Upheavals- Collaborators, Defectors and Outcasts: Socio- cultural anthropology at the University of Vienna during the Nazi years

The present research project sets out to systematically investigate, analyse and answer the major remaining questions related to the tasks and practices of socio-cultural anthropology (“Völkerkunde”) during the Nazi period at the University of Vienna. Due to its continuing affinity to physical anthropology and because of a relatively dense basis of party supporters in its own ranks, Völkerkunde belonged to that upper third among the humanities receiving considerable support and promotion under Hitler. After Austria’s annexation by the Wehrmacht, the Vienna institute became one of the largest of its field in the Third Reich and was completely re-organised.

The relative significance of Völkerkunde among the humanities during the Third Reich represents a remarkable contrast to the low level of research that was carried out about this topic ever since. In order to overcome this gap, the Vienna case represents an excellent opportunity to carry out a best practice research project. In fact, the existing level of studies on the local history of Völkerkunde allows to precisely identify those seven remaining questions that still need thorough investigation.

These questions are the guiding research principles for the present project, which is organised along comparative institutional and biographical methodological orientations.

Three among this project proposal’s main research question thus follow those actors who were installed by the regime as the new and collaborating staff after the Nazi takeover. Pursuing those among their activities in Vienna and in the Reich which still remain unclear will require extensive search in private and public archives in Austria, Germany, Moscow and the United States. Among other aspects, this will for the first time also include an examination of student- teacher relations, and a comparative assessment of party and state funding for Völkerkunde in Vienna under Hermann Baumann and his cohort. A fourth among the seven research questions will continue to follow the well-known case of one early Nazi sympathiser and later defector, Christoph (von) Fürer-Haimendorf. He managed to move to British India just before the war broke out, and later became a president of the Royal Anthropological Institute in London. It will be examined how Fürer-Haimendorf managed to appear as a POW to the Nazis, who published his “Der weisse Kopfjäger” as an entertainment booklet for the Wehrmacht as late as 1944, while he already was working for the British side. This will require archival work in India, London, and Vienna. Finally, three other among the seven research questions will follow the “outcasts” of 1938 from the Vienna institute into their Swiss and New York exiles, where they worked with the Vatican and the Habsburg family against the Nazis. Archival work and expert interviews will be carried out to that purpose in the United States, Vienna, India and Rome.

Before 1938, the Vienna Völkerkunde institute was closely linked to official state politics in Austria, while after Hitler had taken over, the same institute was crucial for Hitler’s colonial ambitions in parts of Africa. This project therefore promises to shed new light not only on an understudies field of the humanities under the Nazis, and on its international dimensions, but also on some of the lesser known dimensions of intellectuals’ crossroads in Hitler’s shadow.

Zuletzt aktualisiert: Sunday, 09-Mar-2008 20:43:55 CET