March 28, 1996:

i'm on a borrowed Macintosh with no working e-mail address so sadly you can't answer me. I enjoy your Karl May pages very much, being a lover of Mays books. However i sometime heard something about the nazis using him in their propaganda. He was of course already dead by then but i should find it interesting to know more about this. However did they connect May with das dritte reich?

Fischier from Sweden

Yes, that is amazing for me, too. While there are a few aspects of May's books which might make them appealing to Nazi authorities, particularly his heroes' humaneness towards their enemies and his explicitly expressed opposition to racism should have made his books highly suspect to the National Socialists. Also, particularly in the works published late in his life, May was a pacifist through and through.

What appears to have made Karl May appealing to the National Socialist in the first place was his continued popularity among the young. The authorities were seeking to exploit this popularity to their own ends. Also, then as now, the image people had of things was important - and a lot more people had an idea of Karl May than had read his books, or they had read one of the adventure novels. In May's case the image may have been a diffuse collection of adventure, suspense, cunning and power, which may have been an attractive mix for the Nazis, but not a correct representation of Karl May. I imagine that they were hoping to impress upon the young

At the same time they probably hoped that readers would not realize the very obvious parts of the books that contradict Nazi ideology. However, they did not completely trust their citizens to succeed in turning a blind eye to May's humanity: they had changes made in the books and the majority of his novels were not published during the Third Reich. While a few Nazi officials and 'concerned citizens' saw the contradictions, particularly in the area of racial policy, and sought May's books to be banned, the national authorities continuously backed May and deemed him, of course not him alone, to be a good educator for Nazi youths. This, and the fact that Hitler was a fervent May reader, made May very suspicious to exiled German writers during the war. Quite a few used him in their anti-Nazi writings, in some cases apparently without (or despite?) a knowledge of May's books. Klaus Mann spoke of his "lurid glorification of cruelty" (which I fail to see) and, in obvious hyperbole, wrote, "The Third Reich is Karl May's ultimate triumph."

Hitler apparently was attracted to May

For me it is difficult to see how Hitler was able to overlook the contradictions between his his own and May's world view. May certainly is a child of his times in displaying a certain colonial attitude (people in the first person narrator's country are so much more advanced than any others) and there also are quite a few clichés used when it comes to the characterization of peoples (particularly Armenians, and in some instances but not always, yes, Jews are not treated very well in this respect). But there are heroes from any race or creed in May's books, the narrator frequently stresses that people are good and bad everywhere, there is critcism of white and Christian colonial behavior and arrogance, the heroes almost never kill even their worst enemies and especially in his later years he was a firm pacifist, also in his books. These traits Hitler and his "willing executioners" (?) must have very seriously overlooked when they assumed they were planning and executing war, persecution and genocide even remotely in the spirit of Karl May.

Frank Starrost

Literature: There are two interesting articles available in the yearbooks of the Karl-May-Gesellschaft:

June 9, 1996:
I too find it very strange and hard to comprehend the contradictions in Hitler's harsh and socio- psychopathic view of the world as opposed to Karl Mays almost gullible approach to mankind in his stories. Yes, i find them full of clichés and sometimes prejudiced, but as do i in many a novel from this time.

Of course one is not to readily accept prejudice, but at the same time one has to read books in view of the age in which they were written.

You only have to read the bible to find appalling examples of prejudice and outspoken racism.

I believe that any thinking man (or woman) should be able to enjoy the basic story, or adventure in the books, without necessarily adopting values from a less enlightened time.

Unfortunately we are not all reasoning and thinking men and women.

I shall however continue to enjoy Karl May's books and i am looking forward to reading them to my son, when he comes to age in a few years.

I doubt that the touch of prejudice in them will afflict him in any serious way.

Best regards,
Tony Fischier
(sorry, still no E-address)

Yes, I completely agree. -Frank

May 13, 1997:

Colours of truth

Karl May has chronologically nothing to do with Hitler. Maybe Hitler had a special relationship to that, what he regarded as Mays intentions. Indeed Mays work includes terms of racism. But also aspects of humanity. History is grey in fulminant variation of this colour, not simply white and black.

Rudolf Ladwig.

May 20, 2001:

Recently a female historian published a book about the early years in Hitlers life in vienna (sorry, but I can't remember the title or the name of the author).

Among other interesting insights about this psychopath it is suggested (there is no real proof, but strong hints) that hitler was present at the famous speech Karl may gave in vienna shortly before his death about mankind's way to higher goals and peace. (It seems Hitler was already a fan of Karl May).

There is no transcript of the whole speech, but there are the notes karl may prepared to hint in the direction he was taking. When a normal person reads these notes and the other works written in the late period of may's life, it seems impossible to miss the message of peace and how mankind should evolve to a species of "edelmenschen" (noble men).

However, as I know from experience with people who have psychological problems (not on the scale of hitler of course, but bad enough as it is), people are astonishingly selective in their listening and reading. Although hitler listened for two hours to a message of peace and nobility, it did not help him. It seems he heard only about "herrenmenschen" and nothing about being noble, selfless, loving and so on. The same could apply to the books he read.

I know it is very sad how distorted people can receive reality, blending out everything that contradicts their views or indicates they're wrong, but I can see the mechanism and the extent everyday.

It is probably helped by the fact that Karl May himself wrote differently during different times of his life. He wrote short stories where christians are always good and all moslems fanatic and bad, and he wrote very different stories for his oriental cycle. In some sentences he denounces a whole folk (armenians, jews) as always being untrostworthy, false, profit-hunting and so on; and in the next story he preaches 2 pages long about how he has found good and bad people in every folk he visited, and how the single person is important.

So it is easy to blend out one half of Karl Mays message of peace and understanding between different races and read only the adventure side of it and how the good german is always attacked by the bad non-germans.

Constanze Wegener

Please see also May's Romantic Racialism.

Dazu schreib ich was!! Any comments are welcome.


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