Lutz Heck, Nazi Scientist Brought Extinct Animals Back to Life:

The Dream

The aurochs, a bull that stood taller than a man was the most feared animal in the primeval forests of Ancient Germania. It had long outward horns and attacked anything that came in its way. It was described by Julius Cesar as “not much smaller than an elephant, extraordinary in size and strength, sparing neither man nor wild beast”.

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       Depiction of the ancient aurochs

The aurochs was hunted by forest people, a group noted for their blond hair, blue eyes and pure blood because they did not mix with outsiders. The Romans called the forested land, Germania and the warlike hunters living there, Germans.

Lutz and Heinz Heck grew up hearing tales of Germania and great warrior hunters like Siegfried, who battled wild beasts. Lutz remembered: “In my youth my imagination was caught above all by two huge wild oxen, which had become most legendary and regarded as the most powerful representatives of primeval German game. The wisent (European bison) and the aurochs.”

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Heinz and Lutz Heck with their father Ludwig

Sons of the famous zoologist Ludwig Heck, director of the Berlin Zoo, Lutz and Heinz grew up with a love of animals from an early age. By the time they reached adulthood, the Heck brothers were noted zoologists in their own right, Lutz, the director of the Berlin Zoological Park and Heinz the director the Hellabrun Zoo in Munich. In the 1920’s, still enraptured by tales of Germanic folklore and culture, the brothers hoped to combine modern science with their passion for animals to recreate the mythical beasts that Siegfried and the ancient Germans had once hunted.

The wisent still survived in the wild, but the last known aurochs had died out in the seventeenth century. The brothers believed that deep in the recesses of domesticated animals lay the dormant genes of their wild ancestors. The Hecks believed that the ancient strain could be brought out by selective breeding to bring back the wild, ancient beasts locked within. The brothers focused on the aurochs, the legendary cattle that Cesar wrote about. They meticulously read old accounts and studied skeletons and Spanish cave paintings of the animal. The brothers scoured Europe for potential breeding animals; they collected cows from France, Corsica and Hungary. They found fighting bulls from Spain and tough Highland Cattle from Scotland. They shared their research but each bred their own cattle. The Heck’s dreamed of releasing their animals into the wild to reconnect Germans with their ancient hunting roots.

A New Order

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Lutz Heck, on right with mustache, looks over a model of the Białowieża Forest with Hermann Göring before the war. An aurochs horn is placed on the model

The Heck’s breeding program was well underway when Hitler came to power in 1933. In Nazi Germany, the Heck’s found a regime sympathetic to their idea of returning to a state of natural Germanic purity. The brothers joined the Nazi Party and Lutz Heck became a member of the SS. Lutz Heck wooed Hermann Göring, commander of the German Luftwaffe and the Reich’s Jägermeister, or master of the hunt with tales of Germania. Göring was keen to spread the popularity and culture of hunting, sponsoring and taking part in hunts across Germany. Göring, loved wild beasts, and Lutz Heck supplied him with lion cubs as pets from the Berlin Zoo. Heck and Göring regularly hunted together and Göring became a big supporter of Heck’s program to breed aurochs and other Germanic animals like the tarpan, a Eurasian wild horse.

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Herman Göring, master of the hunt

Much like Heck’s animals experiments, the Nazi’s began a human selective breeding program to bring Germans back to the Nazi ideal of “pure” racial stock. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, also dreamt of his pure German race going back to its primitive roots of strong warrior-hunters. Himmler used SS support to fund the Heck brothers and their ideal for a new German world. The Heck’s wanted their aurochs to be truly wild, a worthy hunt for pure blooded Aryan hunters. Anything not up to their standards was deemed “degenerate” and unacceptable. Much like future Nazi extermination programs, the Heck’s destroyed animals too meek or otherwise unfit to recreate an aggressive, wild beast. The Heck’s also imported wild moose and bison from North America to invigorate what they saw as weak, degenerate European hunting game with new, wild blood.

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Göring and Heck hunting with spears

By autumn 1938, Lutz Heck was confident he had recreated the lost aurochs. However, he was still unsure if the animals could survive independently from humans. Heck took his animals to CarinHall, Göring’s hunting lodge east of Berlin and released them on Göring’s hunting reserve. For Lutz Heck, it was a triumph after almost two decades of research. He remembered: “The energy of our first wild cattle in the German forest and their innate beauty and strength aroused such enthusiasm that they were very soon left free to roam the moors”. Local people were less pleased by the presence of the new species which attacked bicyclists and made the forests unsafe for visitors. However, more worrisome to Göring was that the aggressive new “aurochs” interrupted the local deer feedings.

The Hecks and other Nazi’s wanted a place to release the animals where they could roam free without any contact from humans, providing true, wild game. It would take a war before these plans could be realized.

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Göring, with lion cubs supplied by Lutz Heck

War and Germania

In the 1930’s Göring visited Poland on official business and was taken for a hunt in the Białowieża forest on the Eastern edge of the country. Białowieża was huge; it covered 1,500 square kilometers and was home to some of Europe’s rarest game animals including wolves, Eurasian Lynx, European Moose, and the fabled European Bison, the Wisent. To Göring, Białowieża was Erwald, the sacred forests where his Aryan ancestors had once hunted.

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Refugees fleeing burning villages in Białowieża Forest

Poland had only recently regained its independence after WWI, being previously partitioned by Prussia, Russia and Austria. Before Poland was invaded in September 1939, Germany made a secret pact with the Soviets to allow Russia to take back land that had been theirs prior to WWI. Being on the Eastern edge of Poland, Białowieża fell into Russian hands, robbing Göring of his hunting grounds.

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Civilians killed by Ordnungspolizei Battalion 322

In June 1941, Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union penetrated huge swatches of what had been parts of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Belarus. The German advance finally brought the forest of Białowieża under Nazi control and they wasted no time re-creating the ancient forest of Germania.

In the minds of the Nazi’s, a German forest needed to be free of things not German. To achieve this, Heinrich Himmler sent in Ordnungspolizei Battalion 322 into the forest in July 1941 with clear orders: clear the forest of all inhabitants and execute all undesirables. From July 25th to August 1st, 1941 Ordnungspolizei Battalion 322 burned thirty four villages and deported 7000 people, killing those too slow to move as well as any Jewish residents. The forests of Białowieża became one of the first occupied territories in the new German Reich to be declared “Judenfrei” or Jew free.

Lutz Heck and the Nazi’s felt the land they had conquered was degraded by the wrong inhabitants. It needed to be “Germanized” with German plants, trees, animals and eventually Germans settlers. Lutz Heck visited the forest and released bears, bison and his own breed of tarpan horses. He moved his aurochs from Göring’s estate to the wilds of Białowieża. The forest was off limits to everyone except Nazi hunters who could at last hunt wild beasts like “true Aryans”.

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Civilians being deported by Ordnungspolizei Battalion 322

Proud of his achievement, Lutz Heck marveled about his aurochs program: “It was a long and laborious process that ultimately produced this fine healthy stock of aurochs, every year now the cows of the breed bring new calves into the world. This new breed flourishes and grows.”

The End of the Aurochs

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A village burned by Ordnungspolizei Battalion 322

The forest of Białowieża was so dense and thick that it provided good shelter for anti-Nazi partisans and Jews. As the war progressed, SS and a special Luftwaffe unit were sent to eradicate these enemies of the Reich. Over the next three years the Germans expelled or eradicated 20,000 people. When questioned after the war, units involved in the slaughter claimed they were protecting a hunting reserve for Hermann Göring. In 1945, with Germany defeated and the forest of Białowieża, overrun by the Red Army, Heck’s aurochs disappeared from the wild, the last ones being sighted a few years after the War. Whether they died out naturally or were killed off as reminders of Nazi occupation is unknown.

Lutz Heck’s breeding facilities in the Berlin Zoo were destroyed by Allied bombings and his animals either killed by bombs or slaughtered by hungry civilians.

After WWII, the Allies investigated Lutz Heck but declared him a “follower” and never charged with any crimes. Lutz and Heinz continued their careers as Zoologists until their deaths in the 1980’s.

The Breed Lives on

Today Lutz and Heinz Heck’s aurochs and tarpan are known as Heck’s cattle and Heck’s horse to distinguish them from the true ancient species. About 2000 Heck cattle live in Europe on domestic farms. The cattle come from Heinz Heck’s experiments as Lutz’s cattle all died in the wild or during the war at the Berlin Zoo. Heck cattle still retain the aggression they were bred for as Nazi hunting animals. In 2009, a British farmer operating a rare breed preserve bought thirteen animals but soon slaughtered seven of them because they were so wild and aggressive. Although the Heck brother’s cattle had little relation to the real aurochs, it lived up to their dream of a race of wild beasts fit for the master race to hunt.

For related articles see:

Albert Göring: The Nazi’s Brother

Kari Rosvall: Irish Woman Discovers Her Nazi Past

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