Monday, October 22, 2018

A Dog Re-purposed for Terror

The picture, above, is from the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

The dog in the picture is not remarked upon; it is just a part of the scene.  And yet there is a story here that recapitulates the rise of Nazism and what happened afterwards

The German Shepherd was created in 1899 by Max Von Stephanitz at a time when the decline in predator populations, and the rise of fenced fields in Germany, sharply reduced the need for herding dogs.

Von Stephanitz was undeterred.  After all, he was not looking to build the world's greatest herding dog, he was looking to create a "national" breed that would reflect strength and harken back to the Germanic wolf so important to the mythology of Volkish thought.

The Germanic notion of a biddable wolf to purify the nation in protection of the people is an important part of the development of the German Shepherd that is too often overlooked.

And yet, Max Von Stephanitz himself was not shy about the association, writing in The German Shepherd Dog in World and Picture about the wolf as symbol of military might and victory who "feasted on the entrails of slaughtered enemies".

From time immemorial, the German was an animal and a dog-lover. This appears even in his religious beliefs, for the eagle and the wolf were dedicated to All-Father Wotan, King of Battle-fields, Bestower of Victory, and Incarnation of Meditating Mentality. On his shoulders sit Flugin and Munin (Thought and Memory), his two ravens who whisper into his ear all that they have discovered in their flight; while Geri and Freki, his wolves who roam the battle-fields, crouch at his feet, and are cared for by the Lord of the World himself. That is why, according to Fr. Bley two stones with basin-like hollows were erected to the right and the left of the ancient altars of sacrifice, from which poured the blood of the sacrifice which had been offered in honour of Wotan, so that his wolves could feast on the entrails of slaughtered enemies. In this manner a warlike, victory-loving people, like our German forefathers, honoured the valiant enemy, even if he were an animal.

Such an adversary was the wolf. “Welf”, “Wolf”, “Wulf”, and “Ulf” were names which were in common use among the old Germans; either alone or in conjunction with other appellations. At all times, the bearer of such a name had a reputation for boldness.

The highest honour that could be paid to the wolf was his elevation to a place in the suite of the highest deity. When they bowed the knee to adore, it was certainly with the intention of propitiating him as well, for we know from former times that the capacity for discovering and driving away of evil spirits, with which the wild dog was credited, led first of all to his domestication.

It was not an accident that the Wolfsangel was the first symbol of the Nazi party, that Hitler, who fancied himself a wolf, had a German Shepherd named Blondi, or that Hitler's retreat was called "Wolfslair".

Wolves and wolf-dogs were deemed to be about driving out evil, national victory on the battle field, and the slaughtering of those thought to be weak or an enemy of the "volk".

Laser-focused on creating a German wolf-dog to suggest a strong and masterful Germany, Von Stephanitz purchased a wolfy-looking dog he did not breed himself, changed its name to "Horand von Grafrath," declared it the perfect specimen, and founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog). 

Von Stephanitz then bred his prototype to somewhat similar looking dams he already owned, and then inbred the resulting progeny with each other in order to fix type.

Without much farm work for the dogs to do, Von Stephanitz promoted his new German breed as being tough, clever, athletic, and biddable, and he began giving dogs to local police forcesShould not German police have German dogs?  Of course!

When Germany entered World War I, these police dogs became war dogs used to guard prisoner camps.

It did not take much, in later years, for the German Shepherd to be used to intimidate, subjugate, imprison, and kill people in the Nazi police state.  After all, was this not the very work of the wolf and wolf dog that Max Von Stephanitz had himself envisioned?  Was it not perfect that these "pure German dogs" were being used to round up what Von Stephanitz called "the dog-hating Jew"?

Profoundly anti-semitic, Von Stephanitz wrote in 1923:

In ancient Rome as well, and in Assyria, Babylon and Egypt the dog stood in high esteem. Not so with the ancient Jews however; with them the dog was “accursed”, therefore a part of the later and present day contempt and hostility of the Aryan people for the dog can be traced back to the great influence of the Jews, which in Christian times somewhat altered itself and preferred to act in a manner which was skulking and therefore typically Jewish. In the Old Testament we scarcely ever find the dog in the service of man; on the contrary, more often than not we find him mentioned in a way that makes him hateful and accursed. That this could be the case even in the oldest relics of a genuinely pastoral people, as the ancient Israelites originally were, (mention being made of the herdsman’s dog only twice and that incidentally) is at any rate an indication of a lack of sympathy between dog and Jew. It could be attributed to the very old feeling of fear and hatred which this unwarlike, pastoral people had for the wolf, and naturally for his successor the dog, and by reason of which they cursed him as the spoiler of their goods, treating him thus in a manner quite unlike that of a hunting folk who were both warlike, and knew how to respect their enemy.

You can read a great deal about the German Shepherd without finding anyone bothering to quote Von Stephanitz's theories about race, dogs, and wolves.  Anti-Semitic?  Why he was just part of the times! He didn't mean anything behind it, the paragraphs about "skulking" Jews and wolves eating the guts of the defeated notwithstanding.

And so we sweep the history of the dog and the man under the rug, same as we did with the Volkswagen Beetle, the Porsche 911, and the Krupp coffee pot.

For more about dogs used in civil rights oppression, see MLK and America's Dogs of Oppression as well as Russia's Terriers of Oppression and The Monster Christopher Columbus, all posts on this blog.

1 comment:

CrlWln said...

Well, I'm certainly not telling my two this story. They know they were born to love their humans, cuddle and protect is their motto. Herding everyone else is the daily occupation.
thanks, well presented.