First we praise Cambodia, then we take the world

First we praise Cambodia, then we take the world

121102_sr02a
The April 1941 edition of Kolonie und Heimat (Colony and Home) featured coverboy Erwin Rommel and a well-intended photo story about Angkor Wat, calling it “one of the most beautiful temple complexes in the world.” Photograph: Michael Scholten

The April 1941 edition of Kolonie und Heimat (Colony and Home) featured coverboy Erwin Rommel and a well-intended photo story about Angkor Wat, calling it “one of the most beautiful temple complexes in the world.” Photograph: Michael Scholten

Was Adolf Hitler into Angkor Wat? There’s no specific proof of that, but the Nazi propaganda press published a significant number of stories about Angkor and Indochina in the late 1930s, and even during World War II.

Browsing the newspapers in historical archives reveals examples such as the January 1939 edition of Münchner Illustrierte Presse or the April 1941 edition of Kolonie und Heimat.

While the covers celebrated dictator Adolf Hitler or Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, some of the editorial appeared less Nazi-like than expected. A double-page story, for example, praises Angkor Wat as “unique,” “not comparable to any other building,” and “one of the most beautiful temple complexes in the world”.

The Khmer were called “an efficient population of rice farmers.” Other stories presented “brave hill tribes” and their “rich culture and tradition.”

But how did these ‘rave reviews’ gel with Nazi Germany’s thoughts of master race and the superiority of German culture? Alois Schlee, a World War II historian from Wurzburg, considers the old newspaper stories about Indochina part of propaganda and wishful thinking.

He said, “Hitler wanted Germany to be a colonial superpower, playing in one league with France and Great Britain.”

In 1918 after World War I, the treaty of Versailles had forced Germany to hand over its few colonies in the Southern hemisphere to ‘superior countries’.

“Hitler wanted to reclaim these colonies and with them an international standing”, Alois Schlee said. Therefore newspaper stories with candid photos of exotic places became popular in the propaganda press.

The formerly popular magazine Kolonie und Heimat (Colony and Home) reappeared in 1937, after it had ceased publication in 1920 due to the loss of all colonies.

The Nazi party encouraged loyal scientists and adventurers to travel around the world and deliver stories from other continents.

Among them was Austrian anthropologist Hugo Adolf Bernatzik, who joined the Nazi party early and undertook extensive research in Southeast Asia from 1936 to 1937. His black-and-white photographs were among the first to show the Akha and Moi, hill people of northern Thailand, Myanmar and Lao.

Southeast Asia, as it was revealed through Bernatzik's photographs, were presented to students at University of Graz and also published in various propaganda papers.

But in one of those ironies of fate, most of Bernatzik’s belongings, including a great number of his original negatives, were destroyed by fire in Austria during World War II.

MOST VIEWED

  • Proof giants walked among us humans?

    For years a debate has waged about whether certain bas relief carvings at the 12th-century To Prohm Temple, one of the most popular attractions at the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Siem Reap province, depicted dinosaurs or some rather less exotic and more contemporary animal,

  • Japan bank buys major stake in ANZ Royal Bank

    Japan's largest bank acquired more than half of ANZ’s shares in Cambodia on Thursday, according to a statement from Kith Meng’s Royal Group. Japan's JTrust Bank, announced that they had acquired a 55% of stake in ANZ Royal Bank. According to a Royal Group

  • Long way to go before Cambodia gets a ‘smart city’

    Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang will struggle to attain smart city status without adopting far reaching master plans, according to officials tasked with implementing the program. The brainchild of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the smart city program seeks to link up

  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty