Runology Outside Nazi Germany - Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

Revival of the Runes: The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention of the Germanic Runes - Stephen E. Flowers Ph.D. 2021

Runology Outside Nazi Germany
Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

On one level, in the 1930s and early 1940s runology continued to develop outside the borders of Germany as if the Nazis did not exist. The subsequent events of the Second World War, however, did seriously impact the lives of many scholars and disrupted normal affairs in every European country. But runological studies tend to grind on very slowly, and from the historical perspective of the whole field of study, the National Socialist episode in Germany was a short-lived phase. What makes it a major interest is both the enduring (often sensationalistic) fascination it holds for people and the ways in which the Nazi interest in runic symbolism is “hyped up” in our present day by both enthusiasts and fearmongers alike. These factors do lead to significant disruptions in the objective pursuit of knowledge in runology, whether academic or esoteric.

Runology in Scandinavia during the Nazi years was affected somewhat by the occupation of Denmark and Norway by Germany from 1940 to 1945. However, it must be noted that runological work continued in occupied Denmark with the production of the standard edition of the Danish inscriptions by Jacobsen and Moltke in 1941/42 as well as the edition of the Icelandic inscriptions by Anders Bæksted in 1942. Similarly, the standard edition of the Younger Futhark inscriptions in Norway by Magnus Olsen began to be published in the occupied country in 1941. Sweden maintained its neutrality throughout the war.

An amusing story once recounted to me personally by the great American linguist Winfried Lehmann involved the adventures of the famous Norwegian linguist, runologist, and Celticist Carl Marstrander, whom we met earlier. He was active in the Norwegian resistance to the Nazi occupation of his country. The philologist was imprisoned on several occasions, but in one instance Marstrander devised a plan to foil his Nazi captors. He carved some ogham-inscriptions on sticks and secretly threw them over the fence of the camp where he was being detained. These were discovered by guards patrolling the perimeter and, as everyone was ordered to report any strange antiquities to the Ahnenerbe, word quickly got back to Berlin about these unusual finds. Intelligence about experts in Norway determined that there was only one man in the country who could possibly decipher these strange inscriptions—none other than Marstrander! The Norwegian Celticist was at once moved from the camp and put to work in more comfortable surroundings to interpret these cryptic texts, a task that, for some strange reason, he was able to do with relative ease!