THE MASTER PLAN is a groundbreaking history of a little known Nazi SS archeological research institute, the Ahnenerbe, and the key role it played in the Holocaust. The Ahnenerbe was the brainchild of Himmler, the Reichsfuhrer SS and architect of the Final Solution, who was intensely interested in Germany's ancient past. His intent was not only to rewrite the history of what he and others termed the "Aryan Race,'' but also to use that mythic past to shape a more glorious future for Germany.
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July 25, 2006
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Excerpt from The Master Plan by Heather Pringle
In the fall of 1938, in the small industrial town of Offenbach am Main just outside Frankfurt, the renowned firm of Gebr ' der Klingspor received an important commission from one of the most prominent men of the Third Reich. The owner of the business, Karl Klingspor, was an influential typographer and aesthete, a master of ink and paper who transformed the creative fantasies of others into some of the most beautiful books of his age. To seduce the eye, Klingspor retained artists and painters to design sleek new typefaces so words would scroll stylishly across the page. To woo the sense of touch, he selected handmade papers of unusual size and heft ' rich and thick and textured. For Klingspor and his colleagues, making a book was rather like making love, and bibliophiles from Berlin to Boston sighed with pleasure as they thumbed through his exquisite productions.
The commission in question had arrived from Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Gestapo, the Security Service, and the Security Squad or SS, a paramilitary organization that ran Germany's concentration camps, controlled a profitable network of business enterprises, and provided Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard. The Reichsf ' hrer-SS was a busy man, but he remained, in his personal life, something of a bookworm. He read avidly, owned a substantial private library, and carried his favorite volumes with him wherever he traveled. He often recommended books to his subordinates and presented copies as gifts to family members and close associates. It was in this frame of mind that he resolved to produce a special gift for Hitler on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday.
For months, prominent Nazis had been drawing up plans for a gala celebration for Hitler, searching feverishly for presents. The leaders of the Confederation of German Industry had quietly purchased the complete manuscript scores of Richard Wagner's early operas, as well as fair copies of parts of Der Ring des Nibelungen, the composer's masterpiece. Rudolf Hess had acquired a rare collection of letters written by one of Hitler's heroes, Frederick the Great, the eighteenth-century monarch who transformed Prussia into a major European power. And the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi party, had thrown caution completely to the wind, building the Eagle's Nest, a teahouse and conference center situated atop a mountain near the Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden.
Himmler had no intention of being left out of this slavish display. He planned to present a fine equestrian portrait of Frederick the Great by the German artist Adolf von Menzel, a painting that would fit nicely into Hitler's private study. But he also wanted to give Hitler something more personal, a set of leather-bound books that would artfully present the SS chief's lesser-known contributions to Hitler's Nazi state. The most important of these books, he decided, would be a large portfolio produced by the creative staff of Gebr ' der Klingspor. It would be entitled: