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Nazi Cows Loose in the English Countryside?

The Nazis had a number of nefarious plots for world domination and genocide, from occultism to the infamous Sun Cannon (a giant reflector that was designed to melt enemies in midair using the power of the sun) to animal husbandry.

That's right. Animal husbandry. And now, 70 years after the fall of the Nazi regime, there are Aryan cows roaming the bucolic English countryside.

It was the dream of two German zoologists, brothers who wanted to bring back to life the mythic wild auroch, a great beast of Teutonic folklore that was hunted to extinction in 1627. The plan, with its roots in the glorious Aryan past invented by the Nazis, won support from Adolph Hitler himself, who saw the resurrected auroch as the first step towards cleansing the German countryside of "racially degenerate" wildlife.

The two brothers, Heinz and Lutz Heck, crossbred several species of big cattle believed to be descendants of the bovines Julius Caesar described as larger than an elephant; the resultant Heck cows, shorter than the aurochs were believed to be, but sharing the same muscular stature and brown shag, were displayed in German zoos, installed in game parks outside Berlin, and even brought to the shooting estate of Hermann Goering, Hitler's second in command and head of the Luftwaffe.

But the fall of the Nazis was not good to the Aryan Heck cows "“ the cattle, an unpleasant reminder of the Fuhrer's "master race" ambitions, were all slaughtered after the war.

Almost all. Saved from (re)extinction by a Belgium conservation park, the breed now has a new lease on life, 70 years later, here in England. In July of last year, a herd of nine Heck cows and four bulls moved into their new digs at the Upcott Grange Farm on the Devon-Cornwall border, a farm that works to conserve rare and endangered species of animals. Said Derek Gow, owner of the farm and the Heck cows, explained, "The Nazis wanted to recreate the aurochs to evoke the power of the folklores and legends of the Germanic peoples. Between the two wars there was thinking that you could selectively breed animals "“ and indeed people "“ for Aryan characteristics that were rooted in runes and folklore."

Gow says there's nothing wrong with owning Aryan cows and that their Nazi past isn't their fault: "I don't think there is anything more sinister in owning Heck cattle than there is driving a Volkswagen," he told the Independent, adding too that because of the cows' hardiness, they could some day roam England free.

Not quite the Nazi invasion of England that Hitler was perhaps imagining.

Moreover, despite the shaggy evidence of the existing herd, the Aryan cow plan was in actual fact unsuccessful: While the engineered cows resemble the auroch in shape, genetic testing has shown that the Heck cows are pretty far removed from their supposed ancestors. Just another kooky, half-baked and horrifying plan of the Nazis.

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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