German Nazi views of the Greeks

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A newly translated study of classical reception by the Nazis emphasizes that what made their approach to antiquity unique was its concept of race. In his study Greeks, Romans, Germans: How the Nazis Usurped Europe’s Classical Past (2016, originally published in 2008 as Le national-socialisme et l’Antiquité), historian Johann Chapoutot shows that their claim to antiquity was “inscribed in the flesh and blood of contemporary Germans, who possessed the same racial essence as the ancient Greeks and Romans. This continuity of race justified the Nazis’ territorial conquests: if the Greeks and Romans had originally come from the North, then the Mediterranean basin … rightly belonged to the legitimate heirs of the North” (394).

This Aryanist view of history was put into brutal use when Germany invaded Greece and its army encountered the natives: “In 1941 the invasion initially prompted some disillusionment and confusion, until the Nazis’ awareness of their Nordic superiority swept it away and cleared their consciences. The contemporary Greek people were a population of half-breeds that had degenerated through long centuries of promiscuity and racial mixing with their Asiatic and Turkish neighbors; accordingly, all sexual relations between German soldiers and Greek women were strictly forbidden. Little by little, such haughty disdain would nourish and legitimate the Nazis’ practice of almost genocidal terror upon the Greek civilian population, beginning in 1942, as Mark Mazower has shown [in his study Inside Hitler’s Greece]. The Greek people were thus less native to their own country than the Germans themselves, who were the legitimate, pure descendants of the Indo-Germanic race that had come from the North in the first place to bring civilization to the Greek peninsula” (92).

Interestingly, some German racial theorists had already argued that the Greeks had been always half-breeds since the ancients themselves had degenerated into racial mixing by allowing nonnative blood and exotic values to pollute their original Nordic natural purity. In the book The Myth of the Twentieth Century: An Evaluation of the Spiritual-Intellectual Confrontations of Our Age (1930) influential Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg “considered the polarity between Apollo and Dionysus to be a consequence of the racial and spiritual schizophrenia of the Greeks, who were torn between faithfulness to their Nordic roots and an upwelling of nonnative peoples that had insinuated itself into their blood after their emigration south: ‘The Greek was always divided within himself and vacillated between his own natural values and those of alien and exotic origin’” (62). Thus ancient Greek bastardization proved that the Germans remained both the original and the authentic Greeks.

November 5, 2016

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