Thursday, September 29, 2011

Everybody’s favorite Nazi vacuum-cleaner mogul

               Once upon a time there was an incredibly hot Danish model, named Inga Arvad.  How hot was she?  She was named Miss Denmark, 1928.   She parlayed that crown into a movie career, although that career only lasted for two movies: most notably, Flugten fra Millionerne, something like “Fleeing from the Masses”.   She marries the director, a charismatic Hungarian doctor/explorer/filmmaker named Pál Fejös, whom we will call Paul Fejos.
               Fejos has some wealthy friends, including the founder of Electrolux Vacuum Cleaners, a Swedish industrialist named Axel Wenner-Gren.   Axel has branched out from vacuum cleaners to munitions, and some of his biggest clients are the Germans.  Inga decides that she’d rather do journalism than acting and modeling, and through Axel, she manages to get the first exclusive interview with Hermann Göring, Hitler’s right-hand man, and with Adolf himself.  At the 1936 Olympics (the Jesse Owens games), she sits in Hitler’s box and is introduced by him as the epitome of Nordic beauty.
               Inga emigrates to America shortly thereafter, and settles in New York, where she enrolls in the journalism school at Columbia University in 1940.  Her classmates, however, quickly tire of hearing her complaints about the Jews, and they put the FBI onto her as a possible Nazi spy.  When the G-Men break into her apartment, they discover that she has an autographed picture of Hitler on her mantelpiece, and so they conclude that she is not a Nazi spy – because what kind of a Nazi spy would have an autographed picture of Hitler in their living room? – but they decide to keep her under surveillance as a sympathizer. 
               She is still under surveillance, and still married, when she moves to DC to start writing a gossip column for a local paper, The Washington Post-Herald, and starts schtupping the dashing second son of the wealthy former US ambassador to England.  The former ambassador is Joseph P. Kennedy.  The son is John F.
               Suffice it to say, J. Edgar Hoover lived for shit like this.  He gets a hold of Papa Joe, and mentions that his son, in the Navy, is frolicking with this Nazi sympathizer.  Papa Joe mulls it over, and finds only three things wrong with his son’s amorous activities.  One, she’s married.  Two, she’s a Nazi.  And three, she’s a Protestant. 
               So he leaks the relationship to the columnist Walter Winchell, who writes on January 12, 1942:  “One of ex-Ambassador’s Kennedy’s eligible sons is the target of a Washington gal columnist’s affections.  So much so she has consulted her barrister about divorcing her exploring groom.  Pa Kennedy no like.”  The tryst is outed, and abruptly terminated, and Kennedy has his son sent first to South Carolina, and thence to the Pacific theater. 
               Winchell’s column, however, raised an interesting question:  Where was her “exploring groom”, and why wasn’t he at home with his smoking hot Nordic beauty queen columnist wife?
               Answer: Machu Picchu, of all places, with his old buddy Axel Wenner-Gren.  It seems as though Axel Wenner-Gren has some money in US accounts, and the Fed doesn’t like his politics, and are threatening to take it away from him, unless he does something philanthropic with it.  So Axel wants to start a fund for his side interest, Nordic studies, and would like Fejos to run it.  They compromise that it will be named after Wenner-Gren’s anthropological interest, but will be administered by Fejos according to normative anthropological ideas and interests.  And Fejos cables his wife (soon to be ex-wife), “Well, here it is, your first break in the greatest institution of newspaper writing in the U.S.  You made Winchell’s column.”
               Paul Fejos kept the Viking Fund, later the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, resolutely anthropologically mainstream.  He consulted with the great ones at Columbia – Ralph Linton, Sherry Washburn – for suggestions about what to fund, and helped subsidize the development of radiocarbon dating, and disseminating Washburn’s new physical anthropology, etc. – to his everlasting credit, and to that of his successors.
               Because it could easily have been otherwise.  Around the same time, a wealthy textile merchant named Wickliffe Draper was looking to start a philanthropy by which to support like-minded scientists. He called it The Pioneer Fund, and tapped the eugenicist Harry Laughlin to be its first president, in 1937.   Laughlin had been awarded an honorary doctorate from Nazi-controlled Heidelberg University the year before, in recognition of his pioneering work in the field of encouraging the modern state to sterilize its citizens involuntarily.  The Pioneer Fund, throughout its history, has chosen its beneficiaries quite differently from The Wenner-Gren Foundation.  A list of their grantees reads like a Who’s Who of Anachronistic Biological Determinism, resolutely faithful to the principal scientific and political interests of its benefactor, all those years ago.  Its current president is the psychologist J. Philippe Rushton.

Lombardo, P. A. (2002) '"The American Breed": Nazi Eugenics and the Origins of the Pioneer Fund', Albany Law Review, 65: 743-830.

Rushton, J. P. (2002) 'The Pioneer Fund and the scientific study of human differences', Albany Law Review, 66: 207-262.

Tucker, W. H. (2002) The Funding of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

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I should add, old Axel Wenner-Gren sure knew how to make a vacuum cleaner.  My mother bought an Electrolux in 1950, and it still works.

41 comments:

  1. Nice essay John. But Machu Picchu? Is there a link from this story to the Ahnenerbe, a bunch of Von Daniken grade Nazi anthropologists who were scouring the earth's cold places for the origin of Aryans? See Heather Pringle's The Master Plan.

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  2. "Flugten fra millionerne" is better translated as "Fleeing from the millions". It is about a man and woman who hate eachother, but are offered a fortune if they marry - they try to escape fate but end up marrying. Doesn't quite have the Ayn Rand overtones your translation has though. (as an aside I think the movie was recently remade with Ashton Kutchner and Cameron Diaz).

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  3. Wow, I suppose Ford Motor vehicles must be terrible too given the views of Henry Ford?

    The Pioneer Fund of course has had an excellent success rate in terms of funding research that has been published in top journals and been backed up by subsequent studies. The study on identical twins raised apart comes to mind.

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