The determination of Hitler and his Nazis to take the Aryan myth and
make it real knew few bounds. For this race of super Europeans he wanted
to have animals just as super. To that end he and Hermann Goering came
up with an idea to bring back the aurochs, an extinct species of giant
wild oxen that once ranged over much of Europe and Asia. The results of these
genetic experiments still exist today. In short Nazis had decided to take control of nature and engineer evolution.
It was 70 years ago this week that the Nuremberg trials began in Germany
to sort out the war crimes of the Nazis under the leadership of Hitler. With this anniversary many people are taking a look back and seeing what legacy the Nazis left in their wake. Few people know about these cows.
They now bear the name "Heck Cattle" after brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck, the zoologists that Goering charged with back-breeding aurochs. They had actually become interested in trying to bring back extinct species five years before the Nazis even came to power. They were employing the cutting edge genetics of their time. Lutz Heck cozied up to Goering to gain Nazi funding for the project that clearly fit nicely with the Nazi agenda. The cattle are also often referred to as "Hitler's Cows."
Aurochs are the ancestors of modern cattle and the last known aurochs died in Poland in 1627. Without the genetic science that we now have their work was not exactly a case of Jurassic Park. Instead they worked from the idea that they could back-breed by selecting the desired traits from among existing cattle breeds in the 1920s. They weren't just trying to go back to the 17th century, they were attempting to back-breed the animals back 9,000 years. Their size was five or more feet high at the shoulder and their head would have towered above that.
Goering, Heck, and other Nazi party members appear to have even scoped out exactly where they wanted this new breed of cattle to run free -- the Bialowieza Forest in eastern Poland -- years before the invasion of Poland. This forest now lies on the border between Poland and Belarus. The ultimate plan was to combine this and several other forests into one massive wildlife reserve and repopulate it with German wildlife -- a sort of German Jurassic Park. After years of breeding, Lutz Heck and the Nazis released the new cattle into Bialowieza.
The scientists crossed Spanish fighting bulls, Highland cattle, and primitive breeds from Corsica and Hungary. They wanted these animals to be just as wild and aggressive as the originals and as worthy of the original Aryans they believe inhabited the primeval European forests back then.
The resulting cattle did indeed look the way it was believed that aurochs looked, but they never matched the super-size. The best they could do was the same size as modern cows. Cows that produced weak or feeble offspring were killed, much in the same manner that the Nazis treated those they considered to be inferior human beings.
Earlier this year a farmer in Devonshire, England, who had imported Heck cattle to raise, had to put down almost his whole herd because they tended so aggressive and ferocious that they would attack any human that went near them. He said that the sausage tasted wild, like venison.
Heck Cattle, or Hitler's Cows, no longer exist in the wilds of the Bialowieza Forest. It is unknown how they disappeared this time. They may have been hunted out by partisans and Jews seeking to survive during the later days of World War II or they may have been eradicated by the Soviet Union when they took over the area at the end of the war. Their distaste for all things German at that point knew no bounds. The cattle do still roam freely in other areas of Europe.
Images via Creative Commons/Wikipedia
National Geographic: Hitler's Jurassic Monsters: