Berg Heil! New book explores Nazi-era mountaineering

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Hitler was no mountaineer, but the Nazis were well aware of the propaganda value of the sport, as a new book published in the Nazi dictator's native Austria on Monday shows.

"Berg Heil! Alpenverein und Bergsteigen 1919-1945" ("Hail the Mountain! The Alpine Club and Mountaineering 1919-1945") deals for the first time with the "dark chapter" of scaling Austrian and German peaks under the Nazis.

Until the "annexation" of Austria in 1938, the German Alpine climbing association "was the only significant organisation where the idea of a 'greater Germany' became reality," according to the authors.

"In these years the association was in many ways shaped by the National Socialist (Nazi) mentality, by exclusion and by anti-Semitism," they wrote in the book commissioned by the German, Austrian and South Tyrolean mountaineering associations.

Jews were excluded from climbing clubs as early as the 1920s, and the Nazis promoted mountaineering as a healthy pastime and as a way for the "master race" to demonstrate supposed "Ayran" superiority and train for the coming war.

Four days after the "annexation", SA storm troopers scaled Austria's -- and from then greater Germany's -- biggest mountain, the Grossglockner, planting a Nazi flag at the summit, according to a review of the book in the Profil weekly.

"Above 1,000 metres (3,000 feet) there are only supporters of the Fuehrer," it cited one mountaineering magazine from 1942 as proclaiming.

The Nazis also turned Himalayan expeditions into propaganda events, despite many ending in disaster, with one dead climber, Alfred Drexel, whose body was wrapped in a Nazi flag and photographed, becoming a national hero in 1934.

Mountaineers used the cry "Heil Berg!", reminiscent of the "Heil Hitler!" greeting, well before Hitler came to power, however, with "Heil!" having become popular among German nationalists from the late 19th century onwards.

The Nazis then turned "Heil!", accompanied by a raised-arm salute, into their official greeting.

© 2011 AFP

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