In some ways, pre-Nazi Germany was a pretty happening place. While Americans spent the 1920s Charlestoning and bootlegging and flapping (?), German artists were revolutionizing the art world. Between the Bauhaus movement, dadaism and that one time when everyone wore their suspenders backward for a week, the German art scene was thriving. That is, until the Nazis came to power and decided the popular art of the day wasn't blond enough. Books were burned, films and plays were censored, more than 5,000 works were seized. You know, Nazi stuff.
Like making a bunch of young men stand around in their underpants holding wood.
Then, to really make the point hit home, the Nazis staged an exhibition of all that was wrong with modern art, cleverly titled "Entartete Kunst," or "degenerate art." That's right -- put all of the awful non-Nazi art together to show everyone how terrible it is! This can't possibly backfire hilariously!
Let's just move on.
The Committee in Charge of Ruining Everything Ever made one tactical error when staging their "Bad Art" exhibition -- they simultaneously staged a "Nazi-Approved Art" exhibition. So anyone with eyes could see which show was more popular, and it certainly wasn't the one featuring totally not homoerotic sculptures all over the damn place.
The wang-to-artwork ratio here is incredible.
Five times as many people visited the Entartete Kunst as they did the Aryan art expo, turning the "degenerate art" exhibit into one of the biggest modern art exhibits of all time. Meanwhile, Haus der Nazi-Approved Art went down in history as ... the future mess hall for American officers during the Allied occupation of Germany.
Of course, at the heart of the Nazi ideology was the notion that they belonged to a superior race. Not just the white people race, but the Nordic portion of the white people race, the ones who were extra blond, extra blue-eyed and extra good at coming up with humanity's good ideas. There was only one problem: scientific evidence that all of this was true. As in, there wasn't any. All the Nazis had was a hunch that they came from a long line of the best and the brightest.
"Look at those beards! These guys are definitely the master race."
Thus the Ahnenerbe was conceived. These were the guys who were going to get their hands dirty and literally dig up ancient evidence that it was ancient ultra-white people who came up with all the good stuff all along. Roman civilization? They were really Nordic. Ancient Bolivian temples? Designed by the ancient equivalent of the Hitler Youth.
At least that was what the Ahnenerbe hoped to discover.
"This wall looks exactly like a Volkswagen. Clearly the work of ancient Germans."
Needless to say, none of those smoking guns were ever produced. Instead, Heinrich Himmler and his goons made gods out of men who likely shat where they slept and were so technologically inferior that they never came around to inventing the back scratcher. In addition to squandering SS resources, countless researchers and one perfectly good monkey in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the few artifacts Ahnenerbe was able to turn up only proved that the whole myth of Aryan supermen was full of shit.
As if Indy's fists and that plane's propellers hadn't already made the truth clear.
Despite their best efforts, they learned that mystical Tibet was not the cradle of Aryan civilization, and that while the Romans were setting up one of the biggest empires the world had ever known, ancient Aryans were ... making pots? Maybe? Even Hitler himself got a laugh out of the Ahnenerbe's digs:
"Why do we call the whole world's attention to the fact that we have no past? It isn't enough that the Romans were erecting great buildings when our forefathers were still living in mud huts; now Himmler is starting to dig up these villages of mud huts and enthusing over every pot-shard and stone axe he finds. All we prove by that is that we were still throwing stone hatches and crouching around open fires when Greece and Rome had already reached the highest stage of culture."
"Cut it out, guys, you're making Nazism look ridiculous."
That's right, buddy. You got mocked by Hitler. That has to be something of a career low point there.
Jacopo della Quercia would like to thank @DanHand1984 and @josh_groft and @foresthouse and everyone else for following him on Twitter.
For things we should thank the Nazis for (begrudgingly), check out Third Reich to Fortune 500: 5 Popular Brands the Nazis Gave Us. Or discover about the 5 Most Certifiably Insane Cold War Projects.