So, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was right
NONFICTION Eric Kurlander (Yale)
Whether you learned about it from watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or, even earlier, from reading Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s European best-seller “The Morning of the Magicians,” who doesn’t now know that Hitler and Nazi Germany were obsessed with the occult?
In “Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich,” Eric Kurlander, professor of history at Stetson University, carefully tracks the fringe movements and lunatic beliefs that swept through Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In partiction ular, he documents the intense interest in parapsychology, New Age fantasies and so-called “border science.”
Some Nazi leaders firmly believed that the Aryan race descended from the aliens who established Atlantis, that Satan was really a good guy and that werewolves actually protected cleanliving Teutons against the ravages and sexual depredations of Slavic vampires.
Kurlander groups all these — as well as the Nazi obsession with the Holy Grail, witchcraft, Luciferianism, World Ice Theory, anti-gravity machines, astrology and pagan religions — under the rubric “the supernatural imaginary.” He begins his study with Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, champion of Ariosophy, “an esoteric doctrine that prophesied the resurgence of a lost Aryan civilization peopled by Nordic ‘God Men.’ ” According to Lanz, in 1909 he gave some issues of his magazine Ostara to a pale, shabbily dressed young man named Adolf Hitler.
Of course, the future Führer may have just wanted the magazine for the pictures, since it was illustrated with — shades of Frank Frazetta! — “muscular Aryan cavaliers defending scantily clad blond women from the advances of hideouslooking ‘ape-men.’ ”
Throughout, Kurlander underscores the dangers of insane nationalism. Georg Kenstler proclaimed — with horrific consequences — that German territorial superiority required “Lebensraum,” or “living space.” Walther Darré affirmed the ultra-patriotic, almost mystical association of “Blut und boden,” or blood and soil. Erik Hanussen, the country’s “most flamboyant clairvoyant,” helped convince “millions of Germans that they were the ‘Chosen People’ and that the downfall of 1918 would be reversed by Hitler’s ability to make ‘the impossible possible.’ ”
Kurlander has written a scholarly book that reveals — to borrow Joseph Conrad’s phrase -—the fascination of the abomination. But he also shows how swiftly irrational ideas can take hold, even in an age before social media.
As the Reich’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, reportedly declared, “If you repeat a lie a thousand times, people are bound to start believing it.”