22. September 1997:
Frank, I am sending you an extensive footnote from my book _Reading with a Passion: Rhetoric, Autobiography, and the American West in the Gospel of John_ (New York: Continuum, 1995) p. 166.

"[Buffalo Bill's] Wild West show with its entourage of American Indians was extremely popular in Europe, particularly in Germany, where Karl May was one of its early attendees. May became one of his generation's most popular authors, drawing inspiration for his American Western novels in part from watching the show (Conrad, Rudolf, "Mutual Fascination: Indians in Dresden and Leipzig," in _Indians and Europe: An Interdisciplinary Collection of Essays._ Edited by Christian F. Feest, [Aachen: Rader, 1987] 457-459, 469-470; Feest, Christian F. "Indians and Europe? Editor's Postscript," in _Indians and Europe: An Interdisciplinary Collection of Essays._ Edited by Christian F. Feest, [Aachen: Rader, 1987] 619-620). His most widely sold volumes, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, have recently been translated into English (Gillespie, Phyllis "The Wild West Thrives, but Guess Where? In Germany, That's Where," _Arizona Highways_ 70 [1994] 13-14).

A brief generation later, Adolf Hitler "is said to have recommended [May's novels] to his generals, all seventy-some volumes in his personal library" (Doerry, Karl, "Literary Conquista: The Southwest as Literary Emblem," _Journal of the Southwest_ 32 [1990] 440; see also Rosa Joseph G. and Robin May, _Buffalo Bill and His Wild West: A Pictoral Biography_. [Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1989] 146-147; Frayling, Christopher, _Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone_. [Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981] 105; and Mann, Klaus, "Cowboy Mentor of the Führer," _Living Age_ [352] 218, 222). Karl Doerry writes that "on the whole May shows the Indians as doomed to extinction. But not because they are inherently inferior; they are just not given the time to acquire the culture and education that would allow them, for instance, to see through and resist the nefarious schemes of the villains who are smart enough to exploit the Indians' savage energy for their own plans" ("Literary Conquista," 444; cf. Brumble, David H., _American Indian Autobiography_. [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988] 149-151; Fiorentino, Daniele, "'Those Red-Brick Faces': European Press Reactions to the Indians of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show," in _Indians and Europe: An Interdisciplinary Collection of Essays._ Edited by Christian F. Feest, [Aachen: Rader, 1987] 403-411; and Clerici, Naila, "Native Americans in Columbus's Home Land: A Show within the Show," in _Indians and Europe: An Interdisciplinary Collection of Essays._ Edited by Christian F. Feest, [Aachen: Rader, 1987] 415-423). Not surprisingly, Doerry's assessment of May's books fits remarkably well with Churchill's critique of the Navajo victims portrayed in Hillerman's detective novels (Churchill, Ward, _Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of the American Indians_. Edited by M. Annette Jaimes [Monore, ME: Common Courage, 1992] 269-271).

Richard Rubenstein also picks up this tangled thread of Romantic Racialism in America and Europe, arguing: "The link between genocidal settler societies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and twentieth century genocide can be discerned in Adolf Hitler's Lebensraum program. As a young man, Hitler saw the settlement of the New World and the concommitant elimination of North America's Indian population by white European settlers as a model to be followed by Germany on the European continent" (Rubenstein, Richard, L. "Modernization and the Politics of Extermination," in _A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis_. edited by Michael Berenbaum [New York: New York University Press, 1990] 8; see also Churchill, Fantasies of the Master Race, 120, 141-143, 177; Thornton, Russell, _American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492_. [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987], 3-90; and von Feilitzsch, Frhr., "Karl May: The 'Wild West' as Seen in Germany," _Journal of Popular Culture_ 27 [1993] 173-174).

Thus, it cannot be mere coincidence that the Nazi historian Edgar von Schmidt-Pauli, writing "history in such a way as to demonstrate the inevitability of the rise of the German race and Adolf Hitler in particular," should elicit and edit the 1929 autobiography of Big Chief White Horse Eagle, an Osage of dubious character, and title it We Indians: The Passing of a Great Race (Brumble, American Indian Autobiography, 152; cf. Conrad, "Mutual Fascination," 459). Nor should one be surprised at Lisa Bartel-Winkler's conclusion regarding May's books. Also known by the pen name Barwin, she wrote pulp novels during the Nazi period "in which the heroism of Indian leaders was explained by their assumed Viking ancestry," and had argued as early as 1918 that through his Indian hero Winnetou, "Karl May delineates. . . the German drama. Winnetou is the noble man of his race--he knows about the purity of the blood, the longing, and the hope of his brothers, but they have to founder because they are worn down by discord. . . . This is Indian, this is also German. Who has grasped the meaning of the Indian drama has also grasped the meaning of the German drama" (Feest, "Indians and Europe?," 612). So if Rubenstein and others are correct in elaborating this genealogy of genocide, then the American West as popularized by Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and May's novels may be said to have laid the groundwork for much of Hitler's racial policy. And if Ward Churchill is to be believed, Hillerman's wildly successful detective novels continue to disseminate a similar ideology to the American public--albeit in a more sophisticated manner (_Fantasies of the Master Race_, 258-259, 276-279)."

Jeffrey L. Staley


Please see also Karl May und das Dritte Reich.


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