So, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was right

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Michael Dirda

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.”

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