I’m interested in the weird nexus between anti-Semitism, Esoteric Nazism, fringe history, and ufology. The more I look, the more connections seem to emerge. The first and most obvious connection is through Morning of the Magicians (1960), the French book by Lovecraft super-fans Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels that introduced the modern ancient astronaut theory and served as a direct source of inspiration for Erich von Däniken. The authors speculated on the role of the occult in Nazism and heavily implied that the Third Reich was part of a continuum of secret history stretching back to the arrival of beings from another planet thousands of years ago. The authors specified that Hitler, while evil, had special access to “Superior Beings,” who were space aliens; that these beings were directly involved in the creation of the Master Race; and that there was a powerful science of alien evil that was directly opposed to “Jewish-Liberal science.” They also asserted that Western scholar suppressed Hitler’s connection to the quasi-spiritual aliens in order to impose a materialist, non-magical worldview.
Although the two authors take pains to condemn Hitler as “satanic” and their book is essentially a piece of performance art more than an actual history of Nazism, it is very possible for those already sympathetic to Nazi, racist, or anti-Semitic views to come away with the impression that the authors believed Hitler was possessed of ancient secrets and had had direct contact with anti-Jewish space aliens—and that all of this was a good thing. They also rhapsodized over the coming of the Superman or Superior Being, a concept from Nietzsche but here tied to evolution, to panspermia, and to the intervention of aliens, reflective, of course, of the Master Race sought by the Nazis, This was no coincidence. The authors wanted readers to see the connection, to see in the Nazis a dark mirror of the magical worldview they hoped to resurrect as “fantastical realism.”
It was Bergier and Pauwels who inserted ancient astronauts (via Lovecraft, Charles Fort, and Helena Blavatsky) into Esoteric Nazism, superseding earlier claims (originating in Heinrich Himmler’s occultism) of Nazi connections to Atlantis, Ascended Masters, and pagan religion. All of that was now a subset of aliens and attributed to the Nazis in general rather than to Himmler in particular. They essentially canonized the myth of the Nazis as an occult force.
Pauwels and Bergier popularized the imaginary Vril Society, and it is from their work that the anti-Semitic writer Jan Van Helsing drew his claims for the Vril Society and its role in channeling the plans for flying saucers from outer space.
Pauwels and Bergier, it must be stressed, were neither Neo-Nazis nor anti-Semitic. But those who were one or the other could find much in their work that would support the idea that the Nazis had a special and desirable connection to aliens and the occult—the claim seen most recently on In Search of Aliens was present at the creation of the ancient astronaut theory. It found its first developed expression in the work of Ernst Zündel, a Holocaust denier who has been repeatedly convicted and jailed for inciting racial hatred due to his anti-Semitic writings.
Before we get into that, it’s also worth noting that popular culture had already begun to associate Nazis with outer space as early as the 1940s, and Nazi or Nazi-like figures made for excellent space villains. Star Wars’ (1977) storm troopers have obvious Nazi connotations, but Robert Heinlein published a book about a Nazi moon base and spaceships--Rocket Ship Galileo—in 1947. The concept was reused on Dimension X, a radio serial, in 1950. Star Trek did an episode (“Patterns of Force”) in 1968 about space Nazis, and The Twilight Zone made no secret that some of its aliens and other villains were symbolically meant to recall the Third Reich. (Hilter himself appeared in one earthbound episode.) The novel The Iron Dream (1972) by Norman Spinrad found Hitler writing science fiction and SS clones conquering space.
The point, of course, is that when Nazi UFOs entered fringe history in the mid-1970s, they were drawing on popular and fringe culture claims that were already old. The only really new thing was how the various parts—including postwar claims for secret Nazi bases and Hitler in exile—merged with science fiction, esoteric Nazism, and ufology.
Zündel founded a publishing house in the 1970s to spread his anti-Jewish ideology. To do so, he claimed that Hitler had a fleet of UFOs that were parked in Antarctica. Under the pseudonyms Christof Friedrich and Mattern Friedrich he wrote Secret Nazi Polar Expeditions (1978), Hitler at the South Pole (1979), and his most famous work—one translated into English--UFO’s: Nazi Secret Weapons? (1974). That book claimed Hitler had a fleet of Antarctic UFOs ready to conquer the planet. New Scientist ran a dismissive notice of the book in 1978 but noted that it seemed primed to “leave von Däniken far behind.” According to some who interviewed Zündel, he admitted that his claims were all lies designed to garner publicity for himself and his main body of work, Holocaust denial and Neo-Nazism. Frank Miele, writing in Skeptic 2.4 (1994), quotes Zündel as saying:
With a picture of the Führer on the cover and flying saucers coming out of Antarctica it was a chance to get on radio and TV talk shows. For about 15 minutes of an hour program I’d talk about that esoteric stuff. Then I would start talking about all those Jewish scientists in concentration camps, working on these secret weapons. And that was my chance to talk about what I wanted to talk about.
In short: Antarctic Nazi UFOs were invented as a sexy honey trap to lure unsuspecting audiences into anti-Semitism.
Similarly, in 1978 the Chilean “Esoteric Hitlerism” writer Miguel Serrano also claimed Hitler had a fleet of Antarctic UFOs, though he attributed them not to space aliens but to ancient gods, for he saw Hitler as an avatar of Vishnu and a savior of the human race. Once again, though, Serrano, an avowed anti-Semite, was more or less explicitly drawing on Morning of the Magicians and other 1960s occult literature to form his “Esoteric Hitlerism” philosophy. Serrano, interestingly, met in 1959 with Carl Jung—who in the 1950s famously called UFOs a modern myth, and who also suggested a connection to medieval and ancient sightings—though Serrano asked him not about flying saucers but about alchemy and sex.
This is interesting because Pauwels and Bergier, in Morning of the Magicians, make use of Jung’s theories and ideas to help form their own hodgepodge of New Age nonsense—their fantastical realism. And what did they take from Jung? That there are “significant coincidences” and that “events in no way interconnected may have a causeless relationship.” I think, though, that we’ve seen that the problem of Nazism and anti-Semitism runs deeper—that the connections between fringe history, esoteric Nazism, and ufology were present from the beginning and sometimes used explicitly as cover for promoting neo-Nazi activities in a more palatable guise.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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