While every effort has been made to contact
copyright holders for permission to use other lengthy quotes, this has not
proved possible in all cases. Should these copyright holders wish to contact
the publisher, appropriate credit will be given in future editions.
Introduction: search for a
map of hell
Upon reading this, older readers may be put in
mind of the lurid but enjoyable occult thrillers of Dennis Wheatley, such as
Strange Conflict, which deals with Nazi magical practices in a highly
sensational way, and may dismiss the idea for that reason. Other readers may
well pause to consider the hideous excesses practiced by the Nazis and be
dismayed that the defining tragedy of the twentieth century should be
trivialized by such an idea.
One of the foci around which discussion of Hitler moves is the question of where he stands in the spectrum of human nature.
As the journalist Ron Rosenbaum notes, the very existence of this spectrum suggests an extremely uncomfortable question:
Or is he something else entirely, existing outside the continuum of humanity, evil in some absolute, ultimate way?
theologian Emil Fackenheim believes that such was the magnitude of Hitler's
crimes that we must consider him as representing a 'radical evil', an
'eruption of demonism into history'. (2) Hitler's evil is seen by
thinkers like Fackenheim as existing beyond the bounds of ordinary human
behavior (however appalling). Indeed, to them it is so extreme that it
transcends the field of behavioral science and enters the realm of theology:
in other words, Hitler's ultimate nature can only be completely understood
In summarizing the historiography of the Western Powers, Davies states:
In the post-war years, this contributed to the 'Allied scheme of history' in which the West presented (and still presents) itself as the pinnacle of civilization, morality and altruism. While the numerous reasons why this is far from the truth lie beyond the scope of this book, the attitudes that have accompanied the Allied scheme are of extreme importance with regard to our continuing fascination with the Nazis.
Davies writes of,
It is easy to understand, therefore, how such
defining events (particularly those separated from us by a mere 55 years)
can tenaciously maintain themselves in the public consciousness.
In the course of this book, we shall see that the intellectual fathers of National Socialism, aggressively anti-Semitic Pan-German and volkisch nationalists like Guido von List, Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels and Rudolf von Sebottendorff, cultivated an undeniable and profound interest in occultism, theosophy, the idea of Atlantis as a lost Aryan civilization, and the magical powers inherent in the very blood of racially pure Germans. That Hitler's immediate subordinates themselves dabbled in occult sciences such as astrology is also beyond doubt.
Occultism played a significant role in the
formation and rituals of the SS; and it is also a matter of historical
record that the Nazis embraced cock-eyed cosmological theories such as
Horbiger's World Ice concept (which provided them with an opportunity to
denounce the ideas of the Jewish Albert Einstein).
The concepts, beliefs, attitudes and actions we
shall encounter in this book, however, are based on the opposite notion,
that occultism is a genuine and useful system with which to apprehend and
influence the workings of Nature.
One can easily imagine the thought processes of the writers who have made these claims: the Third Reich was an atrocious aberration in the history of humanity, an utter catastrophe even by our usual bloody standards.
In view of the extreme nature of Nazi crimes, the idea that an evil external to humanity (a cosmic evil) exists and that leading Nazis actually attempted to make contact with trans-human entities in their pursuit of world domination and the creation of an Aryan super-race maybe seen by many as distasteful in the extreme, and demeaning to the memory of those who suffered and died under Hitler's tyranny.
It is an uncomfortable notion, to be sure, and one that, as the British writer Joscelyn Godwin notes, occupies,
However, it is for this very reason that the
idea of genuine Nazi occult power demands our attention: it has become an
important (if unwelcome) aspect of the history of the Second World War and
the second half of the twentieth century.
The prevalence of the Nazi-occultism idea is such that I considered it worthwhile to attempt an evaluation of it - especially in view of the fact that humanity stands on the threshold of a new millennium more or less intact. With the arrival of the year 2000, human culture finds itself in an intriguing position, the nature of which might best be captured by the British writer Thomas De Quincey's statement that the present is the confluence of two eternities, the past and the future.
As we look with curiosity, hope and some trepidation to the new century and the new millennium before us, we will also, of necessity, look back at the thousand years we have just left behind, and in particular at the century that has just ended - without doubt the bloodiest and most violent, but also the century that saw more and greater scientific advances than any other in the history of our species.
And yet, despite the myriad scientific and
technological advances that have carried us to this point in our history, it
cannot be said with any confidence that science itself has triumphed over
mythology. In some ways, this is by no means a bad thing: human beings are
not machines, and a worldwide culture based exclusively on hard scientific
principles would be intolerable to human nature, which is fascinated by
spirituality, mythology and mystery.
When he wrote this, Trevor-Roper was referring to the so-called 'Hitler survival myth', the idea that the Fuhrer did not die in the Berlin bunker in 1945, but somehow managed to escape - according to various versions, to South America, to Antarctica, and even to a monastery in Tibet.
As a historian and British intelligence officer, Trevor-Roper was given the task of establishing Hitler's fate by the then-head of Counter-intelligence in the British Zone of Germany, Sir Dick White. He made his report to the Four-Power Intelligence Committee in Berlin on 1 November 1945, and the report inspired one of the finest history books ever published, The Last Days of Hitler (1947). In this book, Trevor-Roper calmly establishes beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler did not survive the end of the Second World War.
Nevertheless, the Hitler survival myth continued
to circulate, particularly in far-right and neo-Nazi circles, and can still
be encountered occasionally to this day.
When Trevor-Roper's final report was delivered, stating that Hitler had died by his own hand and that all other theories were 'contrary to the only positive evidence and supported by no evidence at all', it drew criticism from some quarters.
Trevor-Roper's use of the phrase 'a possibility of escaping' is interesting and very significant with regard to the present book, since the idea of escaping from a final conclusion to the horror of Hitler resonates powerfully with the fact that Hitler himself managed to escape human justice through suicide. Indeed, as more than one commentator has suggested, Hitler managed a twofold escape: not only did he elude punishment for his crimes but he has also eluded explanation, as noted earlier.
This inability on our part to arrive at a satisfactory explanation for Hitler has been called 'evidentiary despair' by Ron Rosenbaum, who illustrates the concept with comments from historians such as Trevor-Roper, Alan Bullock and the Jewish-studies scholar Alvin Rosenfeld. Trevor-Roper still considers Hitler a 'frightening mystery', while Bullock states that the more he learns about Hitler, the harder he finds him to explain.
Rosenfeld sums up the problem best:
Of course, there have been many attempts to explain the mind of Hitler, to chart the process that took him from unprepossessing Viennese down-and-out to the assassin of European Jewry. Surprisingly (indeed, shockingly), the debate that has continued for more than half a century concentrates partly on the question of whether or not Hitler can accurately be described as 'evil'.
Our first reaction to this might be that it is the easiest question to answer that has ever been posed, to echo Alan Bullock's 'If he isn't evil, who is?'
Nevertheless, the ease with which we seem to be able to answer this question is illusory and, in addressing ourselves to it, we find ourselves grappling with one of the oldest problems of humanity: the problem of the nature of evil itself.
As Rosenbaum reminds us, 'it doesn't matter what word we choose to apply to Hitler', it does not alter the number of people who suffered and died.
It is important to emphasize that to question
the use of the word 'evil' as applied to Hitler is not to minimize in any
way the enormity of his crimes (which were inarguably horrific). However,
our intuitive sense of the existence of evil and the certainty with which we
perceive its presence in Hitler is little help in our search for a
definition of it. Rosenbaum informs us that during the course of interviews
with many historians, conducted as part of the research for his remarkable
Explaining Hitler: The Search For the Origins of His Evil, he
discovered to his surprise that many were reluctant to call Adolf Hitler
Trevor-Roper's answer was an emphatic No: Hitler was convinced of his own rectitude.
Although his deeds reached an extreme of awfulness, he committed them in the deluded belief that they were right. Rosenbaum also points out that the assumption that Jewish people themselves might be expected to be the first to reject this 'rectitude argument' is also flawed, as evidenced by the statement of Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Jerusalem headquarters, and the chief Nazi-hunter in Israel.
When asked if he thought Hitler was conscious he was doing wrong, Zuroff almost shouted:
The acceptance by many historians of the rectitude argument leads Rosenbaum to a tentative and very interesting conclusion:
Allied to this is the so-called Great Abstraction Theory of history, which places emphasis on profound and inevitable trends at the expense of the activities of single personalities as formulated in the now-unfashionable Great Man Theory.
According to the Great Abstraction Theory:
The alternative, which is considered unthinkable
by many historians and philosophers, is that a single human being wanted to
bring about the Holocaust - a human being ... a member of our species. (The
reader may detect a similarity between this notion and the reluctance by
some to allow Hitler to be placed within the continuum of human behavior
According to Yehuda Bauer, a founder of the discipline of Holocaust Studies, while it is possible in theory to explain Hitler, it may well be too late.
The deaths of crucial witnesses and the loss of
important documents may have resulted in our eternal separation from the
means to answer the question, to draw an accurate map of the hell Hitler
created on Earth.
This resulted in a desire for murderous
vengeance against the Jews. Yet another theory suggests that the death of
Hitler's mother in 1907 was in some way made more painful by the malpractice
of her Jewish doctor, Eduard Bloch, for which Hitler, once again, exacted
Interestingly, this search has also generated a mythology of its own, revolving around what Rosenbaum calls,
This mythology was inspired by real events in
Munich in 1933, when Fritz Gerlich, the last anti-Hitler journalist
in that city, made a desperate attempt to alert the world to the true nature
of Hitler by means of a report of an unspecified scandal. On 9 March, just
as Gerlich's newspaper, Der Gerade Weg, was about to go to press, SA storm
troopers entered the premises and ripped it from the presses.
According to Gerlich's biographer Erwin von
Aretin, however, Waldburg-Zeil destroyed them during the war, fearful of
what might happen should they be discovered by the Nazi authorities.
For the sake of security, he had not told anyone
the number of the safe-deposit-box account.
There is, for instance, the account given by a German novelist named Ernst Weiss, according to which the voice Hitler claimed to have heard while recovering from war injuries in a hospital at Pasewalk summoning him to a mission to avenge Germany following her surrender in 1918, was actually that of Dr Edmund Forster, a staff psychiatrist at the hospital.
Weiss, who apparently befriended Forster, claimed that the psychiatrist
discovered a dreadful secret during the course of Hitler's treatment, a
secret with the potential to unlock the future Fuhrer's psyche and which
Forster took with him when he fled Germany in 1933. Shortly before his
suicide (to which he was driven by the Gestapo), Forster took his Pasewalk
case notes to Switzerland and placed them in a safe-deposit box in a bank in
Basel. As an added security measure, Forster rewrote the notes in a cipher
of his own devising, the key to which he took to his grave.
Yes, something is missing, but if we don't have the missing piece in hand, at least it exists somewhere.
At least somewhere there's the lost key that
could make sense of the apparently motiveless malignancy of Hitler's psyche
... A missing piece, however mundane or bizarre ... but something here on
earth, something we can contain in our imagination, something safely
containable within the reassuring confines of a box in a Swiss bank.
Something not beyond our ken, just beyond our reach, something less
unbearably frightening than inexplicable evil. (16)
Nevertheless, in the decades since the end of
the Second World War, an elaborate mythology has developed around this very
concept, the details of which (as lurid as they are unsubstantiated) have
been presented in a number of popular books, mainly in the 1960s and early
An interest in occultism and Spiritualism became a great comfort to those who had lost loved ones either overseas or in the Blitz, since it held the potential to establish for them the reality of an afterlife, a world of the spirit where their sufferings would be at an end, replaced by ultimate peace and love. For many people with an interest in esotericism, it became evident that the war was very much a war between Good and Evil in the cosmic sense: a battle between the powers of Light and Darkness. The Nazis were using (or perhaps being used by) monstrous occult powers, and the only way to have even a chance of stopping them was to employ the opposing magical powers of goodness and love.
This the Spiritualist community did, paying
special attention to British pilots fighting in the Battle of Britain. It is
a little-known fact that there was an additional battle being waged at the
time, by Spiritualists giving psychic aid to the brave pilots defending the
nation's skies. This came to be known as the Magical Battle of Britain.
Another coven travelled to the Hampshire coast
with the intention of raising a magical cone of power that would turn back
the advancing forces of Darkness. Indeed, magical operations were carried
out by covens all over the country, concentrating on the idea of confusing
the minds of Hitler's High Command and making them think that to invade
Britain would be too difficult. (In the autumn of 1940, the invasion of
Britain was postponed indefinitely.)
will become clear in the course of the book, I hope, that the latter
concept, while far less verifiable in historical terms, is nevertheless of
considerable importance in the mythology of the twentieth century and the
manner in which we view reality today.
However, as the reader proceeds through the
book, it will also become clear that ideas about the involvement of leading
Nazis with occultism and black magic grow more outlandish and less
believable, particularly when presented by writers who have little or no
official training in the history of fascism and the Second World War.
Just as the Nazis mythologized the history of
their so-called 'Aryan' ancestors in order to legitimize (in their own
minds, at least) their claims to racial superiority, so they themselves
have, to a great extent, been mythologized by writers in the fields of
occultism and conspiracy theory.
In Chapter Two, we will concentrate on the bizarre mythology
adopted by the Nazis, which centered on the idea of a lost Aryan homeland in
the far North, and will examine the occult origin of the swastika.
With Chapter Three, we find ourselves departing from this path of respectability and entering what the French writers Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier call the Absolute Elsewhere: an intellectual realm of extreme notions that is the equivalent of Godwin's 'twilight zone between fact and fiction'.
Much of the remainder of this book will deal with these notions, not through any misguided belief in their veracity but rather in an attempt to establish the reasons for their inclusion in the mythology that has been imposed upon the history of the Third Reich in the last five decades. Chapter Three, therefore, will introduce us to the mysterious Vril Society and its use of a vast and hidden power known as 'vril' and said to be wielded by a race of subterranean superhumans.
In Chapter Four we will travel to Tibet to examine the curious notion that the Nazis were in contact with certain high lamas, through whom they intended to ally themselves with the powerful race living beneath the Himalayas. Chapter Five will be devoted to an examination of one of the most enduring myths regarding Nazi occult power: that of Hitler's quest for the so-called Spear of Destiny, the Holy Lance said to have pierced the side of Christ during the crucifixion and whose possession would enable those who understood its mysteries to control the world.
In Chapter Six we will chart the origins and
ritual practices of the SS and attempt to establish how much of what has
been written regarding its use of black magic is true. Chapter Seven will
see us plunging ever deeper into the Absolute Elsewhere, where we will
encounter the fantastic principles of Nazi cosmology, including the theory
that the Earth is hollow (a theory that has enjoyed more or less constant
currency in certain UFO circles - the fringe of the fringe, one might say).
I have included this subject because it provides a connection between the alleged occult philosophy of the Third Reich and the sinister but increasingly popular concept of Nazi survival to the present day. It has been suggested by a number of researchers and commentators that modern sightings of UFOs (unidentified flying objects) may be due to the development by America and Russia of captured Nazi secret weapon designs.
It is certainly beyond dispute that both Allied
and German air crews encountered highly unusual aerial phenomena over Europe
in the form of small (three- to four-foot diameter) illuminated spheres,
which appeared to follow their fighters and bombers and interfered with the
electrical systems of the aircraft.
Finally, in the Conclusion we will attempt a summing up of
the material we have covered.
The structure of belief we will be discussing is thus twofold: on the one hand, we can identify the pernicious esotericism of the Nazis themselves and the revolting cruelties it engendered; and on the other, the modern mythological system that has developed in the years since the end of the Second World War, and which has Nazi occultist beliefs as its starting point.
Readers will find themselves embarking on a journey into realms both outré and unsettling; we will of necessity be exploring concepts from which most academics would turn away with the utmost disdain. We will look at claims and beliefs that most rational people would find it hard to accept anyone could seriously entertain - were it not for the atrocities committed in their name that have irreparably demeaned our species.
And we will see how the frightful and irrational
concepts of Nazi mysticism and pseudoscience have survived to the present
day to cast a fearsome shadow over the future.