It’s no secret that Hermann Göring loved the pomp and circumstance that his role in the Nazi Party gave him. His self entitlement and arrogance was only bolstered by every role and title that was awarded to him (roughly 20 in total), from the specifically created for him title of “Reichsmarschall”, to Reichsminister of Aviation and Minister President of Prussia.
But not much attention is given to his role as Reichsforstmeister (Reichs Forest Master) – which put him in charge of all of Germany’s forestry and hunting matters. And as no Nazi story seemingly would be complete without an occult or ultra-germanic undertone, Hermann Görings legacy as “Forest Master” continues to live on in the form of a giant Bison sculpture (Wisentdenkmal) in a tiny Brandenburg village.
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The Schorfheide – a popular hunting retreat
The Schorfheide, a large and dense forest 50 kilometers north of Berlin, had been a popular hunting ground for hundreds of years. King Frederick William IV of Prussia (1795-1861) built himself a hunting lodge – the Jagdschloss Hubertusstock – on the edge of the forest to accommodate his lavish hunting parties.
After the dissolution of the monarchy, the hunting lodge fell into the hands of the state, specifically the State of Prussia. With Göring being appointed Minister President of Prussia in 1933, he sought to grab himself the prestigious hunting lodge, though he seemingly lost an internal power struggle and Hitler gifted it to Chief of the Reich Chancellery Hans Lammers as a weekend retreat.
Göring, not to be outdone, decided to build his own luxurious retreat Carinhall (named after his deceased first wife), in 1934 just a few kilometers north, which he planned to turn into a gigantic art museum (and not too far away from Goebbels “Villa Bogensee”). A full story about Görings Carinhall, and what remains today can be found here.
In July of the same year, Hermann Göring was declared Reichs Forest Master, Reichsjägermeister (Reichs Master Hunter – though this seems to be more a title of his own invention) and was put in charge of nature protection in the German Reich – giving him power essentially over all of Germany’s forests and foresters (which, to no one’s surprise led to images like this).
With Göring as Reichsforstmeister, the ministry introduced the “Reichsnaturschutzgesetz” in 1935 – which for the first time, regulated nature conservation as well as enshrining the protection of plants and certain animals into law. These laws would later be used as a basis for further nature conservation laws in Germany long after the fall of the Third Reich.
A Nature Park for “Germanic” Species
LIke many Nazis, Göring had a fascination for everything “Germanic” – and this fascination combined with his love for hunting turned into the desire to resurrect extinct (and nearly extinct) animals that used to roam the germanic lands. Aurochs, Elk, Wild Horses, European Bison (known as Wisent) – all which used to occur naturally in Germany – were supposed to be brought back through special breeding programs led by zoologist Lutz Heck.
Special attention was given to the attempted resurrection of the Aurochs – which was seen as one of the most germanic breeds – as well as the renaturalisation of the European Bison, of which only a few examples had survived in a selection of European Zoos.
Göring sequestered several thousand hectares of forest land in the Schorfheide and wanted to turn it into germanic natural park, filled with the finest species that he could find (he was inspired by the Natural Parks in the US by the way). In addition – though this would come in the early 1940s – he had planned to turn the Białowieża Forest in Poland and Belarus (one of the last european primeval forests) into a large hunting ground for his creations.
While Görings plans for the Białowieża Forest never came to fruition, his nature park in the Schorfheide was a massive success. After opening its gates in June 1934, over 150,000 visitors are year flocked to the forest to see the wild horses, bisons, elk and other animals.
The “Wisentdenkmal” in Eichhorst
The “Nature Park” needed a proper entrance, and this is where the sculptor Max Esser came into play. Esser worked for the famed Meißen porcelain factory, as well as producing works for KMP and Rosenthal.
Max Esser was also one of the many artists whose name appeared on the infamous “Gottbegnadeten-Liste” (god gifted list) – a list curated in 1944 by Goebbels and Hitler containing over 1000 artists, writers, and musicians deemed essential to Nazi culture. Having originally studied at the Berlin Art Academie, Esser had specialized in animal sculptures – even winning a prize for an Otter sculpture at the 1937 Paris World Fair.
It was probably no coincidence that Göring picked out Max Esser for the creation of a representative entrance sculpture for his newly created germanic nature park. Esser created an almost life size ceramic relief of a Wisent (the European Bison), with its upper body and head tilted – ready to attack. Underneath the Bison, an inscription from the Nibelungenlied – the epic poem from the 12th Century which was heavily (ab)used by the Nazis – which read:
“Dar nach sluoc Sivrif schiere einen wisent
und einen elch
starker ure viere und einen grimmen Schelch
mit ir Scharpfen geren si wolden jagen Swin
beren unde wisende
was kunde kürners gesin”
Which in english translates to:
Soon fell a prey unto him / an elk and bison more,
A giant stag he slew him / and huge ure-oxen four.
His steed bore him so swiftly / that none could him outrun;
Of stag or hind encountered / scarce could there escape him one.
The other side of the Bison monument depicted a large Eagle with (presumably) a large swastika in its grasp, with another inscription that read:
Einst zog uriges Großwild durch Deutschlands Wälder seine Fährte. Jagd war mutprobe unserer germanischen Vorfahren. im Jahre 1934, unter Reichsjägermeister Hermann Göring, entstand an dieser Stelle ein Urwildgehege. Wisent, Auer, Elche, Wildpferde, Biber und anderes Getier fanden darin eine Freistätte und sollten Zeugnis geben von dem Tierreichtum des einst von Menschen noch nicht beherrschten Deutschland
Which in english roughly translates to:
Once upon a time, big game tracked through Germany’s forests. In 1934, under Reichsjägermeister Hermann Göring, a primeval game preserve was built on this spot. Bison, aurochs, elk, wild horses, beavers and other animals found a place of freedom here and were to bear witness to the wealth of animals in a Germany once not yet ruled by man.
The Wisentdenkmal after 1945
The nature park was closed towards the end of of the second world war, and the remaining Bison were shot as to not fall into Soviet hands. The Wisentdenkmal though remained in its place – with its swastika and Göring dedication – until 1957, when a tourist from East Berlin spotted Nazi memorial. Incensed by the public display of nazis symbols as well as the local officials disinterest to do anything about it, the tourist wrote to the “Neues Deutschland” – the official party newspaper of the Socialist Unity Party – to complain about the situation.
Now this got the political ball rolling. The locals were against the removal of the Bison monument and a asort of compromise was sought. The Swastika and the dedication were removed, but the party leaders had made up their mind. The district of Bernau (to which Eichhorst belonged to) decided in January 1958 that the monument had no (art) historical value and its not “worthy of being preserved”. They gave the order for it to be dismantled and buried (much like Berlins giant Lenin statue in 1991).
The Bison makes a comeback
The citizens of Eichorst didn’t forget about the Bison, and with the political end of the SED, they managed to find the buried remnants of the Wisentdenkmal in 1990 and secured them. Despite being severely damaged, restorers to puzzle the Bison back together. The restorers goal was to reconstruct the monument as true as possible without the “obvious” Nazi references, while retaining the original character.
The Nazi eagle – now just a”normal” eagle holds an oak wreath in its talons, and the Göring dedication underneath omits his name. The newly restored Wisentdenkmal was officially unveiled on the 29th of November 2001 in the center of the village, where it stands to this day.
While there are certainly more educated people who are probably better placed to discuss the pros and cons of the reconstruction of the Wisentdenkmal, visiting it did leave a strange aftertaste. In my opinion, this monument isnt just a simple animal sculpture – its the artistic representation of an abhorrent Nazi program which displaced and murdered thousands of people. This, along with the fact the this monument is directly linked to Göring, as well to the Nazi affiliated Max Esser, and indirectly linked to the breeding program of the Nazi Party Member Lutz Heck – does beg the question as to why this monument was restored and placed so prominently.
There are no plaques or information boards which explain the history nor the background of the monument – which is strange considering that a substantial amount of state funds went into restoring it, as well as it being listed as a protected monument. Overall, it feels like a rather large effort was made to conceal the origins of this beast and all uncomfortable questions were just swept under the proverbial rug.
Straße zur Schorfheide / Eberswalder Chaussee
Always very interesting and relevant information and anecdotes, excellent work of historical research! Merci
Christian, Bretagne, France 🇫🇷
Thanks Christian! very much appreciated 🙂