The Horrific Truth of Folklore in Nazi Germany

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Horror. It’s the balm that helps to relieve the chronically stressed—but we often forget exactly where the concept of horror began. Horror stories are spun from the fabric of the past, present, and future just like all other literary genres. The Holocaust is one such example of historical horror. The Jewish lottery of birth was arguably the greatest cause for fear within this period in history. Antisemitism and the “Big Lie,” that ran rampant within Nazi Germany is where real-life horror began within the twentieth century.

The Holocaust is what most people think of when the topic of World War II arises. That’s not surprising, since most of the war effort focused on ending Hitler’s atrocities and freeing survivors of concentration camps. By contrast, the political environment through which Nazi ideology was spread is not considered as often. Now you may be wondering, what does Word War II, Nazi Propaganda, and folklore have to do with horror? Well, read on friends.

The Horror of Hate Spun from Propaganda

The Nazi Party established Ministry for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment in March of 1933; Joseph Goebbels was then appointed as Minister of Propaganda and he began to execute Hitler’s vision shortly thereafter. German culture was reshaped through the rewriting of folklore and films; one such film, Jud Süss (1940) was rewritten from the British film made in (1934). The original Jud Süss was adapted from the historical novel of the same name. The original story tells of a Jewish man in the 1700s who helped his people by rising to power; inevitably, his enemies destroyed him. Unlike the propaganda film, the original message was pro-acceptance, with narrative on how meaningless racial distinctions actually are.

The British adaptation is of course more true to the original text than the following Nazi propaganda film, wherein Süss is portrayed as a monstrous villain who ends up sexually assaulting a young Aryan woman while torturing her fiance. The original script, which was revised by Goebbels to, “serve the politics of the state,” brought to life the most notorious and vile anti-Semitic film of the entire regime. As a representative of the most foul anti-Semitic propaganda, the German film Jud Süss has been censored from the general public since 1945, only being made available to scholars and historians.

Censorship and the Removal of External Influence

When reshaping the entire body of a culture’s literature, it makes sense to start with the foundation of a culture’s sense of self—that meant starting with the folk tales, the stories that German peasants most closely identified with. The ensuing power struggle came well before the beginning of the attempted extermination of the Jewish people. The National Socialist (Nazi) Party’s recognition of German Folklore as an “excellent means to educate young and old in the spirit of the new Weltanschauung,” that led to the changing of history. The Weltanschauung, or worldview and philosophical view of life, left no room for new culture or ideals that might challenge the progression of a “pure” master race. The new censorship policy affected “every author, artist, composer, publisher, bookseller, librarian, researcher, and teacher, as well as the general public.” New values and policies would obligate them to uphold these devastating principles (Kamenetsky 1977:168).

The National Socialist German Student’s’ Association which gathered together amongst German University students were some of Goebbels’s’ first allies in this censorship program, beginning in the early Nazi movement of the late 1920s. Middle-class, secular student youths were deeply anti-Semitic and ultra-nationalistic, and after the First World War, they became intensely vocal. Their opposition to the Weimar Republic drove them directly into the National Socialist Party, which provided them a safe community of like-minded politically discontent and hostile peers. On April 6, 1933, the Nazi German Student Association’s Office for Press and Propaganda asserted that they would be taking, “action against the un-German Spirit.” Thus, the Weltanschauung brought, “seemingly spontaneous book-burning ceremonies,” to the public in the early 1930s, as well as, “radical cleansing,” throughout all of the country’s libraries of, “undesirable and so-called ‘decadent’ literature,” (Kamenetsky 1977:168).

The Book Burning at The Bebelplatz in Berlin, Germany (May 10, 1933)
The Book Burning at The Bebelplatz in Berlin, Germany (May 10, 1933)

The Book Burning at the Bebelplats

May 10, 1933, sadly marks the most famous book burning in history. In order to have German society mirror Nazi ideologies, they needed to get rid of any “un-German” intellectual influence. Goebbels attempted to instill those influences within the artistic community and culture. Thus the purge of all cultural organizations whether Jewish or otherwise foreign began.

The Voice of the Peasant

During this time of extreme propaganda, there were new editions of Grimm’s Kinder und Hausmärchen printed, and upon their release, they re-emphasized the importance of a return to the ancient cultures and life of the peasant. It is also said that this endorsed the idea of the peasant being the, “pillar of the state,” and Hitler’s public aversion to decadent city lifestyles, despite his private indulgence in such frivolities he wanted to deny the German people as a means of control. Grimm’s tale of Hansel and Gretel comes to mind when considering this conflicting stance—as a tale where a family is stricken with famine, so much so that the evil stepmother is able to coerce the father into leaving their two children in the woods on their own to starve before being able to find their way back home.

The tenacity of these peasant youths is an image that would have been welcome in Hitler’s Germany, one where they overcome the evil witch, which could have been easily replaced with the image of an “evil Jew,” who was there to consume them, albeit not literally. Hitler was even quoted in 1933 saying, “we know from history that our Volk can exist without cities, yet it is impossible to conceive that it could exist without the peasant!” (Kamenetsky 1977:169)

Upon reflection of this kind of statement, as well as the transformation of, “the innocent folktale … into an ideological weapon,” it is clear that, while Hitler’s assertion of the importance of the peasant, he truly intended to drive most of the German people into poverty while the Nazi Party reaped the benefits. Furthermore, he aimed to brainwash his people, starting with the youngest generation through the tales they would be told in their childhood. “A closer examination of the National Socialist guidelines for educators, librarians, and youth leaders, throws light upon the folktale’s role and function in the Party’s indoctrination program for children and young people.” (Kamenetsky 1977:170)

Rewriting an Entire Culture’s Folklore

Re-education was conducted under the guise of bringing the collective mind of the country and to the nostalgic version of their nation’s past. It was a presumed appeal to the best of times, that is to say Hitler’s idealized version of the best of times. Kamenetsky further states that the purity of German Folklore was of utmost importance to the Aryan agenda and that they made tremendous efforts to isolate and aggrandize traditional German Folklore. As a result, it was the Ministry’s attempt to keep these stories from being muddled and decayed by international influence which meant it, “needed a thorough cleansing process to restore it to its original form and meaning,” (Kamenetsky 1977:172). Professor Strobel, a notable figure in Nazi re-education, made an emphasis on removing any “alien,” elements out and can be quoted as having written the following in 1937:

“The aim of folklore is and remains to give an unfalsified representation of that which is true to the Volk. However, a precondition for such a representation is an understanding of the Weltanschauung which is based upon the principle of the blood and on the right faith in distinguishing that which belongs to our race from that which is alien to it.”

Kamenetsky, 1972:226

Strobel believed it was the folklorist’s responsibility to remove any of these foreign elements that somehow sneaked their way into Nordic-Germanic myths, customs, and rituals in order to propagate folklore that would have been as “purely as possible related to ‘the ancestors,’” (Kamenetsky 1972:226). In this respect, not only did the Reich manipulate folklore to suit their needs, but in effect, they also manipulated history to reflect their own Aryan agendas and policies. Truly, they needed to instigate an image of instability for mixed folklore if they didn’t want anything to taint the otherwise noble and superior race they wished to establish. “If we want to walk safely into the future … then [we] will have to walk upon the firm soil of our folklore,” (Kamenetsky 1972:223).

It is true too, however, that the history of Germany was rife with anti-Semitism even before the beginnings of World War II. Martin Luther’s essay, “Von den Juden und ihren Lügen,” is one of the earliest anti-Semitic sentiments in literature, which dates back to the mid-1500s. This essay featured quotes such as, “into the fire, into the fire with the synagogues! Into the stables with the Jews! … let one drive all … Jews to hard labor … No indulgence, no sympathy for the Jews!” So, as you can see anti-Semitism being propagated through folklore was hardly the first instance of literary hatred for the Jewish people and it’s far from the last, but it was possibly the most damaging of all.

And if that’s not truly horrific, then I don’t know what is.

Works Cited

“Big lie.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, edited by Adrian Room, and Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Cassell, 2nd edition, 2009. Credo Reference. Accessed 15 Nov. 2020.

“Fortress Europe.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, edited by Adrian Room, and Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Cassell, 2nd edition, 2009. Credo Reference, http://login.proxy.library.uaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/brewermod/fortress_europe/0?institutionId=5478. Accessed 15 Nov. 2020.

“Jew Suss.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, edited by Adrian Room, and Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Cassell, 2nd edition, 2009. Credo Reference, http://login.proxy.library.uaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/brewermod/jew_suss/0?institutionId=5478. Accessed 15 Nov. 2020.

Kamenetsky, Christa. “Folktale and Ideology in the Third Reich.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 90, no. 356, Apr. 1977, pp. 168–178., DOI:10.2307/539697.

Kamenetsky, Christa. “Folklore as a Political Tool in Nazi Germany.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 85, no. 337, July 1972, pp. 221–235., DOI:10.2307/539497.

Mieder, Wolfgang. “Proverbs in Nazi Germany: The Promulgation of Anti-Semitism and Stereotypes Through Folklore.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 95, no. 378, Oct. 1982, pp. 435–464., DOI:10.2307/540750.

“Nuremberg Rally.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, edited by Adrian Room, and Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Cassell, 2nd edition, 2009. Credo Reference, http://login.proxy.library.uaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/brewermod/nuremberg_rally/0?institutionId=5478. Accessed 15 Nov. 2020

Book Burning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 04, 2021, from https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/book-burning. Accessed 3 Jan. 2021

The Qalupalik: Monsters of the Deep

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

When you think of a mermaid, you may conjure images of a kind-hearted, beautiful half-fish, half-human or the dangerous siren that can lure sailors to their death—however, the Inuit legend of the Qalupalik is a little bit different. The Qalupalik is likewise a creature of the sea, but she is more often thought of as a water spirit, a sea monster, or a demon. In this respect, it is said to be more similar to the Japanese Kappa, a water demon who steals children and consumes them. Folklore recorded from Inuit sources are purposefully vague on whether or not the Qalupalik is the only one of her kind, or whether there are great numbers of these monsters living in the Arctic seas, but she is regularly referenced as being a single creature.

Legend of the Inuit Siren

Qalupalik, the Inuit Siren or Mermaid
Photography by Li Yang

In Alaskan and Canadian Inuit culture, there are Arctic ocean-dwelling creatures known as Qalupaliit (kah-loo-pah-leet)—unlike other mythical mermaids and sirens, there is absolutely nothing attractive about the Qalupalik. Despite the persistent popular mermaid princess culture that surrounds much of the lore of this aquatic creature’s cousins in lore, the Qalupalik (kah-loo-pah-leek) is not described as having any pleasant features, let alone an amenable demeanor. Wraith-like in appearance, her long black hair is perpetually plastered to her sallow, slimy, scaly skin—her ghastly despondent face is paired with her dark and hollow eyes. These creatures are often depicted as having fins that jut out of their heads, backs and arms, and their webbed feet and hands are topped with long sharp claws—all of this is enough to strike terror into the hearts of the children that the Qalupalik preys upon.

The Qalupalik is rumored to reek of sulfur—you know, the smell of rotting eggs? So it’s curious that she would ever get close enough to someone without them noticing, but adventurous children who don’t heed the warnings of their parents are the ones she seeks to claim; she hums beautiful melodies to lure them to the icy banks of the ocean’s shore where she snatches them up and stuffs them in her amauti, a duck-skin coat similar to a parka with a pouch for young children to be carried in. It’s quite normal for Inuit parents to caution their children about the dreadful Qalupalik and they would do so frequently, telling their children that if they hear the humming noise near the shore that the Qalupalik is near. Unfortunately for children, the humming is similar to that of a Siren’s song, as it is meant to entice children to come closer to the shore or out onto the dangerously thin ice.

Those who have sighted the Qalupalik report that these creatures can only be seen for an instant before they are gone, but the child victims of the Qalupalik would not be as lucky. She would leap out from under the water, sink her shark claws into their flesh and drag them forward into the water. It is said, once she seizes a child, she takes them down to the freezing depths of the ocean where she either eats them, or takes them away enchanting them with sleep and feeding off of their youth so that she may remain young forever; the child is never to be seen or heard from by their family again. Alternatively, the child would get a brief glimpse of the face of the Qalupalik, which might resemble a woman’s face that had turned green and bloated from rotting and under the sea—this child would experience their last few moments of life in pain as the freezing water rushed into their open, screaming throat, and feel the blood in their veins freeze as they heard the distant voices of their family, crying out their name.

So what purpose does the myth of the Qalupalik serve for the Inuit society? Well, the harsh arctic environment within which the Inuit people live is terrifying and dangerous; within a community that works so hard to survive, the parents and elders used storytelling as a way of aiding in the upbringing and survival of the children of the village. Essentially, the use of scare-tactics was a way for children to avoid the dangerous aspects of their environment when they were alone,. The story of the Qalupalik was created to encourage these children to fear to be alone near the dangerous shores of the sea, where they could easily fall prey to the natural elements by either drowning or dying from hypothermia.


Qalupalik, Inuit Siren, stalks the shores
Photography by Jana Sabeth

Tales & Traditions: Qallupilluit

The Central Eskimo (1888) recorded by Franz Boas

An old woman lived with her grandson in a small hut. As they had no kinsmen they were very poor. A. few Inuit only took pity on them and brought them seal’s meat and blubber for their lamp”. Once upon a time, they were very hungry and the boy cried. The grandmother told him to be quiet, but as he did not obey she became angry and called Qallupilluk to come and take him away. He entered at once and the woman put the boy into the large hood, in which he disappeared almost immediately.

Later on the Inuit were more successful in sealing and they had an abundance of meat. Then the grandmother was sorry that she had so rashly given the boy to Qallupilluk and wished to see him back again. She lamented about it to the Inuit, and at length a man and his wife promised to help her.

When the ice had consolidated and deep cracks were formed near the shore by the rise and fall of the tide, the boy used to rise and sit alongside the cracks, playing with a whip of seaweed, Qallupilluk, however, was afraid that somebody might carry the boy away and had fastened him to a string of seaweed, which he held in his hands. The Inuit who had seen the boy went toward him, but as soon as he saw them coming he sang, “Two men are coming, one with a double jacket, the other with a foxskin jacket” (Inung maqong tikitong, aipa mirqosailing. aipa kapiteling). Then Qallupilluk pulled on the rope and the boy disappeared. He did not want to return to his grandmother, who had abused him.

Some time afterward the Inuit saw him again sitting near a crack. They took the utmost caution that he should not hear them when approaching, tying pieces of deerskin under the soles of their boots. But when they could almost lay hold of the boy he sang, “Two men are coming, one with a double jacket, the other with a foxskin jacket.” Again Qallupilluk pulled on the seaweed rope and the boy disappeared.

The man and his wife, however, did not give up trying. They resolved to wait near the crack, and on one occasion when the boy had just come out of the water they jumped forward from a piece of ice behind which they had been hidden and before he could give the alarm they had cut the rope and away they went with him to their huts.

The boy lived with them and became a great hunter.


Nunavut Animation Lab: Qalupalik

Nunavut Animation Lab created an animated version of one of the traditional tales about the Qalupalik, just like all of the folklore originating in Alaskan Native culture, there is always a moral to the story. This is an example of one told to children, to inform them of the dangers of not obeying their parents and wandering by the icy coastal waters on their own. Not to be mistaken with her more traditional lore, the video (linked below) describes a circumstance where the child who was kidnapped is rescued by his father, which of course is not what would typically happen if a child were kidnapped by this Inuit monster of the deep.


Mythical Monsters Podcast: Qalupalik

Another excellent resource for this particular mythical beast is Mythical Monsters Podcast who produced this podcast episode entitled “Qalupalik”. Check it out below!


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The Qalupalik by Elisha Kilabuk

The Qalupalik (2011)

An even less traditional take on the legend of the Qalupalik was fairly recently made into a children’s book, but it errs more on the side of child-friendly, where it suggests that despite her frightful appearance, she is rather easily tricked. It’s clear through all of the recent reimaginings of the legend of the Qalupalik that this story is still very widely told within Inuit communities, where the parents and teachers alike share this story with the children of the village in order to protect them from a curious and wandering nature.

The Qalupalik (2011) by Elisha Kilabuk is a mystical Inuit tale that has been reworked from its original well-known narrative. In the original folk tale, the children are always considered the victims and much like the grim nature of the folk tales told by the Brothers Grimm, the story ends without coming to the realization of a happy ending. In this version, we see the new tradition of vulnerable children, or the underdog, outsmarting the monster that happens to be bigger, older, and stronger than themselves; an orphan gets the better of the Qalupalik and survives an encounter with the monster.

This is the first book in the Inhabit Media’s Unikkakuluit Series, which features traditional native folklore being retold in new and interesting ways—while these stories pay homage to the original oral tradition of storytelling, they give the newest generation their own stories to identify with. Despite illustrator Joy Ang creating an incredibly frightening visage for these creatures, her illustrations are incredible and the story they sit alongside can give the meekest child reassurance that even the scariest of opponents will have a weakness that can be exploited.


Works Cited

Akulukjuk, Roselynn. “PUTUGUQ & KUBLU AND THE QALUPALIK.” Kirkus Reviews, Inhabit Media, 7 May 2019.

Houston, James. “Inuit Myth and Legend“. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 04 March 2015, Historica Canada. Accessed 17 December 2020.

Hrodvitnir, Yamuna. “Qalupalik: The Monstrous Inuit Mermaid.” Medium, Medium, 26 May 2020.

INUIT MYTHOLOGY.” Inuit Mythology.

Kilabuk, Elisha, and Sarah Sorensen. “The Qalupalik.” Quill and Quire, 30 June 2011.

National Film Board of Canada. “Nunavut Animation Lab: Qalupalik.” National Film Board of Canada, 2 Dec. 2010.

Oliver, Mark. “11 Mythological Creatures That Reveal Humanity’s Deepest Fears.” All That’s Interesting, All That’s Interesting, 17 June 2020.

Pfeifle, Tess. Qalupalik. 8 Jan. 2019, www.astonishinglegends.com/astonishing-legends/2019/1/7/qalupalik.

“Qalupalik.” Mythpedia Wiki, mythpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Qalupalik.

“Tales and Traditions.” The Central Eskimo: Introd. by Henry B. Collins, by Franz Boas, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology, 1888, pp. 212–213.