The Nazi Expedition to Tibet
Ernst Schäfer, a German hunter and biologist, participated in two expeditions to Tibet, in 1931–1 932 and 1934–1936, for sport and zoological research. The Ahnenerbe sponsored him to lead a third expedition (1938-1939) at the official invitation of the Tibetan Government. The visit coincided with renewed Tibetan contacts with Japan. A possible explanation for the invitation is that the Tibetan Government wished to maintain cordial relations with the Japanese and their German allies as a balance against the British and Chinese. Thus, the Tibetan Government welcomed the German expedition at the 1939 New Year (Losar) celebration in Lhasa.
In Fest der weissen Schleier: Eine Forscherfahrt durch Tibet nach Lhasa, der heiligen Stadt des Gottkönigtums (Festival of the White Gauze Scarves: A Research Expedition through Tibet to Lhasa, the Holy City of the God Realm) (1950), Ernst Schäfer described his experiences during the expedition. During the festivities, he reported, the Nechung Oracle warned that although the Germans brought sweet presents and words, Tibet must be careful: Germany’s leader is like a dragon. Tsarong, the pro-Japanese former head of the Tibetan military, tried to soften the prediction. He said that the Regent had heard much more from the Oracle, but he himself was unauthorized to divulge the details. The Regent prays daily for no war between the British and the Germans, since this would have terrible consequences for Tibet as well. Both countries must understand that all good people must pray the same. During the rest of his stay in Lhasa, Schäfer met often with the Regent and had a good rapport.
The Germans were highly interested in establishing friendly relations with Tibet. Their agenda, however, was slightly different from that of the Tibetans. One of the members of the Schäfer expedition was the anthropologist Bruno Beger, who was responsible for racial research. Having worked with H. F. K. Günther on Die nordische Rasse bei den Indogermanen Asiens (The Northern Race among the Indo-Germans of Asia), Beger subscribed to Günther’s theory of a “northern race” in Central Asia and Tibet. In 1937, he had proposed a research project for Eastern Tibet and, with the Schäfer expedition, planned to investigate scientifically the racial characteristics of the Tibetan people. While in Tibet and Sikkim on the way, Beger measured the skulls of three hundred Tibetans and Sikkimese and examined some of their other physical features and bodily marks. He concluded that the Tibetans occupied an intermediary position between the Mongol and European races, with the European racial element showing itself most pronouncedly among the aristocracy.
According to Richard Greve, “Tibetforschung in SS-Ahnenerbe (Tibetan Research in the SS- Ahnenerbe)” published in T. Hauschild (ed.) “Lebenslust und Fremdenfurcht” – Ethnologie im Dritten Reich (“Passion for Life and Xenophobia” – Ethnology in the Third Reich) (1995), Beger recommended that the Tibetans could play an important role after the final victory of the Third Reich. They could serve as an allied race in a pan-Mongol confederation under the aegis of Germany and Japan. Although Beger also recommended further studies to measure all the Tibetans, no further expeditions to Tibet were undertaken.