Naturism and Nazism: the forgotten propaganda tool of the SS

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Today based on the idea of ​​a return to the natural state, naturism has however, in the past, been able to be used for much less laudable ends. Born at the end of the 19th century in Germany, this movement brought together artists, doctors and aristocrats who adopted the habit of bathing naked in the many water points in the country.

This practice comes in particular from the youth who then wish to free themselves from the prudish mores of the time, associated, in their thoughts, with the material conformism particularly present in urban environments. The naturist movement thus grew and spread through all German social spheres until the 1920s when it was divided into several very distinct and even contradictory ideologies. But two main ones still fly over the others.

First of all, there is the naturism inherited from the socialist school, such as the model promoted by Adolf Koch focused on sport and therapeutic and hygienist gymnastics, reports Le Monde. But on the other side, it is a very different ideology that is developing since it advocates a “national naturism”. Hans Sùren is one of the main representatives of this racist theory.

When taking power, the Nazi regime was initially very recalcitrant towards the naturist movement, associating it with Marxist ideologies and homosexual circles. However, as early as June 1933, the National Socialist Party changed its mind. As our colleagues from Slate point out, Adolf Hitler then gives his blessing to naturist ideologies because they could cross his own ideas by allowing the Germans to be restored to their “original purity”. The practice is therefore again authorized, except for Jews and Communists, and requires good physical condition.

From that moment the naturist ideals will thus be taken over by the Nazis to support their own designs and their propaganda strategy.

Leafing through the German newspaper Das Schwarze Korps, (The Black Corps), the official SS press organ published in 1935, it was common to find photos of naked men with slender, muscular and tanned bodies. A book filled with illustrations of naked gymnasts written by the representative of “national naturism”, Hans Sùren, will even sell 235,000 copies, being part of the 350 best-selling books of the Third Reich, explain our colleagues from It interests me .

For some SS intellectuals, naturism allows above all to highlight the superiority of the “Aryan race” thanks to these images of beautiful sculpted bodies and in full health. But the idea also stems from the rejection of modesty, so important in the eyes of Jews or even Christians.

The attempt to recover naturism by the SS was therefore massive and allowed the movement to continue to persist under the Third Reich. However, this was not really successful because most of the adherents to this practice did not do it for political purposes and simply wanted to meet up with friends at the water’s edge.

However, SS works highlighting naturism were very successful at the time. Johan Chapoutot, author of The Law of Blood: Thinking and Acting as a Nazi, explained to our colleagues from Ça m’intrigues that “people mainly bought these books to rinse their eyes”.