Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The dark side of genealogy...

So I'm in the middle of reading a book called "Himmler's Crusade: The Nazi Expedition to Find the Origins of the Aryan Race," by Christopher Hale. I was interested in this story because the expedition looks for those Aryan origins in Tibet and the Himalaya region, and I have a huge interest in that area. But the book delves a lot into not just the expedition itself but the culture that led up to it, and Nazi Germany and Himmler's obsession with race and eugenics and the purity of race and therefore, their interest in genealogy and proving whether or not someone was "purely Aryan."

In fact, this book talks about how the gfamily trees of SS officers were deeply scrutinized and only after it had been established as far back as several generations that they were purely Aryan were they granted a clan book, also known as my new favorite genealogical tool, the sippenbuch. And now I have a feeling that's how I know so much about my German Dauch family ancestry on my mother's side. I could get no further back than my immigrant ancestors, Nicholas Dauch and his wife Eva Hoerner, but I found someone on Ancestry.com who was also descended from them and could trace them both back four or five generations further. Now, this man was descended from a daughter of Nicholas and Eva's who did not emigrate to the United States, who stayed behind in Germany, and so he is German. He is also in his 80s and according to his Ancestry bio, was a pilot during World War II. For Germany. So I have a hunch that in order to serve under Hitler's regime, he was required to prove how German he really was, hence the genealogical information in his possession.

But all of this got me thinking about how anything can be twisted into a dark version of itself depending on the motivations of the person studying and using that knowledge. I have always written how I see genealogy as support for the idea of a "world family," that if you go far enough back, we're all related, which just proves the the stupidity of racism and other prejudices based on the differences between people. I see genealogy as being an inclusive area of study - I want to gather people into my family tree. I want to prove I'm related to everyone! (Just a tad ambitious, right?) But the Nazis were following the same course of study - Heinrich Himmler, one of the worst of the worst, had one of the same favorite pasttimes and hobbies as me, but he saw genealogy as a way to be exclusive - he was trying to keep people out and build up bigger walls between people who were different.

I'm still in the first half of this book, but so far it's been fascinating, not just for the reasons I thought it would be (Tibet and the Himalayas) but because of the genealogy aspect as well. I just had to stop and share my thoughts so far about that.

Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday weekend!

1 comment:

  1. That sounds like an interesting read. It is so true that even the simplest of things can be skewed. The Nazis were very good at misconstruing things. I would like to think that their ideology is not living on...