English Witches and SS Academics: Evaluating Sources for the English Witch Trials in Himmler's Hexenkartothek


Prior to WWII, Heinrich Himmler organized a team of SS researchers to collate records of historical witchcraft trials that had taken place in lands of the expanding Reich. The ideological pretext for this undertaking was the collection of evidence demonstrating an anti-German crusade by the Church. While this was a figment of historical imagination, the SS pursued it doggedly against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Whereas trials that had taken place on historically German lands were often sourced from primary documents to which the researchers had access within Reich libraries, trials further afield were less rigorously sourced. Little was done to differentiate between primary and secondary or even tertiary sources. One SS source for English witch trials was a text by a German-Jewish literary scholar about witchcraft in Renaissance drama. Such critical indifference on the part of the SS is thought by some to render the archive of little interest, but examining the ideological underpinnings of Nazi reception of these materials can help situate these researchers among the turbulent social and political structures of the Third Reich and its uneven privileging of the intellectual fringe. This also constitutes the first critical/biographical analysis in any language of the sources for the English trial cards in the catalog.