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Richard Oscar Walther Darre (14 July 1895 - 5 September 1953), SS-Obergruppenfuhrer, was one of the Nazi leading ‘blood and soil’ ideologists. He served as Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture from 1933 to 1942.
He was born in Belgrano, a Buenos Aires neighbourhood, in Argentina to a German father and half-Swedish, half-German mother. His father was director of an export/import company. Although his parents' marriage was not a happy one, they lived prosperously, and educated their children privately until they were forced to return to Germany as a result of worsening international relations in the years preceding the Great War. Darre's personal upbringing was broad enough to allow him to gain fluency in four languages: English, Spanish, German, and French.
His parents sent him to Germany at age nine, to attend school in Heidelberg; in 1911 he was sent as an exchange pupil to King's College School in Wimbledon. The rest of the family returned to Germany in 1912. Richard (as he was known in the family) then spent two years at the Oberrealschule in Gummersbach, followed in early 1914 by the German Colonial School at Witzenhausen, south of Gottingen, where his interest in farming was awakened.
After a single term at Witzenhausen, he volunteered for army service. He was lightly wounded a number of times while serving during World War I, but fared better than most of his contemporaries.
When the war ended he contemplated returning to Argentina for a life of farming, but the family's weakening financial position during the years of inflation made this impossible. Instead he returned to Witzenhausen to continue his studies. He then obtained unpaid work as a farm assistant in Pomerania: his observation of the treatment of returning German soldiers there influenced his later writings.
In 1922 he moved to Halle to continue his studies: here he took an agricultural degree, specialising in animal breeding. He did not complete his PhD studies until 1929, at the comparatively mature age of 34. During these years he spent some time working in East Prussia and Finland.
As a young man in Germany, Darre initially joined the Artamans, a 'Volkish' youth group who were committed to returning to the land. It was against this backdrop that Darre began to develop the idea that the future of the "Nordic race" was linked to the soil in what came to be known as "Blut und Boden". Here "Blut" (blood) represents race or ancestry, while "Boden" can be translated as soil, territory, or land. The essence of the theory was the mutual and long-term relationship between a people and the land that it occupies and cultivates. His first political article in 1926 was on the subject of Internal Colonisation, which argued against Germany attempting to regain lost colonies. Most of his writing at this time, however, was on technical aspects of animal breeding.
His first book, Das Bauerntum als Lebensquell der nordischen Rasse (The peasantry as life-source of the Nordic Race) was written in 1928. He advocated more natural methods of land management, placing great emphasis on the conservation of forests, and demanded more open space and air in the raising of farm animals. Amongst those who heard and were impressed by these arguments was Heinrich Himmler, himself one of the Artamans.
"In his two major works, he defined the German peasantry as a homogeneous racial group of Nordic antecedents, who formed the cultural and racial core of the German nation. [..] Since the Nordic birth-rate was lower than that of other races, the Nordic race was under a long-term threat of extinction."
As a Nazi Party member
Darre went on to become an active Nazi and in the Summer of 1930 he set up an agrarian political apparatus to recruit farmers into the NSDAP. Darre saw three main roles for this apparatus: to exploit unrest in the countryside as a weapon against the urban government; to win over the peasants as staunch Nazi supporters; to gain a constituency of people who could be used as settlers to displace the Slavs in future conquests in the East. In all he was fairly successful in turning the countryside to National Socialism.
Soon after the Nazis had come to power, from June 1933 to May 1942, Darre served as the Reichsminister of Food and Agriculture, Director of the Race and Settlement Office ('Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt' or RuSHA), and Reich Peasant Leader. He campaigned for big landowners to part with some of their land to create new farms, and promoted the controversial Erbhofgesetz, which reformed the inheritance laws to prevent splitting up of farms into smaller units. He was also instrumental in reclaiming land from the North Sea.
He played a leading part in setting up the SS Race and Resettlement Office, a fiercely racist, anti-Semitic organization. He developed a plan for "Rasse und Raum" ("race and space", or territory) which provided the ideological background for the Nazi expansive policy on behalf of the "Drang nach Osten" ("Drive to the east") and of the "Lebensraum" ("Surviving space") theory exposed in Mein Kampf. Darre strongly influenced SS-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler in his goal to create a German racial aristocracy based on selective breeding. The Nazi policies of eugenics would lead to the annihilation of millions of non-Germans. Himmler would later break with Darre, whom he saw as too theoretical and he was generally on bad terms with Hjalmar Schacht, particularly as Germany suffered poor harvests in the mid 1930s.
Darre resigned in 1942, ostensibly on health grounds, but in reality because he disputed an order from Hitler to reduce rations in the labour camps.
Darre became infamous during the war for the following lurid and chilling excerpt of a speech he was said to have made in 1940, which was reported in Life magazine:
After the War
Darre was arrested in 1945 and tried at the subsequent Nuremberg Trials (specifically, the Ministries Trial, 1947-49). He was acquitted on many of the more serious charges against him, specifically those relating to genocide; but was nevertheless sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released in 1950 and died in Munich on 5 September 1953 of cancer of the liver, induced by alcoholism.
He was married twice: to Alma Staadt, whom he divorced in 1927, and subsequently to Charlotte Freiin von Vittinghoff-Scheel, who survived him. The first marriage produced two daughters.
Darre's writings have proven fairly influential on those modern-day right-wing extremists who also believe in the decadence of urban life and the nobility of self-sufficiency. His two main writings were Das Bauerntum als Lebensquell der nordischen Rasse (1928) and Neuadel aus Blut und Boden (1934), translated into English as "The Peasantry as Life Source of the Nordic Race" and "A New Nobility of Blood and Soil" respectively.
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