As the Nazi army rolled across Europe, causing untold destruction and death, they were followed by another group. A task force, led by a Nazi intellectual and ideologue of the highest order, began systematically stealing the collected cultural and artistic wealth of Europe. Focusing largely on Jewish property, this group rounded up books, paintings, jewelry, and other artifacts. Some were sent back to Germany, others were sadly destroyed. This was the job of the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce, or ERR.
The ERR began in the late 1930’s, arising out of an elite university program designed to demonstrate the Aryan superiority over “inferior” races. Toward that end, they were to collect artifacts from Nazi opponents — Jews, Communists, Masons, democratic organizations — to categorize and interpret in order to demonstrate Nazi superiority.
After France fell, the ERR operations kicked into high gear. Initially, the ERR was in competition with other Nazi organizations like the SS and the German Embassy in looting France. After a directive from Hitler in July 1940, however, the ERR became the official Nazi organization for procurement of art in Nazi-occupied Europe. After that, the systematic looting really began.
Train cars and boatloads of material was taken from France, Belgium, Greece, Italy and other countries back to Germany. Schools were destroyed. Public libraries were stripped bare. Many of the books were burned. 2,000,000 volumes were lost in Czechoslovakia alone. Over 1.4 million train cars worth of material was sent back to Germany, along with over 400,000 tons taken by ship. The looted material was dispersed all over Germany, with much of it ending up at Neuschwanstein Castle.
The ERR could make an unusual but compelling adversarial force for WW 2 PC’s. Certainly, they are engaged in outright theft of the cultural materials of Europe, a theft made doubly heinous by its connection with the dehumanization of Jews and others caught in the Nazi grip. Many adventures could be had in a straight-up espionage game, where the PC’s track down lost artifacts or prevent them from falling into ERR hands. But when you add the element of the weird, things really get interesting.
To bring the weird, you need to figure out why the ERR (and Hitler in general) are so interested in the intellectual and artistic treasures of Europe. In reality, is was a mixture of simple greed and a deliberate attempt to elevate the intellectual basis of Naziism though destruction of competing ideological resources. It was a ground-clearing for a 1,000 year Reich. But what if other forces were at work? I’ve already offered Goering as a servant of Mammon, with greed driving Goering’s personal acquisition of treasure (along with his outlandish wardrobe and, um, healthy appetite). The ERR’s weird motivations, though, might be best grounded in something less gluttonous.
Perhaps the entire looting is a systematic search for one thing, or a series of things. Art and books that, when brought together and used properly, will ensure the eternity of the Reich. Everything, all the looting, was an attempt to locate a handful of vital objects. Books were burned when they were no longer useful. Maybe some were deliberately destroyed because they contained elements of the counter-ritual. One could even go so far as to postulate the entire military action was simply an attempt to make the acquisition of these objects easier while eliminating the “undesirables”. This makes the ERR the central antagonists of the European theater. Their heinous job is the most important element of the Nazi cause.
What were those objects? Why do the Nazis need them? What did they hope to accomplish? That’s another Dispatch.