Nazi Back Yard Legacy

Image Source: Der Spiegel via SOTT.

Recently, a friend was complaining about raccoons overturning trash cans in the back yard. I was surprised, because my friend is visiting family in Germany and raccoons are a North American species. Many outlets have reported that the raccoon presence in Germany is due to a little-known history of the Depression and the Second World War. The story goes that in 1934, leading Nazi Hermann Goering released a breeding pair outside Kassel, near Frankfurt:
Goering ordered the release of a breeding pair of raccoons when he was the Third Reich’s chief forester in 1934, to give hunters something to shoot. More got out in 1945 when an Allied bomb hit a farm where they were being reared for their pelts.
The Telegraph mentions further:
[A]t the request of the Reich Forestry Service, ... [Goering] authorised a pair to be released into the German countryside both to “enrich local fauna” and for sport. In the event, the hunted outlasted both the hunters and Hitler: with no natural predators, there are now 500,000 to a million raccoons in Germany, resulting in a decline in songbird numbers due to their fondness for eggs, and millions of pounds worth of damage to property. The animals have since spread to France, Eastern Europe and Russia.
The L A Times corrects this story, stating that the 1934 release is true, while the Goering connection is false; raccoons were actually introduced to Germany under controlled conditions in the 1920s for their pelts:
The Nazi reference springs in part from an account of the raccoon's origins in Germany that zoologists and wildlife biologists like Ehlert say is a myth.

The story has it that one of Hitler's closest advisors, military leader Hermann Goering, personally ordered the release of imported raccoons into Germany's forests, either to foster biodiversity — in utter contrast to the Nazis' evil ideology of human racial purity — or to increase the number of game animals for Germany's avid hunters.

Ehlert said a forestry official did release two pairs of raccoons from the United States into the wild in 1934 to promote diversity of fauna, though Goering had nothing to do with it. Then, during World War II, a bomb destroyed a farm near Berlin where raccoons were being raised for their pelts, allowing about 20 of the critters to escape.

These two dozen ancestors essentially gave rise to today's raccoon population in Germany, which is impossible to tally exactly but which Hohmann estimates is edging toward the 1 million mark.
The initial German releases were compounded when departing NATO soldiers turned loose their raccoon mascots in France in the 1960s. Like many stories in the media these days, the Goering connection is so compelling that it is reported even though it's not true. The false story becomes the generally-accepted truth. If anything, the real Nazi legacy here comes from Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. And the spread of raccoons, like the spread of the cane toad in Australia, is an ongoing corner of ecological history, the environmental dimension of human affairs.

Hermann Goering (1893-1946), WWI flying ace, founder of the Gestapo, and WWII Nazi commander of Hitler's air force. He was the first Nazi authority at the scene when the Reichstag burnt down in 1933. But the raccoons in German back gardens are not part of his legacy. Image Source: Heinrich Hoffman via Life via dA.
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