The further an event like World War II retreats beyond people's living experience, the more those left have to rely on imagination to understand Historical fact and, of course, the more we use our imaginations, the more open we become to other explanations.
It was inevitable that, by the time Trevor Ravenscroft's The Spear of Destiny hit the bookshelves in 1973, detailing the Nazi's interest in all things occult, sensationalist stories concerning the true motivations behind what was already clearly an extreme belief system, became a multitude.
Nazi's ceased simply being men and women who lived under a regime that encouraged them to commit atrocity, often at their own volition, and call it right, they become driven by occult forces, pawns in a spiritual battle between the powers of light and dark, possessive of Top Secret UFO technology and their own space programme, decades in advance of the Americans and.... Oh, yeah. They also re-animated the dead as Legions of the Damned.
Of course, we don't believe these fictions, they're stupid, it isn't about belief. We simply indulge ourselves every now and again in the fantasy, because fantasy is what it is and it's easier to deal with than what actually happened. Nothing less, nothing more.
But here's the thing you didn't know. Nazi scientists actually did bring the dead back to life in monstrous experiments. It's not a joke. It's not made up. It's horribly, horribly - real. This is The Truth Behind the Real Nazi Zombies...
5 Hitler, The Nazis And The Occult
The myth that Adolf Hitler was obsessed with both the occult and the pursuit of ancient religious artefacts of supposedly great supernatural power, as in the Indiana Jones movies, largely stems from Trevor Ravenscroft's 1973 book, 'The Spear of Destiny,' which proffers the claim that Hitler started WW II in order to capture the Holy Lance, the spear allegedly used to kill Christ on the cross.
The truth, however, is somewhat more prosaic...
Hitler never had any particular interest in the occult or any topic he deemed "esoteric". In fact, in his Nuremberg speech of September 6th, 1938, he publicly expressed his condemnation of occultism in no uncertain terms: "We will not allow mystically-minded occult folk with a passion for exploring the secrets of the world beyond to steal into our Movement. Such folk are not National Socialists, but something else - in any case, something which has nothing to do with us." - Adolf Hitler, 1938.
During the War Hitler did, of course, both order and was responsible for the systematic theft and plunder of pretty much all of occupied Europe's art treasures, but It was Hitler's deputy, Reichsfűhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who was the one with the obsession with ancient mystical antiquity...
4 Xenophobia Jones And The Bicycle Of Doom
When you think of the sinister Nazi agents from the Indiana Jones films, scouring the world for relics of mystical power, you're thinking of The Ahnenerbe, a research institute founded by Heinrich Himmler, Herman Wirth, and Richard Walther Darré - July 1st,1935.
As well as sponsoring globe-trotting expeditions in an attempt to prove mythological Nordic races once ruled the world, the xenophobic equivalent of Indiana Jones, if you will, the Ahnenerbe would also later conduct unethical and cruel experiments on unwilling human subjects in SS Concentration Camps, such as Dachau. Unlike Hitler, Himmler was obsessed by mysticism. The occult and antiquity had fascinated him from a very young age. A fascination he wove into his personal beliefs concerning history and race as an adult.
He believed wholeheartedly in Aryan and Nordic racial superiority stemming from ancient times and promoted a cult of ancestor worship within the Nazi movement, particularly among members of the SS, of which he became a leader in January 1929. Of course, scouring the globe for ancient artefacts doesn't come cheap, and Hitler's personal antipathy to the subject didn't help. One of the more bizarre ways Himmler managed to finance the Ahnenerbe archaeological activities was bicycle accessories.
In 1936, the SS formed a joint company with one Anton Loibl, a machinist and driving instructor. Himmler had heard about reflector pedals for bicycles which Loibl (as well as others) were developing.
Assuring Loibl, a fully paid up National Socialist party member, naturally, got the patent exclusively, Himmler used his political clout to ensure the passing of a law in 1938 requiring the use of the new reflective pedals, of which the Ahnenerbe (via the SS) received a share of the profits, some 77,740 Reichsmarks in 1939 alone.
All told the Ahnenerbe would grow to comprise of some 52 various scientific and pseudoscientific research institutes beneath its umbrella, overseen and directed by Himmler throughout the course of the remainder of the 30's and continuing throughout the war.
Research that would include bringing the dead back to life...
3 Dachau Concentration Camp
In 1933, just three months after the National Socialist Party winning power in Germany, the SS under Himmler set up the first official concentration camp on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory, Dachau. Before this prison camps had been hasty affairs, mostly run be either police or militia, used to hold and torture political opponents and union organisers.
The take-over and organisational consolidation by the SS with the opening of Dachau was to signify a new era of industrial-scale murder and torture, of which Himmler was its chief architect. During the war years The Institute for Military Scientific Research became attached to The Ahnenerbe, as a consequence, Dachau became one of the main centres for unethical medical research.
Typical of the kinds of horrors perpetrated included tests on behalf of the Luftwaffe, because planes were being required to fly at ever greater altitudes, to determine the maximum height it's safe for a pilot to bail from, and so they requisitioned camp prisoners, placed them unprotected in vacuum chambers and basically watched what happens to a human being at high altitude. Over, and over and over.
Other experiments looked into the efficiency of Polygal, a coagulant made from beet and apple pectin's, by injecting camp prisoners with the stuff and then shooting them in the neck or chest to see how well it worked. In other tests, they amputated limbs without anaesthetic. But it would be the freezing experiments which would prove possibly the most inhuman of all...
2 How The Nazis Learned To Bring The Dead Back to Life
In the end, it wasn't anything to do with the occult that leads the Nazi's to conduct experiments into bringing the dead back to life; it was a scientific curiosity. The Luftwaffe needed to know how long aircrew could survive being shot down in freezing water equally, the ill-equipped infantry fighting on the Eastern Front also needed to know how long a soldier could survive extreme hypothermia and how to protect against the effects. To those ends, Ahnenerbe scientists at Dachau started freezing prisoners to death, first to see how long it took them to die and then how long (and what it took) for them to survive death.
Prisoners were forced to stand naked in the open air at temperatures as low as -6 oC until they froze, others were immersed in ice baths, and then they would find ways of bringing them back to life. Some of those experiments in revival involved dropping the victim in boiling water, and sometimes, briefly, they actually came back long enough to die all over again. Screaming.
All told there were some 360 - 400 such freezing experiments, between 280 and 300 victims of which survived the experiments that initially killed them more than once. And that is where the idea for stories concerning Nazis and resurrection of the dead come from. But it isn't the end of the tale, quite yet....
1 The Inglorious Death Of A Monster
One of the chief "scientist" responsible for much of this, Sigmund Rascher, eventually fell foul of his Ahnenerbe paymaster, Heinrich Himmler, and was shot by firing squad, in the very same concentration camp he conducted his inhuman experiments in, Dachau - three days before the camp was liberated by the Americans in early March 1945.
In a bid to please Himmler personally by "proving" Aryan population growth could be accelerated by extending child-bearing age, Rascher publicized the fact his wife had given birth to three children after having turned 48, a claim Himmler was so impressed with he used Rascher and his family as propaganda to the effect of Rascher's claims.
During her fourth (now) celebrity "pregnancy" However, Mrs Rascher was arrested in the act of trying to kidnap a baby and, further investigation revealed, her three other children also turned out to be either kidnapped or bought. Himmler was a man who took personal loyalty seriously, the Totenkopf insignia he'd appropriated for his SS Officers from the army; he viewed quite literally as to mean "faithful to death". Sigmund Rascher had lied to him. And that lie had become public knowledge.
It's an incredible indictment of the Nazis as a species really that the inhuman things men like Rascher did to once living people in places such as Dachau played no part whatsoever in either his downfall or arrest by the SS, but lying to Himmler (coupled with certain financial irregularities, the possibility that he may have bumped off a former lab assistant and scientific fraud), earned him a death sentence amongst the very same people he'd regarded and treated as nothing more than lab rats.
The SS didn't even bother giving Rascher a trial. Not the right fate, perhaps, but a fate nevertheless, not-in-the-slightest unpoetic. What will, however, remain, forever, in the craw regarding that man and those like him, far, far longer, unfortunately, is the fact the data the Nazi's acquired through unethical experimentation is still used in mainstream medical research even today...