an article on the achievements and future tasks of German archaeologists in the Middle East by a Professor at the University of Berlin.8

  • 9 After 1933, according to one scholar, ″it was the new dogma to search for ′Indo-Germanic,′ that is (...)
  • 10 Letter dated 9 August 1937, cit. Teichmann,″Grenzgänger zwischen Orient und Okzident″ in Faszinati (...)

6On his side, Oppenheim appears to have done what he could to reassure the new masters of Germany of his readiness to toe the line ideologically. At the centre of a speech drafted in late 1935 for delivery at the opening of an extension to his Tell Halaf Museum (15 July 1936)—an event attended, along with members of the press, scholars and friends, by high-ranking officials, including Foreign Minister von Neurath and future Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop—he made the claim that the finds at Tell Halaf and at another excavation site at nearby Tell Fakhariyah were the products of an Aryan culture.9 It is characteristic of the problems Oppenheim still faced that this embrace of prevailing racial preoccupations was viewed by some of those it was intended to impress as a ploy. (Indeed, his extraordinarily well-informed modern biographer, Gabriele Teichmann, also describes it as a ″Strategie.″) Thus Otto Kümmel, Director-General of the State Museums, wrote to the Minister of Science, Education and National Culture that ″Fakhariyah has not yet been explored; we do not know what it contains. Declaring it similar to Washukanni is equally ungrounded, though doing so has an obvious purpose, as has the elevation of the Mitanni to the status of Aryans—a view that Oppenheim, hardly an Aryan himself, has not tired of propagating since 1933, for obvious reasons.″ The context of Kümmel′s letter was a request from Oppenheim for money and foreign currency— in extremely short supply in the Third Reich—to finance a new journey into Syria. Kümmel used Oppenheim′s Jewish ancestry to argue against granting his request: ″Quite apart from other reservations one might have, this son of a full Jew and a possibly Aryan mother, this member of the one Jewish family whose female offspring have contaminated with their Jewish blood more old aristocratic families than any other, would be a very peculiar representative of National Socialist Germany. Even people with whose work he associates his own, such as Gunther [Hans F.K. Gunther], the scholar of race, and Reinerth [Hans Reinerth], the scholar of prehistory, while they will be in favor of the excavations, will assuredly not be in favor of the excavator.″10

  • 11 For a detailed account of the complex political and scholarly wrangling over the sites, in which t (...)
  • 12 The German demand was communicated to the French at the end of July 1940. The French stalled until (...)

7Equally characteristic of Oppenheim′s situation during the Third Reich, however, is the fact that his request was in the end granted. Many officials wanted the honour of the excavations at the Syrian sites to accrue to Germany and Oppenheim held the rights to carry them out. In fact, he had submitted his request chiefly because he had been presented by the French mandate authorities in Syria, who were under pressure from scholars of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago to cede the excavation rights to them, with the stark choice of either exercising his rights or forfeiting them. It was therefore essential, if German archaeology was to retain its place at the sites, that the excavations be resumed without delay. In March 1939, therefore, Oppenheim was able to set out, at the age of 79, on a planned four-month trip to Syria. As it turned out, however, the French had by then become acutely apprehensive of Nazi Germany and suspicious of the many Germans visiting Syria. They were doubtless also not oblivious of Oppenheim′s activities prior to and during the First World War. In Beirut Oppenheim learned that he had been barred by the Mandate authorities from further travel in Syria. He obtained permission to visit Aleppo but access to the excavation sites in the Northeastern part of the country was adamantly refused. Oppenheim defied the ban, but was turned back as he approached the sites and had to return home to Germany without accomplishing his mission, even if he was able to claim later that he had not forfeited his rights.11 In the end C. W. McEwan of the Oriental Institute of Chicago did get to excavate the site at Tell Fakhariyah in 1940. Nonetheless, after the fall of France, the German government again demanded that the right to excavate at Tell Halaf and Fakhariya be restored to Max von Oppenheim and his Foundation. The prestige of German scholarship was not neglected by the National Socialists and was in fact regarded as a significant part of German wartime propaganda.12

  • 13 Succinctly described recently in Maurice Olender′s The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion and P (...)

8In fact, Oppenheim′s reference to race and to the Mitanni culture as Aryan in his speech of 15 July 1936 may not have been simply a ploy, as his detractors claimed, even if it was obviously opportune. Like many scholars of the ancient Middle East, Oppenheim had an interest in questions of race. His guide in the matter had for many years been one of his principal professional associates, Arthur Ungnad, an orientalist twenty years his junior. Ungnad had led the way in claiming that the Mitanni were an Aryan people and Oppenheim had followed suit. Ungnad′s interest in questions of race was itself, at first anyway, part of a long tradition among nineteenth-century linguists and philologists.13 Unlike Gobineau and Vacher de Lapouge, who were focused on establishing a hierarchy of races, the interest in race among scholars in the philological tradition, such as Ernest Renan and Max Müller, was rooted in Biblical and theological studies. Most often it concerned the relation between the two language families generally considered the most ancient—the Semitic, long unrivalled in that position, and the Indo-European, as identified by Franz Bopp in articles in the Transactions of the Berlin Academy of Sciences (between 1824 and 1831) and in the volumes of his Comparative Grammar (1833-1852). Did the Semitic and Indo-European languages emerge from a single origin, as some scholars argued? And if so, were the ″races″ that spoke them—the Indo-Europeans or Aryans and the Semites—also originally one race? Can their original unity be demonstrated? What is the nature of the differences between them? How did these differences arise? How profound and significant are they and what do they portend for the future? While the category of ″race″ figured frequently in the debates and discussions of the scholars, it was still an amorphous concept, as Maurice Olender has demonstrated in the case of Renan, whom he shows shifting back and forth between something close to a biological understanding of race and a linguistic or cultural understanding:

  • 14 Maurice Olender, The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion and Philology in the Nineteenth Century (...)

What did Renan′s ″portraits of races″ look like? Humanity, he tells us, was long ago divided into families, each different from the others, each with its virtues and faults. ″The fact of race was then paramount and governed all aspects of human relations″ (1859, p. 445). This very remote time in ancient history cannot be understood without a concept of racial distinctions, ″the secret of all the events in the history of humanity″ (p. 446). Originally, then, races were ″physiological facts,″ but gradually their importance waned. Owing to great conquests and to the spread of religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, the era of racial determination gave way to an age of ″historical facts.″ ″Language thus virtually supplanted race in distinguishing between human groups, or, to put it another way, the meaning of the word ′race′ changed. Race became a matter of language, religion, laws, and customs more than of blood″ (vol. 6, p. 32).
Renan immediately tempers this assertion by insisting that the ″hereditary qualities″ of blood help to perpetuate institutions and ″habits of education.″ Although, for Renan, ″races are durable frameworks″ (1859, pp. 447-48), things have reached the stage where they are ″no longer anything more than intellectual and moral molds″ on which physical kinship has ″almost″ no influence. Renan even goes so far as to propose that the term ″linguistic races″ be substituted for ″anthropological races″ (vol. 8, p. 1224) [...] Aryans and Semites might exhibit ″no essential difference″ in physical type and yet belong to ″two [distinct] races″ by virtue of their ″intellectual attitudes and moral instincts″ (p. 577). [.] Race, once of paramount importance, has since lost its decisiveness. Humans [...] ″have no right to go around the world probing into craniums and then grabbing people by the throat and telling them, ″You are our blood; you belong to us″ (p. 898).14

  • 15 Friedrich Delitzsch, Studien über Indogermanisch-Semitische Wurzelverwandtschaft (Leipzig: J.C. Hi (...)

9Renan′s analysis of the relation of Semitic and Indo-European races and languages was witheringly criticized in a work closely studied by Ungnad, the Hebraist Friedrich Delitzsch′s Studien iiber Indogermanisch-Semitische Wurzelverwandtschaft [Studies on the Relations of Indogermanic and Semitic Roots]. According to Delitzsch, Renan makes two incompatible claims: that the Semitic and Indo-European languages are radically different and that the Semitic and Indo-European peoples were originally one. Delitzsch cites Renan: ″il faut reconnaître que, pour les mythes comme pour la langue, un abîme sépare les deux races″ [″It has to be acknowledged that as far as myths and language are concerned, the two races are separated by an abyss″]. One would imagine, he goes on, that the two peoples must therefore have been quite distinct. But no. Renan holds that both belong to a single ″Caucasian race″: ″il est difficile d′admettre que des peuples offrant les mêmes caractères physiologiques et psychologiques ne soient pas frères″ [″It is hard to conceive that peoples with the same physiological and psychological characteristics are not fraternally related″]. Delitzsch cites Renan′s summary articulation of his position: ″I imagine the emergence of the Semitic and the Aryan languages as two distinct, though parallel phenomena, in the sense that two fractions of a single race, separated immediately after their birth, [here Delitzsch interjects impatiently ′What in all the world can have been the cause of this portentous separation? And how is one to conceive a process of separation immediately after birth?′] produced them under the influence of analogous causes and in accordance with almost identical psychological elements in their make-up.″ Delitzsch went on to present a case, based, he claimed, on ″empirical″ linguistic evidence, for the historical ″Urverwandtschaft″ [″original relatedness″] of the Indo-Germanic and Semitic languages and peoples.15

  • 16 Arthur Ungnad, Die ältesten Völkerwanderungen Vorderasiens: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte und Kultur (...)
  • 17 Arthur Ungnad, Subartu: Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte und Völkerkunde Vorderasiens (Berlin and Lei (...)
  • 18 (Berlin: Junker und Dünnhaupt, 1933). Fischer distinguishes here between the nineteenth-century id (...)
  • 19 Rassenkunde Europas, 3rd edn (Munich: J. F. Lehmann′s Verlag, 1929), pp. 92, 152. ″There is still (...)
  • 20 Ibid., pp. 96, 152-53. ″Because of characteristics they have in common, we shall also have to assu (...)
  • 21 Ibid., p. 100.

10Ungnad, it will be recalled (see pt. I, ch. 2 above), had held in his essay on Die ältesten Völkerwanderungen Vorderasiens [The Earliest Migrations of Peoples in the Near East] of 1923 that there was very little to distinguish physically the pure ″Semitic″ type (as represented, for instance, by the modern Bedouin) from the pure ″Indo-Germanic″ type; that the hypothesis of Arabia or Africa as the original home of the Semites was ″untenable″; and that there were ″striking linguistic connections between the Semitic race and the Indo-Germanic race.″ It was thus ″quite likely,″ he had concluded, in the same vein as Delitzsch, ″that in South-Eastern or Central Europe in times long before our earliest historical records both peoples had formed a single people with a single language. The Semites separated at an early date [from the common source] and followed routes that we can only guess at, and can no longer identify in any detail, but that most probably took them by way of Asia Minor into Western Syria, the area between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates.″16 By the time he published Subartu (1936), however, Ungnad had changed his tune. Not only had the earlier, traditional focus on the relation of ″Semitic″ and ″Indo-Germanic″ shifted to a more general interest in biologically defined race and in race migrations, there was no longer any question in this work of a ″Semitic race″: ″Semitisch ist eine Sprache und keine Rasse″ [″the term Semitic designates a language, not a race″]; it is essential to separate completely questions of race and questions of language. Ungnad′s terminology and categories of race were now taken over from Hans F.K. Günther′s ″Rassenkunde″ or Science of Race, which was to be more or less official doctrine during the National Socialist years17 and from the work of Eugen Fischer, Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics (1927-1942), Rector of the University of Berlin (to which post he was appointed by Hitler in 1933) and author, in 1933, of a pamphlet entitled Der völkische Staat, biologisch gesehen.18 According to Günther, instead of a ″Semitic″ race, two races dominate in the Middle East—the vorderasiatische Rasse [Middle Eastern race] and the orientalische Rasse [Oriental race]. The former, Günther claims, is related to the dinarische Rasse, which predominates in South-Eastern Europe but stretches northwards into the Alpine lands and Bavaria;19 the latter is related to the westische or Mediterranean race.20 There is no such thing as a Semitic ″race.″ ″There are only peoples, made up of various racial strains, who speak Semitic languages.″21 Vorderasiatisch, orientalisch, dinarisch, westisch, these were now the categories referred to by Ungnad. The pages of Subartu likewise show the influence of Günther in numerous references to physical characteristics, especially facial features and the shape and dimensions of the cranium, as markers of race.

  • 22 Arthur Ungnad, Die ältesten Völkerwanderungen Vorderasiens, p. 16.

11As for the Jews, they are an overwhelmingly mongrel people. This had already been affirmed by Ungnad as early as 1923 in Die ältesten Völkerwanderungen Vorderasiens, where he made a point of distinguishing the Habiräer or Hebräer—the Hebrews—from those he at that time still described as ″pure Semites.″ The Hebräer, originally nomads, had already mingled freely with other peoples by the time they invaded Palestine, where, once again, they mixed with the people they had conquered. ″Were the Hebrews racially pure Semites?″ he asked; ″Our answer must be an unequivocal ′No.′ Even if the earliest nomads of Mesopotamia were relatively pure racially, the Hebrews had mixed so extensively with the local populations in the countless foreign states in which they had been employed, such as Babylonia, Subartu-Mitanni, the Hittite kingdom, Egypt, perhaps also Elam, that by the time of their move to Palestine there was already absolutely no question of racial purity with them. Moreover, they now mixed further here with the Canaanites, who were themselves a mixed race formed by Semites, Aryans, and Hurritic Subaraeans. For that reason there is probably less Semitic blood flowing in the veins of the descendants of those Hebrews, namely the Jews, than the total amount constituted by the admixture of blood from numerous other races.″22 On the topic of the Jews at least, Ungnad′s views were already in line with those put forward at great length by Günther the previous year in a 70-page appendix to his Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes of 1922, entitled Rassenkunde des jüdischen Volkes. By 1936, Ungnad has followed Günther not only in abandoning the notions of a ″Semitic″ race and ″Semitic blood″ but in attributing explicitly a high value to racial ″purity,″ already implicitly judged desirable in 1923, even if he also gave a fairly compassionate account of the conditions in which a people loses its racial purity and in the process acquires undesirable characteristics:

  • 23 Ungnad, Subartu, pp. 16-17.

Those characteristics of the Middle Eastern racial type [der vorderasiatischen Steilköpfe] that we find so unattractive retreat more and more into the background as we move away from those regions where there was a great deal of intermingling with other races. The average height too seems to increase as we move in this direction, so that, for example, the Circassians of Ciscaucasia [the Northern Caucasus region], who also speak a Caucasian language, already approximate very closely both physically and morally to the Dinaric racial type. Their pride, their daring, their code of hospitality, on the one hand, the hot-tempered anger that is expressed in blood feuds, on the other, are character traits that we also encounter among European peoples in whom the Dinaric racial element predominates. Even in descriptions of peoples of this same race settled on Russian soil in the Caucasus, we do not come across any mention of characteristics that we would find repugnant, if we disregard their habit of violently taking the law into their own hands. This runs counter to our modern notions of justice, but it is a trait that is also commonly found among peoples of Dinaric race. As peoples remain purest also in their morals and customs wherever they have not mingled with elements foreign to their own kind and have also been able to retain their own native language, it would therefore be premature to condemn the Middle Eastern racial type [vorderasiatischer Steilkopf] wholesale as inferior. The situation is rather this: bad characteristics develop first in those areas that have suffered for thousands of years under the yoke of an alien race. Here the vanquished succeeded in surviving to the extent that they did what they could to adapt to their new masters. But as such an adaptation of moral and psychological characteristics is possible only up to a certain point, dissimulation, hypocrisy, avariciousness, and dishonesty inevitably took the place of those characteristics of the masters that were racially alien to the vanquished. In the course of time, through a natural process of selection, those sections of the vanquished people that had been successful at adapting became more and more dominant, while those that were less successful at adapting were eliminated. This demonstrates the danger of subjecting a racially distinct, people—not only for the vanquished but also in the long run for the victorious ruling stratum, for it too degenerates and declines in a racially alien territory.23

  • 24 Though of somewhat mixed race, like all peoples, according to Günther, the German people was predo (...)
  • 25 Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (1922), Appendix on ″Rassenkunde des jüdischen Volkes,″ p. 400; R (...)

12Given that the purest members of the vorderasiatische Rasse are, according to Günther himself, so close physically to the dinarische Rasse that they may be considered a branch of the latter and that, again according to Günther, the closeness of the orientalische Rasse, of which he views the Bedouins as the purest specimens, to the westische (or Mediterranean) Rasse requires one to consider whether these two races also might not have a common origin, Ungnad′s earlier assertion, in the 1923 essay, that the German and the Bedouin, the pure Indo-Germanic and the pure ″Semitic″ (the term he still used then as a racial category) are virtually indistinguishable physically thus retained, mutatis mutandis, a certain validity in the context of the prevailing theories of Günther.24 The Jews, in contrast, are a mongrel people. And while no race has maintained its purity absolutely and all peoples are made up, in greater or lesser degree, of a combination of races, the Jews are the least ″pure″ racially of any. According to Günther, their racial make-up is primarily vorderasiatisch and orientalisch, with admixtures in varying degrees of hamitisch (East African), nordisch, innerasiatisch, westisch and negerisch, and, most of all, in the case of the majority Ashkenazim or Eastern Jews, who make up nine-tenths of the entire Jewish population, ostbaltisch (essentially Slavic, one of Günther′s least favourite races) as well as mongolisch (thanks to the alleged mass conversion of the Chasars between the 8th and 11th centuries).25

13It was this extreme racial impurity, Günther holds, that produced in the Jews a strong feeling of guilt and the idea of ″original sin″—an idea utterly alien, in his view, to peoples who have remained more racially pure, such as the Germans—and that led the Jews later, in an effort to halt the process of racial disintegration, to impose severe strictures against marriage with non-Jews and thus to create a ″second order race.″ This ″second order race″ regards all other races and peoples as alien and is in turn regarded as alien by all other races and peoples. The characteristics associated with Jews, moreover, are the inevitable consequence of their excessive racial mixing and their history of having to adapt to ever changing masters. To Oppenheim′s colleague Ungnad, as we saw, the development of unattractive characteristics—″dissimulation, hypocrisy, avariciousness, and dishonesty″ — is the unavoidable result of frequent mixing with peoples of different race and of having to adapt to life under masters of different race. To Günther, this race-based incompatibility of the Jews with the peoples they live among is at the core of the ″Jewish problem,″ and the only solution of that problem lies in a radical separation of the Jews from the ambient population. What underlies the ″Jewish problem,″ in sum, is not that the Jews are a distinct and inferior race, but that they are so mixed racially as to constitute an alien, disturbing element in any community.

  • 26 Max Freiherr von Oppenheim, Der Tell Halaf: eine neue Kultur im ältesten Mesopotamien (Leipzig: F. (...)
  • 27 In his celebrated 1927 biography, Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite, the Jewish scholar Ernst Kantorowic (...)

14Max von Oppenheim did not wait until 1935-1936 to use the language of race in ways that were generally compatible with National Socialist practice. He had already asserted in the Tell Halaf book of 1931 not only that the Mitanni were an ″Indo-Germanic″ people, but following Ungnad—and Gunther—that the Jews are a ″Mischvolk″ and he had contrasted them with the pure-race Bedouins.26 That was already far less a way of defending the Jews—by making hostility to the ″Semitic race″ irrelevant as a basis for hostility toward Jews—than a way of degrading the Jews and justifying suspicion and dislike of them27 while at the same time releasing the Bedouins, and by extension the other peoples of the Middle East, in whom Oppenheim goes to some pains to emphasize the ″Indo-Germanic″ component, from the obloquy of being placed in the same category (i.e. ″Semites″) as the Jews. Oppenheim′s stance on race issues thus fits well with the role that he was to play, during the Second World War, in German negotiations with al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, and other anti-Jewish Arab leaders, with the aim of engaging the Arabs on the side of National Socialist Germany and against ″the British and the Jews.″ To these negotiations we shall address ourselves shortly. Our aim here has simply been to suggest that Oppenheim′s interest in and stance on questions of race—above all his dismissive reference to the Jews as a Mischvolk and his emphasis on ″Aryan″ components in the racial make-up of the peoples of the Middle East—while certainly opportune, need not be considered a calculated ″ploy,″ as his anti-Semitic colleagues charged, but rather reflects positions on the question of race that he had come to hold before the Nazis came to power in 1933 and that he had arrived at in the same way as many other German scholars.

  • 28 Otto Hauser, a popular writer of novels and poems as well as books on early history and race, had (...)
  • 29 Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes [Munich: J.F. Lehmann′s Verlag, 1922]; 3rd edn (1929), Appendix ( (...)

15It is also worth recalling that in his writings of the 1920s, when Ungnad and Oppenheim were reading him, even ″Rassengünther,″ now rightly viewed as representing the nadir of Nazi racial pseudo-science, took what, in the light of the ″final solution,″ might be regarded as the ″moderate″ Nazi position with respect to the ″Jewish problem,″ a position many ordinary Germans who voted for the National Socialists appear to have found acceptable. That is, he advocated not the destruction of the Jewish people but its separation from its host people. He even saw a possibility of co-operation with Zionism in solving the ″Jewish problem″28 and expressed sympathy for those German Jews who had so identified with German culture and the interests of the German people [″die sogar ausgesprochen vaterländisch-deutsch fühlen″] that for them separation would cause great inner personal pain [″eine seelische Qual″]. He also proclaimed, in a seeming echo of Herder, that ″every people living its own independent life has a unique, incomparable, and indestructible value,″ that ″the habit of measuring peoples in order to determine which has the higher value is utterly senseless,″ and that, in short, ″every people has its own particular value.″ Günther even claimed to see a valuable lesson for all races in the Jews′ determined efforts to preserve their distinct identity, albeit now only as a ″second order race″ —the lesson, namely, that ″the perfection of every breed lies in maintaining its isolation from other breeds″ [″in der Reinheit der Absonderung liegt die Vollkommenheit jeder Artung beschlossen″].29 Whether he was writing in good faith or not, Günther clearly wished to convey an impression of reasonableness and to make it easy for others to embrace his views.

16In sum, like many Germans (and by no means Germans only), Oppenheim was thinking in the racial categories that became essential to the program of the National Socialists before the latter came to power and he had already presented the Jews in an unfavourable light as a Mischvolk. That, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize, does not imply that he in any way advocated discrimination against Jews, much less persecution of them.

Support of the Regime

17Of Max von Oppenheim′s response to the rise of National Socialism and to Hitler′s Machtergreifung in 1933 we have only a few indications. The letter of 1935 to Waldemar, in which he expresses the hope that by the time the 150th anniversary of the Oppenheim bank comes around in 1939 the ″current unfriendliness with regard to the Jewish origins of the Oppenheims″ will have subsided, has already been mentioned. Oppenheim′s biographer Gabriele Teichmann relates an episode that occurred shortly after the Machtergreifung:

  • 30 Faszination Orient, pp. 83-84. Harold von Oppenheim, the second of Simon Alfred von Oppenheim′s fo (...)

While the new regime was celebrating its triumph with torchlight parades and songs at the Brandenburg Tor, Max von Oppenheim was sitting with two guests, Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. of New York and his nephew Harold von Oppenheim, at a night spot not far off, when ″some half-drunk men stormed into the place yelling ′Jews out!′ The owner and the waiters calmed them down by assuring them that there were no Jews in the place. A little later they returned, whereupon one of the guests got up and went determinedly toward them. It almost came to a brawl. But then these people withdrew and did not come back.″30

18Teichmann is relying here on the Lebenserinnerungen or recollections written by Max von Oppenheim years later, after the fall of the Nazi regime. The brief quotation is likewise taken from this manuscript text in the Oppenheim archives. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr., in contrast, gave a rather different account of this episode in a book published in English in the United States only two years after it took place. I quote the entire passage:

  • 31 Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., Farewell to Fifth Avenue (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935), pp. 178- (...)

I was tired of Nazi parades. In less than three days I had beheld twelve of them, each one ″the biggest,″ ″the most stupendous,″ ″overwhelmingly inspiring,″ each one ″symbolizing the revolt of Youth, the glory of a bloodless revolution, the proud awakening of the creative Nordic race.″ So, pleading a headache, I fought my way through the brown columns of roaring youngsters and rushed back to my hotel, just in time to receive messages, one from the Crown Prince, another from his son Prince Louis Ferdinand. The former was willing to grant me an interview in his Berlin palace at Number Thirty-Six Unter den Linden; the latter promised if I were in Holland to try to let me see his grandfather the Kaiser. I felt elated. No other journalist had succeeded in talking to the Hohenzollerns since the victory of Hitler brought them out of their retirement to the forefront of the European drama. I decided to celebrate.
″Let′s go and get a peek at the night life of this crazy city,″ I proposed to my friends; and off we went to a well-known cafe. We were five, four Americans and one German, an elderly Baron who used to occupy a high position at the Imperial Court in Potsdam. Outspoken in his praise of the Nazi regime, the Baron insisted on our drinking a toast to its chief.
″Here is to the greatest of all living Europeans!″ he began, rising to his feet and standing at attention.
We stood up too. We expected to listen to a lengthy speech, the eloquence of the elegant Baron being favourably known to all his friends. Just then we heard a crash. It sounded like the detonation of a bomb, as if this garishly decorated cafe had been dynamited and wrecked. Turning toward the windows, we saw raised chairs, waving rifles, whirling nightsticks. A score of young Nazis - the eldest of them could not have been more than twenty-were jumping in through the smashed windows, firing at the ceiling, knocking down the tables, the bottles and the pinkish lamps.
″Verfluchte Ausländer-″
″Verfluchte Juden-″
″Verfluchte Schieber-″
″They are looking for foreigners, Jews and profiteers,″ obligingly translated the Baron, trying to force a smile. ″Youth will be youth, don′t you know_Look here, my friends-″
His last four words were addressed (in German) to the advance guard of the youngsters who had by that time reached our table.
″Get out of here, you dirty swine,″ was the curt answer.
″But you don′t quite understand, my friends-″
They did not wish to understand, and they made this clear. When I saw the Baron next, the front of his shirt was red and his coat was tail-less. We were standing on the sidewalk, pleading with the Nazis to let us have our hats and overcoats.
″Outrageous-revolting-scandalous!″ muttered the champion of Awakening Germany, wiping the Burgundy off his shirtfront. ″I shall take it up immediately with Captain Goering and Admiral von Levetzov!″
Captain Goering—the all-powerful Minister without portfolio in Hitler′s cabinet—was not available at the moment. He was riding at the head of the parade and was not expected back in his palace until dawn. We had to be satisfied with seeing Admiral von Levetzov, the then Chief of the Berlin police, at one time the leading naval hero of Germany. A very tall, bald-headed, handsome man, he received us with all the courtesy possible under the circumstances: he was sitting at his massive desk at headquarters, going over twenty-five hundred complaints registered that night by ″foreigners, Jews and profiteers.″
″I am awfully sorry, my dear Baron,″ he said with a sympathetic sigh, ″but you really ought to know better than to patronize those contemptible night-clubs in this historical hour of our national existence!″ The Baron opened his mouth wide.
″I insist upon an apology, Admiral. My friends here have been manhandled by these roughnecks. Think of what they will tell their friends and relatives in America!″
″I would advise them″—the Admiral′s face became stern and defiant—″to tell their friends and relatives in America that we, the Germans, refuse to forget our two million dead. That no one could blame our youth for reprimanding, perhaps a bit too energetically, the persons who dance and drink while we are fighting for our future.″
″And how about our hats and overcoats, Admiral,″ I interrupted this strange explanation of the Police Commissioner.
″I shall see to it that your personal property is restored to you,″ he answered dryly.31

19Twenty-four years later, in a book of recollections, Man of the World. My Life on Five Continents, Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. gave a much briefer but essentially identical account of the episode. Here the ″Baron″ is identified as Oppenheim:

  • 32 New York: Crown Publishers, 1959, p. 155. Vanderbilt′s presenting the rumour that Oppenheim had be (...)

Brodix [Vanderbilt′s assistant and close friend] and I spent the night with an old friend, Baron Oppenheim, an ″Aryan of honor.″ That evening in a café we were addressed as ″foreign swine″ by some juvenile delinquents calling themselves Hitler Youth and the baron′s appeal to the police got nowhere.32

  • 33 It should not be forgotten that there were many Jews, traditionally fervent supporters of the Ital (...)
  • 34 Cit. by Teichmann in Faszination Orient, p. 87.
  • 35 Weizsäcker′s Memoirs, written after the War and published in 1950 (English translation, 1951), are (...)

20Vanderbilt′s immediately recorded account of this episode suggests that Oppenheim was—overtly at least—supportive of the new regime. After all, he was not obliged to praise Hitler and drink a toast to him in the company of Americans. It is quite possible that he intended, for opportunistic reasons, to give a public demonstration of his acceptance of the new regime. At the same time, however, like many other conservative nationalists, he may also have been not unfavourably disposed to National Socialism, being put off primarily, as was common among the old conservatives, by the vulgarity and rowdiness of the mass movement′s supporters.33 He himself admitted in his manuscript Erinnerungen that he ″at first welcomed much in the actions of the Nazis, such as the combating of unemployment within Germany and the increasing respect won for the German Reich abroad.″ Though he does not mention it specifically, it is quite likely that he also shared the view, common among conservatives, that Hitler was the best bulwark against Bolshevism. He added, it is true, that he was horrified by ″the inner core of Hitlerism, [...] the ever more savage and unrestrained actions taken against those who think differently and for themselves, against the Jews, against the Christian religion and in general against the individual′s freedom of thought...″34 These misgivings too were shared by many other traditionally conservative, nationalist, and patriotic Germans, who nevertheless continued to serve the Nazi regime faithfully and energetically even after it had embarked on aggressive military adventures of which, for practical reasons, they often did not approve—military men as well as diplomats like Secretary of State Ernst von Weizsäcker and Oppenheim′s friend Werner Otto von Hentig. It may also not be irrelevant that the lines about ″the inner core of Hitlerism″ were penned not only after the National Socialist regime had grown ever more violent and repressive but after its catastrophic end, when it had become as politic to appear to have been opposed to it or at least to have had reservations about it as it had been politic before to appear to support it.35

  • 36 M.V. Seton-Williams, The Road to El-Aguizein (London: Kegan Paul International, 1988), pp. 71-72.
  • 37 Sean McMeekin, The Berlin-Baghdad Express (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), p. 360, (...)

21There is no evidence that Oppenheim ever spoke or acted in a manner that might have been perceived as critical of the regime he later professed to have regarded with horror. As a ″half-Jew,″ it would obviously have been extraordinarily dangerous for him to do so. Even the ″internal exile″ chosen by some was probably not an option for him. ″Lying low″ may not have been a possibility for a fairly prominent ″Mischling ersten Grades.″ Perhaps only collaboration and public professions of support, such as the toast to Hitler recorded by Vanderbilt, could offer a shred of hope that a Mischling such as he might avoid trouble. Waldemar, as we saw, found some protection through participation in the Abwehr. Yet even he, though classified only as a ″quarter-Jew,″ finally fell into the clutches of the Gestapo. In contrast, Max von Oppenheim appears not to have been molested at any time under the Nazis. In 1936 he was still playing elegant host at the Tell Halaf Museum, where the Australian archaeologist Marjorie Seton-Williams tells of being shown around by him, followed by a manservant who poured the pair a glass of wine every time they stopped to discuss one of the items on display.36 On 29 January 1937, in recognition of his services to the national cause during the First World War, he was awarded the Ehrenkreuz für Frontkämpfer [Medal of Honour for frontline soldiers] ″in the name of the Führer and Reichskanzler.″37

  • 38 Donald McKale, Curt Prüfer, German Diplomat from the Kaiser to Hitler (Kent, OH: Kent State Univer (...)
  • 39 Ulrich von Hassel, Römische Tagebücher und Briefe 1932-1938, ed. Ulrich Schlie (Munich: Herbig, 20 (...)
  • 40 On Prüfer′s anti-Semitism, see Donald McKale, Curt Prüfer, pp. xii, 59-61 et passim; the same auth (...)

22Most telling perhaps are the regular visits he received in 1942 and 1943, before he was bombed out of his elegant Savigny-Platz residence in late August 1943, from the diplomat Curt Prüfer. Oppenheim had mentored Prüfer in pre-World War I days in Cairo, when Prüfer, a student of Arabic and Middle Eastern culture with a fairly recent doctorate (1906) from Erlangen, had been Dragoman or interpreter at the German Agency in the Egyptian capital.38 Based on their shared interest in the Middle East and their conservative and nationalist politics, a friendship had formed at the time between the older man and the younger, who subsequently went on to enjoy a successful career at the Auswärtiges Amt (A.A.) during the Weimar Republic, notwithstanding his contempt for the Republic, and who, having joined the NSDAP in 1937, had risen, under the Nazis, to be Director of the AA.′s Personnel Division—in which capacity, according to a senior colleague at the A.A., he saw to it that ″there was an ever decreasing power of resistance to the Party″39—and then Ambassador to Brazil. On his return to Berlin from Brazil, after that country declared war on Germany in late 1942, Prüfer took to visiting and having lunch with ″Onkel Max,″ as he referred affectionately to his former mentor, with some regularity—once or twice a month. As was often the case in conservative milieux, Prüfer′s apparently deeply ingrained anti-Semitism did not prevent him from making exceptions in individual cases—or, for that matter, from being disturbed by increasingly credible accounts of mass deportations and executions of Jews. Oppenheim, moreover, had the advantage of being only half Jewish.40

  • 41 Richthofen, from a distinguished aristocratic family, had probably first got to know Oppenheim and (...)

23Prüfer′s diary entries for the period 1942-1943 suggest that ″Onkel Max,″ though showing signs of age, was otherwise living a perfectly normal life. Thus for 21 November 1942, Prüfer wrote in his diary: ″Lunch at Uncle Max′s; a jocose and very lively skeleton. Extremely interested in all questions regarding the Orient, drinks wine, schnapps, coffee, and smokes despite his 82 years and bladder and prostate irritations.″ For 12 January 1943: ″Had lunch with Uncle Max. The conversation was the same as 30 years ago. But notwithstanding a certain dusty atmosphere, these visits still have a beautiful nostalgic sheen for me.″ Ten days later: ″I visited Max for lunch. Poor old man! He is, after all, a good soul″ [in English in the text; perhaps a reference to King Lear II. iv]. On 2 March 1943: ″I had lunch with Uncle Max, who was, as always, serene. In his old age he is becoming calm and cheerful.″ However, on 7 July 1943, when he and Baron Herbert von Richthofen, another Auswärtiges Amt regular, deputy head of its Oriental (i.e. Middle Eastern) Division in the 1920s and subsequently ambassador to Belgium (1936-1939),41 had lunch together at ″Uncle Max″′s, he learned some bad news. The latter′s ″nephew″ [i.e. Waldemar] had ″reported terrible tales from Cologne,″ namely that ″the downtown area is almost completely destroyed,″ while ″fatalities are pegged at 20,000, those rendered homeless at 100,000.″ Still, on 14 July, Prüfer helped ″Uncle Max″ celebrate his upcoming 83rd birthday.

  • 42 Diary entries in McKale, Rewriting History. The Original and Revised World War II Diaries of Curt (...)

24Meantime Prüfer was approaching retirement and had obtained permission to take a leave, for health reasons, with his family in Switzerland. Not, however, before a ″parting visit with Uncle Max″ on 30 July 1943. This time he found his old companion-in-arms ″very depressed″ because of the parting, perhaps, but also, it is not unreasonable to surmise, because—with the devastating bombings of German cities and the encirclement and destruction of the 6th Army at Stalingrad—it had became apparent that the tide of the war had turned very unfavourably for Germany. Defeat now seemed by no means improbable, unless a change of leadership could be effected that would make peace negotiations possible. (This bleak prospect may well have been an additional—perhaps the main—reason for Prüfer′s having requested permission to go to Switzerland.) As Prüfer himself had noted in his diary a few days before (26 July 1943), ″Mussolini has abdicated. Fascism is done for. The King has taken over the high command, Badoglio is head of the government. [...] M′s decision to resign, if it was done voluntarily, was a great and noble deed. Can we summon similar courage?″42


1 Michael Stürmer, Gabriele Teichmann, Wilhelm Treue, Wägen und Wagen, p. 373.

2 Gabriele Teichmann, ″Grenzgänger zwischen Orient und Okzident″ in Faszination Orient, pp. 84, 86-87.

3 Aus fünf Jahrtausenden morgenländischer Kultur. Festschrift Max Freiherrn von Oppenheim zum 70. Geburtstage gewidmet von Freunden und Mitarbeitern. The dedication read: ″Max Freiherrn von Oppenheim, dem hochherzigen Freund und Förderer der Wissenschaft, dem hochverdienten Erforscher des Alten Orients, der mit glücklicher Hand die Schätze des Tell Halaf ans Tagelicht förderte und zu neuem Leben erweckte, dem hervorragenden Kenner von Land und Leuten, Wissenschaften und Künsten der islamischen Welt, dem uneigennützigen Stifter des Orient-Forschungs-Instituts.″ Contributors included Erich Bräunlich, Theodor Dombart, Adolf Grohmann, Enno Littmann, Bruno Meissner, Dietrich Opitz, Friedrich Sarre, Eckhard Unger and Arthur Ungnad, as well as a number of scholars who had to emigrate, and Curt Prüfer, an old associate from Cairo days who was to join the NSDAP in December 1937.

4 Gabriele Teichmann, ″Grenzgänger zwischen Orient und Okzident″ in Faszination Orient, pp. 85-86.

5 Max Freiherr von Oppenheim, Tell Halaf (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1943-2010), vol. 3 (1955), ed. Anton Moortgat, Introduction by Moortgat, p. 3. Moortgat discusses the chronology issue in detail and gives his own reasons for rejecting Herzfeld′s assessment (pp. 16-17). If Oppenheim did change his mind about the chronology, it was probably some time in the very late 1930s or early 1940s, for the Herzfeld chronology was retained in the ″revised″ edition of the 1931 book on Tell Halaf that appeared in French in 1939. Moreover, there is some question as to whether Oppenheim did change his mind. In a letter to Herzfeld, written not long before he died, he asks his former collaborator about publications in the U.S. on problems related to the age of the Tell Halaf statues, ″which are of such great interest to me.″ As he was seeking Herzfeld′s assistance at that time, he may, of course, have been aiming to win his former collaborator′s goodwill by implying that the question was still open (Letter from Oppenheim to Herzfeld 21 June 1946, Landshut, Ernst Herzfeld Papers, the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. B-16).

6 Cit. Gabriele Teichmann, ″Grenzgänger zwischen Orient und Okzident″ in Faszination Orient, pp. 87-88.

7 See Stefan Wild, ″National Socialism in the Arab near East between 1933 and 1939,″ Die Welt des Islams, new series, 25 (1985): 126-73. In 1934-1936 a proposal for the publication in book form of a translation of Mein Kampf into Arabic that had appeared in serialized form in a Baghdad newspaper was being discussed by various Auswärtiges Amt officials and Hitler himself. The venerable Arabic Scholar Bernhard Moritz was consulted on the matter and opposed the project on the grounds that the translation had been made from the English translation and not from the original German and was moreover a selection of passages rather than a complete translation (Wild, pp. 155-57). In 1938 Moritz proposed that the work be done from scratch by the pro-Axis Syrian leader Shakib Arslan with the collaboration of Werner Caskel, then still in Greifswald, though he acknowledged that Arslan might be considered unsuitable because of his age and Caskel might be considered unsuitable because of his ″Abstammung″ [non-Aryan descent] (p. 165). A further proposal circulating after the outbreak of war was to make a translation with a Koranic ring to it that would suggest Hitler′s coming was the fulfilment of various prophetic passages in the Koran. This time Arslan and Moritz himself were the suggested translators and Caskel was the authority consulted by the Auswärtiges Amt. Caskel′s opinion is worth citing: ″I have given your idea much thought,″ he wrote in reply: ″The difficulty of the translation lies not so much in finding the correct equivalent for particular phrases and expressions as in conveying the tone of the work as a whole. For that, what is needed is élan and the ability to be carried away by enthusiasm and I fear that the two gentlemen you have in mind, Emir S.A. and Prof. M., do not possess those qualities in adequate measure. I would think one ought to be looking out for someone close to one of the ′authoritarian′ political parties, such as the Syrian People′s Party.″ He added, for good measure, that Hitler′s book ″supposes a knowledge of the historical situation of Germany in the last thirty years,″ which the Islamic reader cannot be assumed to possess, so that the reader will need the help of footnotes (p. 167).

8 Julius Jordan, ″Leistungen und Aufgaben der deutschen Ausgrabungen im Vorderen Orient,″ Der Orient in deutscher Forschung: Vorträge der Berliner Orientalistentagung, Herbst 1942, ed. Hans Heinrich Schaeder (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1944), pp. 228-38 (p. 234). Jordan′s Nazi credentials were impeccable. An archaeologist employed by the Baghdad Museum, he also lectured on archaeology and Nazism and was expelled from Iraq by Nuri al-Said in 1939 for inciting students to anti-British activity. (Reeva S. Simon, Iraq Between the Two World Wars [New York: Columbia University Press, 1986], p. 38).

9 After 1933, according to one scholar, ″it was the new dogma to search for ′Indo-Germanic,′ that is, Aryan contributions to Near Eastern civilization. Hittites and Hurrians gained new popularity and research into their Indo-European languages and their material artifacts [...] was encouraged. [...] Ancient Near Eastern Studies was put to use in support of claims to Aryan, ′Indo-European′ pre-eminence throughout history″ (Stefan R. Hauser, ″German Research on the Ancient Near East and its Relation to Political and Economic Interests from Kaiserreich to World War II,″ in Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, ed., Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945 [Madrid: Iberoamericana and Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert, 2004], pp. 155-19 [pp. 168, 170]).

10 Letter dated 9 August 1937, cit. Teichmann,″Grenzgänger zwischen Orient und Okzident″ in Faszination Orient, p. 89. Hans F. K. Günther (1891-1968), often referred to as ″Rassengünther,″ was the leading proponent in Germany (along with Ferdinand Clauss) of race theories, of the superiority of the ″Nordic race″ in particular, and of a policy of Aufnordung (using the methods of eugenics to restore, as far as possible, the purity of the Nordic race). He was the editor of the journal Rasse. Monatsschrift der nordischen Bewegung, and the author of numerous ″ethnographic studies″ classifying and describing the physical and moral characteristics of the various races of mankind. These works of Rassenkunde became virtually official doctrine in Nazi Germany. In 1931 he was appointed to a chair at the university of Jena by Wilhelm Frick, the Education Minister of the state of Thuringia—the first National Socialist Minister in the government of any German state—over the protests of the faculty. Günther joined the NSDAP in 1932. He was present, as an ″honoured guest,″ at a three day conference in 1941 marking the opening of Rosenberg′s Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage, in the course of which the goal of the destruction of the Jews as a people was formulated. He himself, in the 1920s, had favored their removal from Germany, possibly to Palestine, as an ″honourable″ solution to the ″Judenfrage″ (Hans F. K. Günther, Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes [Munich: J. F. Lehmann′s Verlag, 1922], Appendix on ″Rassenkunde des jüdischen Volkes,″ pp. 367-434 [pp. 430-34], and Rassenkunde Europas, 3rd edn [Munich: J.F. Lehmann′s Verlag, 1929; 1st edn 1926], p. 105). His services to the cause of National Socialism were recognized in 1941 when Rosenberg presented him with the Goethe Medal. Hans Reinerth (1900-1990), a specialist in the pre-history of Germany, was also a member of Rosenberg′s Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur, joined the NSDAP in 1931, held a chair at the University of Berlin, and headed the Reichsbund für deutsche Vorgeschichte from 1933 until 1945. He was closely associated with the Amt or Dienststelle Rosenberg, the organization through which Rosenberg translated his cultural politics into action.

11 For a detailed account of the complex political and scholarly wrangling over the sites, in which the French authorities, the Vichy authorities, the Germans, the Americans, and—after Syria was occupied by the British and the Free French—the Gaullists were all involved, see R.L. Melka, ″Max Freiherr von Oppenheim: Sixty Years of Scholarship and Political Intrigue in the Middle East,″ Middle Eastern Studies, 9 (1973): 81-93 (pp. 83-85). The French may, in addition, have had reason to suspect that Oppenheim′s mission was not entirely scholarly. According to the author of an article in Spiegelonline (28 January 2011), ″there are some questions about whether there was more to it than that. The trip was paid for by a special fund administered by Hermann Göring, the head of Germany′s air force.″

12 The German demand was communicated to the French at the end of July 1940. The French stalled until the project was overtaken by events when the British and Gaullist French succeeded in occupying Syria; see Chantal Metzger, L′Empire colonial français dans la stratégie du Troisième Reich (1936-1945), 2 vols. (Paris: Ministère des Affaires étrangères; Brussels: Peter Lang, 2002), vol. 1, p. 343. On the mobilization of Wissenschaft (science and scholarship) under the Third Reich for propaganda and other war-related purposes, see Frank-Rutger Hausmann, ″Deutsche Geisteswissenschaft″ im Zweiten Weltkrieg: Die ″Aktion Ritterbusch″ 1940-1945 (Dresden and Munich: Dresden University Press, 1998) and, in connection with Middle and Far Eastern studies in particular, Paul Ritterbusch, ″Eröffnungsansprache″ [Opening Address] in Der Orient in deutscher Forschung: Vorträge der Berliner Orientalistentagung, Herbst 1942, ed. Hans Heinrich Schaeder (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1944), pp. 1-5.

13 Succinctly described recently in Maurice Olender′s The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion and Philology in the Nineteenth Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992; orig. French, Les Langues du paradis: Aryens et Sémites, un couple providentiel [Paris: Seuil, 1989]). This tradition should probably be distinguished, despite many disturbing connections and overlappings, from that represented by race theorists such as Gobineau (Essai sur l′Inégalité des races humaines, 1856), Vacher de Lapouge (L′Aryen et son role, 1899), William Ripley (The Races of Europe, 1899), Joseph Deniker (Races et peuples de la terre, 1900), or Madison Grant (The Passing of the Great Race or the Racial Basis of European History, 1916), even though Olender himself believes that in the work of the scholars ″we cannot fail today to see looming in the background the dark silhouette of the death camps and the rising smoke of the ovens″ (The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion and Philology in the Nineteenth Century, p. xi).

14 Maurice Olender, The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion and Philology in the Nineteenth Century, pp. 58-60. The references are to Renan′s article, ″Nouvelles Considérations sur le caractère général des peoples sémitiques,″ Journal Asiatique, série 5, 13 (1859): 214­82, 417-50; and to volumes 6 (Histoire du people d′Israel, 1887) and 8 (Histoire des langues sémitiques, 1855, and ″Des Services rendus aux sciences historiques par la philologie,″ in Mélanges religieux et historiques, 1878) of Renan′s Oeuvres complètes, ed. Henriette Psichari, 10 vols. (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1947-1961).

15 Friedrich Delitzsch, Studien über Indogermanisch-Semitische Wurzelverwandtschaft (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs′shce Buchhandlung, 1873), pp. 18-19, 113.

16 Arthur Ungnad, Die ältesten Völkerwanderungen Vorderasiens: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte und Kultur der Semiten, Arier, Hethiter und Subaräer (Breslau: Im Selbstverlag des Verfassers, 1923), p. 5.

17 Arthur Ungnad, Subartu: Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte und Völkerkunde Vorderasiens (Berlin and Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter, 1936), pp. 2-3. In a note (p. 2, note 1), Ungnad refers explicitly to Günther′s Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (Munich: J.F. Lehmann′s Verlag, 1922), Rassenkunde Europas (Munich: J.F. Lehmann′s Verlag, 1926) and Rassenkunde des jüdischen Volkes (Munich: J. F. Lehmann′s Verlag, 1930) as ″the best source of information″ on questions of race.

18 (Berlin: Junker und Dünnhaupt, 1933). Fischer distinguishes here between the nineteenth-century idea of the nation state, which rests on a cultural and spiritual foundation and on the concept of the free, autonomous individual, and the new völkisch state, which is the political form of a community of race, resting essentially on ″Blut und Boden″ (blood and soil). Ungnad refers to Fischer in his review of Oppenheim′s 1931 Tell Halaf book as being at the origin of the ″now familiar″ racial category of ″vorderasiatisch,″ which ″for over a decade I have used to describe the Subaraean people.″ Fischer, we are told, fully approved of this usage (Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Neue Folge, 10 [1931]: 372-81 [p. 375]).

19 Rassenkunde Europas, 3rd edn (Munich: J. F. Lehmann′s Verlag, 1929), pp. 92, 152. ″There is still not much that can be said today about the first appearance of the Dinaric race. It must originally have formed a single human group along with the Middle Eastern race. Its original home is likely to have been in the area of the Caucasus. Then after the migration of a part of this human group, a change in the selection process resulting from the different environment must have made of the original single human group two groups, which are distinguishable from each other by several characteristics, but not so that their original belonging together is not still discernible″(p. 152). Unlike Ungnad, however, Günther holds that the moral and psychological differences between the vorderasiatisch race and the dinarisch race are considerable. Among the images Günther provides of individuals of predominantly ″Dinaric″ race, one finds those of Jacob Burckhardt, the great Swiss historian, and Alphonse Daudet, the well-known French writer; among those of individuals of predominantly ″Middle Eastern″ race, those of Paul Wallott, the architect of the Reichstag (a descendant of Huguenot refugees from Southern France), the painter Gauguin, Joseph Stalin, and a Governor-General of Canada.

20 Ibid., pp. 96, 152-53. ″Because of characteristics they have in common, we shall also have to assume a common origin in an old stone age human group of the Nordic and Mediterranean races, along with the Oriental race″ (p. 152).

21 Ibid., p. 100.

22 Arthur Ungnad, Die ältesten Völkerwanderungen Vorderasiens, p. 16.

23 Ungnad, Subartu, pp. 16-17.

24 Though of somewhat mixed race, like all peoples, according to Günther, the German people was predominantly nordisch, not westisch. The Bedouin would thus be racially related to those European peoples in whom the westisch (or Mediterranean) race dominates, rather than to the Germans.

25 Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (1922), Appendix on ″Rassenkunde des jüdischen Volkes,″ p. 400; Rassenkunde Europas, 3rd edn (1929), p. 104.

26 Max Freiherr von Oppenheim, Der Tell Halaf: eine neue Kultur im ältesten Mesopotamien (Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1931), p. 45 (on the Jews as a Mischvolk), p. 59 (on the Mitanni as Indogermanen). Likewise in the Führer durch das Tell Halaf-Museum [Guide to the Tell Halaf Museum], put out by the Max Freiherr von Oppenheim Stiftung in 1934, we learn that the Mitanni kings ″stayed with their old Aryan divinities, Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Nasatya″ (p. 19) and that ″Fecherija-Waschkukani″ was the capital of the ″Aryan Mitanni″ (p. 23).

27 In his celebrated 1927 biography, Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite, the Jewish scholar Ernst Kantorowicz had already popularized the notion of the inferiority of a Mischvolk when he contrasted the Sicilians—an ″unzuverlässiges Mischvolk″ (unreliable people of mixed race)—and the ″verrasste Volk von Palermo″ (″racially degenerate population of Palermo″) with the ″Gemeinschaft des Stammesblutes″ (community of tribal blood) of the thirteenth-century Germans. (See Martin Ruehl, ″′In this Time without Emperors′: The Politics of Ernst Kantorowicz′s Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite reconsidered,″ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 63 [2002]: 187-242 [p. 203]). Placing a high value on racial purity was certainly not new in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1904 David George Hogarth, the teacher of ″Lawrence of Arabia,″ had expressed admiration for the racial purity of the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula: ″The blood and the social life of this race, which all travellers who have seen it at its best assert to be physically the finest of the Caucasian type, owes to the natural barriers set about the ′Island of the Arabs′ an immunity from alien contamination which those of no other race above the savage state have enjoyed″ (The Penetration of Arabia [London: Lawrence and Bullen, 1904], pp. 7-8). Earlier still, none other than Benjamin Disraeli had declared that ″an ummixed race [...] [is]the aristocracy of Nature″ (see ch. 2, note 21 above).

28 Otto Hauser, a popular writer of novels and poems as well as books on early history and race, had taken a similar position in his Rasse und Rassefragen in Deutschland (Weimar: Alexander Duncker, 1915), pp. 105-07.

29 Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes [Munich: J.F. Lehmann′s Verlag, 1922]; 3rd edn (1929), Appendix (pp. 367—134) on ″Rassenkunde des jüdischen Volkes,″ pp. 433-34.

30 Faszination Orient, pp. 83-84. Harold von Oppenheim, the second of Simon Alfred von Oppenheim′s four sons, was not exactly Max von Oppenheim′s nephew, but rather the son of his cousin. However, in English too, the term ″nephew″ is sometimes used to describethe latter relationship. Max von Oppenheim had been well received by the upper crust of New York society on his visits (1902-1904, 1931-1932) to the United States, and his association with the Vanderbilts, including the much younger, somewhat rebellious and progressively minded Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. (1898-1974), probably dates from the time of those visits. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. was a gifted newspaperman and a champion of F.D. Roosevelt.

31 Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., Farewell to Fifth Avenue (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935), pp. 178-81. It is unclear from either Teichmann′s version of this episode or Vanderbilt′s whether it took place at the time of Hitler′s speech of 10 February 1933, at the Sportpalast, immediately after the Machtergreifung or somewhat later, at the time of his 8 April speech at the same place.

32 New York: Crown Publishers, 1959, p. 155. Vanderbilt′s presenting the rumour that Oppenheim had been made an ″honorary Aryan″ by Hitler—a common type of rumour, explicitly repudiated by Oppenheim in his manuscript Lebenserinnerungen (see Teichmann, Faszination Orient, p. 91)—as a fact here does not disqualify his earlier account of what he himself directly witnessed.

33 It should not be forgotten that there were many Jews, traditionally fervent supporters of the Italian state, to which they owed their emancipation, among the founders and strongest supporters of Italian fascism in the early years. Until the late introduction of anti-Semitic measures in 1938, ″Jews were as likely to be members of the Fascist Party as other conservative-minded Italians″ (Alexander Stille, Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Jewish Families under Fascism [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991], p. 12). Stille estimates that about a third of Italy′s 50,000 Jews were members of the Italian Fascist Party. In England, ″the columns of the Jewish Chronicle convey beyond doubt that at first established Jewry opposed Fascism not on principle, but only when alarmed by anti-Jewish innuendos.″ One member of Mosley′s British Union of Fascists, who had stood for Parliament as a BUF candidate, resigned from the party in 1937 on the grounds that ″anti-Jewish propaganda, as you [Mosley] and Hitler use it, is a gigantic side-tracking stunt, a smoke-screen to cloud thought and divert action with regard to our real problems″ (Gisela C. Lebzelter, ″Political Anti-Semitism in England 1918-1939,″ in Herbert A. Straus, ed., Hostages of Modernization: Studies on Modern Anti-Semitism 1870-1933/39 — Germany-Great Britain-France [Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1993], pp. 385-424 [pp. 418, 421-22]). Though this repudiation of anti-Semitism appears to have come from the ″leftist″ wing of British fascism, it suggests that conservative supporters of the NSDAP in Germany, on their side, might similarly have seen the Party′s anti-Semitic tirades and violence as not essential to what they understood its fundamental focus and purpose to be, and as likely to be allowed in time to fade into the background.

34 Cit. by Teichmann in Faszination Orient, p. 87.

35 Weizsäcker′s Memoirs, written after the War and published in 1950 (English translation, 1951), are an example of such a shift in emphasis.

36 M.V. Seton-Williams, The Road to El-Aguizein (London: Kegan Paul International, 1988), pp. 71-72.

37 Sean McMeekin, The Berlin-Baghdad Express (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), p. 360, citing Oppenheim′s memoir ″Leben im N-S Staat. 1933-1945″ and referring to a copy of the Ehrenkreuz award in the Oppenheim Stiftung archives in Cologne (p. 411, note 54). It needs to be emphasized, however, that the significance of this award is difficult to assess in Oppenheim′s case. Though it was the first decoration issued by the Third Reich, it was Hindenburg′s creation, not Hitler′s, and it was awarded to several millions of German World War I veterans.

38 Donald McKale, Curt Prüfer, German Diplomat from the Kaiser to Hitler (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1987), pp. 15-16, 197 (Ch. 2, note 10). Prüfer was one of the contributors to the Oppenheim Festschrift in 1933 (see note 3 above).

39 Ulrich von Hassel, Römische Tagebücher und Briefe 1932-1938, ed. Ulrich Schlie (Munich: Herbig, 2004), p. 157.

40 On Prüfer′s anti-Semitism, see Donald McKale, Curt Prüfer, pp. xii, 59-61 et passim; the same author′s Rewriting History. The Original and Revised World War II Diaries of Curt Prüfer, Nazi Diplomat , trans. Judith M. Melton (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1988), pp. xvi-xix; and Sean McMeekin, The Berlin-Baghdad Express, pp. 358-59. Prüfer did, however, note in his diary for 12 October 1942 that ″yesterday, on the journey through Spain, I heard for the first time, from the mouth of a German, albeit that of an SS-man, about the mass deportation of Jews. He spoke of it quite casually and coldly. To be sure, rumours of these deportations had reached us from Germany along with reports of them from hostile sources, but they seemed so monstrous to us that we took them to be ′horror stories′ or at least vastly exaggerated, like so many other items of news spread by enemy propaganda that had turned out to be incorrect. This unfavorable impression was reinforced in the further course of the journey. The gentlemen from the Auswärtiges Amt and the NSDAP who had been sent out to meet us spoke among themselves, in completely casual tones, of things that sounded so improbable that we would not have believed them had any traveller recounted them.″ On 22 November, after many conversations in Berlin with fellow-diplomats and military men, Prüfer again noted in his diary, in French this time: ″On m′a raconté ce matin des histoires affreuses sur le traitement des Persans [i.e. the Jews]. Ils ont été massacrés hommes, femmes et enfants en grand nombre par des gaz asphyxiants ou par la mitrailleuse.″ Prüfer′s apparent shock at learning of these acts of barbarism was intensified by the realization that ″Dies weiss jedes Kind in allen Details″ [″Every child knows about this in full detail″]. It is also tinged with fear of the ultimate consequences: ″La haine qui, forcément, doit en surgir ne sera jamais éteinte″ [″The hatred that must necessarily be born of this will never be extinguished″]. (Both diary entries cited in Hans-Jürgen Döscher, Das Auswärtige Amt im Dritten Reich. Diplomatie im Schatten der ′Endlösung′ [Berlin: Siedler Verlag, 1987], p. 253; the 22 November diary entry is also to be found in McKales′ Rewriting History, p. 11. Oppenheim, it needs to be emphasized, however, was not a ″converted Jew,″ as McKale erroneously states.)

41 Richthofen, from a distinguished aristocratic family, had probably first got to know Oppenheim and Prüfer while employed at the German Consulate-General in Cairo from 1911 until the outbreak of war. He was deputy head of the Auswärtiges Amt′s Middle Eastern Division in the 1920s (see William Cleveland, Islam against the West: Shakib Arslan and the Campaign for Islamic Nationalism [Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985], Ch. 7, note 11, pp. 199-200), then ambassador to Denmark (1930-1936), to Belgium (1936­1939), and to Bulgaria (1939-1941). In 1945 he was arrested by the Red Army and in 1951 sentenced by a Soviet court to twenty-five years in prison for ″preparing and leading a war of aggression.″ He died in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in 1952.

42 Diary entries in McKale, Rewriting History. The Original and Revised World War II Diaries of Curt Prüfer, pp. 10, 33, 41, 107, 111, 118, 119.


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