The adventure tales of Karl May established in the American Southwest have charmed millions of Germans, but especially Hitler, who patterned Nazi policies on their plots.”>
The aura of Indian namesMassachusetts, Monangahela, Arapahoe County, Mississippi, Minnesotahangs over America, even after the indigenous people are often run. A Founding Amnesia has long erased the stories of Native Americans in history texts and the media. From silent movies until the 60 s, cowboys and IndiansJohn Wayne as a hero, Apache blood as a sign of savagerywere fixtures and fixations of Hollywood films, the last bastion of the ugly, 19 th century military watchword Manifest Destiny.
Thanks to the resistance of the American indian Movement, however, the record has been corrected, at least in part, to reflect the actual tales of white Americas encounters with native people: narratives of expropriation, admirable resistance, and genocide from coast to coast. Nonetheless, the Smithsonian still has a collection of 20,000 indigenous skulls, cut off in carnages, the flesh boiled down. Many had initially been sent to Dr. Samuel George Morten to concoct 19 th century anthropometry, a pseudo-science of racial measurings alleging Anglo-Saxon superiority. But in 1990, Congress at last passed NAGPRA, the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act. Slowly, slowly, body parts are being returned to indigenous communities for burial.
The U.S. is not alone, however, in whitewashing its encounters with Native Americans. Most remarkably, perhaps, the ethnic cleansing of the Wild West has long been an exotic theme in Germany for more than a century thanks largely to the novels of a really strange man named Karl Maywhich were beloved by none other than Hitler.
Born in 1842, May was the fifth child of an impoverished weaver from Saxony. He was also a fluid imposter. In 1859, after pilfering candles and then a watch, May was deprived of his first chore as a teacher. He then masqueraded as a police lieutenant investigating counterfeiting: May would say a householders treasured 10 Thaler note was fake and make off with it. He also posed as a doctor and a notarys assistant living in a hotel, ordering fur coats and other expensive, hand-sewn apparel, and abruptly stealing off without paying.
May was captured by the police but escaped. He lived in a cave in the timbers near his homematerial for his later suspenseful talesand narrowly sidestepped 500 would-be captors.
His elusiveness came to an end, however, when he was incarcerated from 1865 to 1869 in Osterstein Castle in Zwickau, a reform institution. There he spent much of his time in the prison library read fiction novels about AmericaJames Fenimore Cooper and the likehistories, and travel books. He was again jailed in Waldheim, Saxony between 1870 and 1874. In 1876, after telling people he had been traveling abroad, he reinvented himself prolifically as a travel writer, a Catholic novelisthis five volumes sold on horseback by colporteursand an author in boys magazines.
Equipped with a gorgeous imagination, May conjured fictions of the Orient and with himself dressed up as the hero, Kara Ben Nemsi[ Karl from Germany ]. Between 1880 and 1888, he published an Orient cycle of six volumes. Prefiguring J.K. Rowling, he had made a list of plots to write, and at the age of 51 began to compose what could be called the Harry Potter volumes of Germany: the Winnetou novels, the first of which was published in 1893.
Set in an Aryanized American Southwest, these volumes center on the blood brotherhood of Old Shatterhand, a German surveyor, and Winnetou, a noble Mescalero Apache. Unsurprisingly, Shatterhands German name was Karl.
For the past 123 years, generations of German children have re-enacted the exploits of these heroes. Mays volumes, still in print, have sold 200 million transcripts. The 60 s Winnetou movies, which starred French actor Pierre Brice as Winnetou and American actor Lex Barker( a former Tarzan) as Shatterhand, resurrected the post-World War II German film industry. At Bad Segeburg, each summer since 1952, 300,000 fans attend a Karl May celebration, as many as celebrate the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth.
Mays young German narrator was treated by other cowboys as a greenhorn who, like May, had only read about the West. But Old Shatterhand, as the narrator was about to be named, would surprise you. He could kill a grizzly bear or a maddened buffalo by himself where others scattered like foliages. He could shatter your jaw with a blow. He was no drunkard. And he had German efficiency is comparable to shiftless American cowboys.
May contrasted Winnetous nobility, too, to untrustworthy Kiowas. Winnetous skin is not darknes but a subdued, light brown with[ but] a tinge of bronzeand to drive home the point, the series is subtitled The Red Gentleman. As he is dying, Winnetou is converted to Christianity, while settlers sing Ave Maria over this frontier Christ-figure. In Edward Saids phrase, he is an Orientalized indigenous person( May also set novels in the Middle East) as imagined by a predatory Occidental culture. In Mays novels, as in so much American history teaching, indigenous people do not speak diversely for themselves.
A wide variety of Germans, including Karl Liebknecht, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, and Hitler, loved the May novels. Even today, many young person , notably women, are drawn to Winnetou.
Aping the horrific belief of American Manifest Destiny, which watched the Anglo-Saxon race push its frontier all the way to the Philippines, May imagined indigenous Americans as romanticallyand inevitablydoomed, with Winnetous nobility passing away irrevocably.
I watched the Indian desperately defy his demolition. I watched the murderers tearing at his intestines, and my heart filled with rage, compassion and pity. He was doomed; I could not save him. But I could stimulate his death easier; I could bring the brightnes of love and reconciliation to his final hour.