- The Green and the Brown: A History of Conservation in Nazi Germany
In 2004, comprehensive investigations of conservation in the German Empire and postwar Germany were published: Friedemann Schmoll, Erinnerung [End Page 806] an die Natur: Die Geschichte des Naturschutzes im deutschen Kaiserreich, and Jens Ivo Engels, Ideenwelt und politische Verhaltensstile von Naturschutz und Umweltbewegung in der Bundesrepublik 1950–1980. Now, Frank Uekötter provides a missing link, in the English language, with a somewhat different scope. Uekötter’s book is a readable overview of conservation in Nazi Germany drawing mainly on the relevant secondary literature and to a minor extent on four case studies of his own. Uekötter notes marked differences between the conservation movements in Nazi Germany, England, France, the United States, Italy, and the Soviet Union but rejects the idea of a distinct fascist or totalitarian style of conservation. In five chapters he focuses on conservation ideas and their roots (chapter 2), institutions (chapter 3), case studies of conservation at work (chapter 4), the everyday business of conservation (chapter 5), and changes in the land during Nazi rule (chapter 6). Another chapter deals with conservation after 1945 and a final chapter provides some “lessons” learned.
Ueköttermakes a strong case for a sober analytical approach that rejects any monolithic picture of Nazi rule and Nazi conservation history. Conservationism in Germany had multiple roots. There never existed a universally binding canon of ideas, and Uekötter emphasizes the strong fragmentation of conservationism and “the enormous diversity of conservation work” (p. 138). Nazi ideology scarcely interfered with conservation ideas. Indeed, most Nazis, including Hitler himself, were not much interested in conservation matters and most conservationists were not much interested in Nazi ideology. Conservation leaders were apathetic about political changes and Nazi leaders did not see any danger from opposition by conservationists. While the influence of conservationists was limited, according to Uekötter a mutual disinterest allowed them “a considerable degree of independent thinking” (p. 42).
Still, outstanding successes in conservation were usually due to the intervention of powerful Nazi leaders. A case in point is the passage of the national conservation law in 1935—one of the most effective conservation laws of its time—which was aggressively pushed through by Hermann Göring for selfish political reasons. This law strengthened the Reich Agency for Protection of Natural Monuments considerably and led to the establishment of a network of conservation advisers comprising 55 institutions on the regional level and some 880 on the local level in 1938. The Nazi era became a busy time for the conservation community, especially between 1935 and 1939. But conservation work shifted to a large extent from individual activists, who had dominated in the 1920s, to the conservation administration: “never before had conservation work been bureaucratic work to such an extent” (p. 138). According to Uekötter, it was not ideological proximity to the Nazis but rather these “institutional links that created the atmosphere of sustained sympathy, if not unbridled enthusiasm, that permeated the conservation literature of the Nazi era” (p. 44). [End Page 807]
Particularly useful are Uekötter’s well-chosen case studies, which vividly reflect the diversity of conservation activities, the lack of a coherent conservation policy, and the prominent role of influential Nazi leaders in the attainment of individual conservationist goals. Rather weak, in contrast, is his discussion of actual changes of the land during the Nazi era, in which he writes of an “absence of enduring and truly revolutionary changes in land use” (p. 169). In spite of some redundancies, a tendency toward broad generalization (for example, continuous references to the “conservation community” or the “conservation movement” which suggest greater unity and homogeneity than Uekötter himself appears to believe), and an inclination to express himself in a somewhat imprecise manner, Uekötter’s The Green and the Brown provides a thorough and well-balanced account of the history of conservation in Nazi Germany.
Dr. Heymann is associate professor at Aarhus University, Denmark. He...