Considering the thousands of volumes covering every aspect of the Nazis, it's becoming increasingly difficult to say anything new about their dreadful era. Nevertheless, Pringle (The Mummy Congress), a contributing editor to Discover magazine, gamely steps up to the plate—and has produced a fascinating volume detailing the Nazis' crackpot theories about prehistory and the Indiana Jones–style lengths they went to prove them. Employing a team of researchers, Pringle investigates Heinrich Himmler's private think tank, the Ahnenerbe, which dispatched scholars to the most inhospitable and distant parts of the world to discover evidence of ancient Aryan conquests and the Germans' racial superiority. Some believed their own bizarre garbage; others perverted the facts for personal advancement or prostituted their reputations for the greater glory of Hitler. While it would be otherwise easy to laugh off the Ahnenerbe's ludicrous theories, Pringle argues that the institute provided the "academic" justification for the Holocaust and assembles a powerful body of evidence to that effect. Though one may wonder just how central the Ahnenerbe actually was to Hitler's thinking, when Pringle meets one of the most sinister of Himmler's scholars, his pride about the institute's "research" is distinctly disquieting. This is first-rate popular history—supported by an immense amount of scholarly apparatus in a range of languages. (Feb. 15)
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As Pringle relates, in 1935 Heinrich Himmler and a small group of associates founded an elite Nazi research institute, the Ahnenerbe. Its purpose was to unearth evidence of the accomplishments of Germany's ancestors as far back as the Stone Age and to convey these findings to the German public through magazine articles, books, museum shows, and scientific conferences. In reality, Pringle points out, the organization "was in the business of myth-making," distorting the truth and churning out carefully tailored evidence to support the ideas of Adolf Hitler. Himmler, head of the Gestapo and the SS, housed the institute in one of Berlin's grand villas and equipped it with laboratories, libraries, and workshops. Pringle examined the microfilm collection of captured German documents at the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland, the original Ahnenerbe files in Berlin, and 27 other German archives, as well as archives in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Poland, and Britain, and library collections in Iceland and Russia. The result of this copious research is another almost unbelievable chapter in the sordid history of the Holocaust. George Cohen
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