In only the second episode of In Search of Aliens, it has quickly become clear that the “aliens” in the title are little more than window dressing for what is otherwise a rather amorphous program that orbits around two foci: Giorgio Tsoukalos’s cult of personality and the broadest definition of fringe culture. This episode, S01E02 “Nazi Time Travelers,” focuses on the so-called Nazi Bell or Die Glocke, a device with which I was not familiar before Ancient Aliens started going on about it on various episodes. Tsoukalos, however, descended into the disturbing in this episode, explicitly citing an anti-Semitic book banned in many Europe countries as a source, and asking a man with documented racist opinions to discuss the Nazi Master Race and their achievements. The sad thing is that I don’t think anyone involved on this show—from Tsoukalos himself down to the production staff—has any idea what kind of material they are putting out on the air.
It turns out there was a good reason I hadn’t heard of the Bell. The story of the Bell begins in 2000 when a Polish journalist named Igor Witkowski claimed that a Polish military official showed him secret documents describing the so-called Nazi time machine in 1997. The Bell does not have any independent evidence to confirm its existence, and these alleged documents have never been revealed because, conveniently, Witkowski said he was not allowed to make copies. From here, the story entered fringe culture through the work of Nick Cook, Joseph P. Farrell, and Jim Marrs. The Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, and Ancient Aliens all broadcast speculative claims about the device, culminating now in In Search of Aliens devoting a full hour to a device few outside of fringe culture think actually existed. In short, it looks to be a hoax, or at least a wild exaggeration.
Tsoukalos is devoting this hour to Nazi occult interests and so-called Wonder Weapons, particularly the Bell, using recycled animation from Ancient Aliens. Tsoukalos asks whether aliens were behind the Nazis’ wonder weapons. If so, they did a piss poor job of it.
Tsoukalos opens the show by claiming that some believe the Nazi scientists who were brought to the United States after World War II were “diabolical minds” who brought “secret knowledge that may have had an extraterrestrial origin.” He meets with Witkowski and simply accepts Witkowski’s version of events at face value, which is sad because there is no documentary proof that anything Witkowski says is actually true. The show does not give the audience enough information to understand the threadbare evidence for Witkowski’s views.
According to Witkowski, the Nazis were engaged in Project Chronos, which Tsoukalos says is named for “the Titan god of Time,” and thus refers to time travel. He is following late Alexandrine confusion in which Chronos (Time) was conflated with the Titan Kronos (Cronus), the king of the gods before Zeus. Chronos was a personification of time and not one of the Titans. Although it is a very small point, the confusion over the word Titan shows that Tsoukalos (and his researchers) know very little of the mythology they claim to have mastered.
Witkowski and Tsoukalos travel to “The Henge” near the Wenceslaus mine, a famous 1943 or 1944 concrete ring vaguely resembling Stonehenge that fringe theorists suggest was used as a launch pad for the Bell. The structure is almost certainly the remains of a planned industrial cooling tower at a Nazi research base. “I’m speechless right now,” Tsoukalos says. “I don’t even know what I’m looking at.” Witkowski claims that there is an entire buried city beneath the Henge, and the two men explore various tunnels and bunkers.
Witkowski claims that the Bell was an anti-gravity device caused by a “high energy vortex,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Tsoukalos says that the vortex can be caused by spinning balls of mercury, which he likens to floating UFOs. The show gives us a shot of Witkowski’s book, open to the page where there is a drawing (known to me only from internet postings) of a flying saucer labeled the Vril 9, named for Theosophy’s adaptation of the science fiction substance vril, from Bulwer-Lytton’s novel, The Coming Race. Here’s the hilarious part: Tsoukalos refers to vril as a form of “power in ancient Tibetan and Sanskrit texts.” Yes, the “ancient texts” written by Helena Blavatsky in the 1870s and 1880s, based on an 1871 sci-fi novel. Great work, Giorgio! Witkowski agrees that vril is an antigravity power source.
After the break, Tsoukalos visits a gorgeous building in Lower Silesia that I would very much like to have known more about. Instead, Tsoukalos tells us that it “has been widely reported” that the Nazis were obsessed with obtaining religious artifacts and studying the occult. Well, Heinrich Himmler was for sure, but the Nazis in general? Not so much.
The more Witkowski talks the more obvious it is that his ideas are just a recycled reflection of 1960s fringe claims about Nazi occult science, such as those from Morning of the Magicians. He asserts that the Nazis incorporated ancient secrets into their technology and that they were searching for alien life. Tsoukalos likens the Nazi UFO to vimanas from “ancient Hindu texts.” Just as he did on Ancient Aliens an hour earlier, Tsoukalos conflates the actual Sanskrit epics with a fake one written in the early 1900s. My criticism from the previous hour still stands: Claims for Hindu flying saucers come from the “Vaimanika Shastra, an early twentieth century fraud that falsely claimed to be an ‘ancient’ text channeled psychically from the past. The Mahabharata has no flying UFO-like spacecraft. It has flying chariots and floating cities, and the Ramayana even has flying palaces transporting monkeys.” Tsoukalos sees the flying palaces and flying cars with giant wheels as uncannily similar to modern UFOs. He also likens the shape of the Bell to Buddhist stupas, a claim he made long ago on Ancient Aliens.
This is all silly stuff, but suddenly the show takes a very dark turn. Tsoukalos cites Jan Van Helsing’s 1993 book Secret Societies, and this is extraordinarily disturbing because, as I reported in reviewing an episode of Ancient Aliens years ago, “Van Helsing’s name is a pseudonym, chosen in honor of the famous vampire hunter, because van Helsing believed Jews were bloodsuckers who used the Brotherhood of the Snake to control the world.” The author, whose real name is Jan Udo Holey, had his books banned in France (where he was convicted of inciting anti-Semitic hatred) and other European countries for their anti-Semitic claims. (Van Helsing claims he is not anti-Semitic, just opposed to the stranglehold Jews have over global finance and culture.)
Let us very clearly state this: Giorgio Tsoukalos is citing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who believes in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to “prove” that the Nazis captured a flying saucer in the 1930s. More bluntly: In a show about Nazis, he is citing an anti-Semitic author on the glorious achievements of Nazism. What is wrong with the H2 network? Why do they keep going into the depths of racism and anti-Semitism?
I’m also uncomfortable with Tsoukalos returning to Switzerland (well, let’s be frank: they filmed all the Swiss scenes in the series at once) to speak with Erich von Däniken about Nazis. I am uncomfortable again because von Däniken has expressed wildly racist views. In Signs of the Gods (1981) he once wrote, “Was the black race a failure and did the extraterrestrials change the genetic code by gene surgery and then programme a white or a yellow race?” Asking a racist to comment on the Master Race is rather awkward in the best of cases. I don’t think Tsoukalos has ever though through his sources deeply enough to realize that he’s working with racist and anti-Semitic material.
Von Däniken asserts that stupas are stone copies of flying saucers, but the stupas did not originate as bells but rather as burial mounds. The bell shape is a stylization of the original “heap”-shaped burial mound. Von Däniken bizarrely asserts next that Lord Pacal of Palenque’s famous coffin lid depicts a stupa (!) despite not being bell-shaped. It is, he said, “a flying machine.” You can only make it look triangular by picking and choosing which lines to highlight on the rectangular coffin lid.
“This is all garbage,” von Däniken says. Sadly, he’s not referring to his own ideas but rather to a straw man version of skeptics’ claims that mythology is fictional rather than a literal account of history. So does he accept that vimanas transported monkeys, as the Sanskrit texts claim? Or are those more of the Black people he thinks are a failed alien experiment. As he once wrote, “…in his new environment the black man would also have to lose his curly hair, his prominent dark eyes and protruding lips, otherwise he could never become a white man.” Translation: Blacks are primitive!
Von Däniken asserts that Nazi rocket scientist Hermann Oberth and his colleagues “were studying the Hindu and the Vedic texts, definitely.” He claims Oberth told him that the Nazis were working on a bell-shaped device, but nothing von Däniken claims Oberth said supports the idea that they were actually adapting prehistoric technology.
After the break, Tsoukalos decides to investigate whether time travel is possible. I don’t care about this because it has nothing to do with ancient history, but it’s worth noting that physicist and ufologist Stanton Friedman shows up to give Tsoukalos a lesson on time travel, at a diner in Pittsburgh. This quickly descends into allegations of a U.S. government UFO cover-up, though Friedman claims to have no knowledge of how any of this could relate to time travel.
Tsoukalos wants to know if the Bell is aerodynamic—even though there is no Bell, no proof it existed, and no genuine documents to tell us what its exact shape (if it existed) actually was. Honestly, I skipped this segment because I did not care about watching wind tunnel tests of an imaginary version of the Bell—which doesn’t even match the computer graphics version used elsewhere in the show!
This leads to the Kecksburg UFO event. Why? Because Joseph P. Farrell speculated that the 1965 Pennsylvania fireball was the Nazi Bell shooting forward in time. Ancient Aliens let Jim Marrs ramble on about this in S04E09 “The Time Travelers.” The allegation is that the object that crashed was cone-shaped. Some news reports claimed NASA said in 2005 that the object was a crashed Russian satellite, though those stories have since disappeared. Most skeptics and scientists believe it was a fireball meteor. Tsoukalos does not mention this and allows Stan Gordon to give a wide variety of fringe explanations, including antigravity technology and time machines. In a bit of fringe television circularity, the pair travel to view a model of the Kecksburg “object” that was actually created by Unsolved Mysteries and then gifted to the community. The model, located near the local fire station, is shaped like an upside down acorn, and Tsoukalos says it’s “sort of blowing my mind” because it looks somewhat (but not exactly) like the Nazi Bell (as most rounded cones do). No one mentions that the model was from Unsolved Mysteries, all the better to make it seem to be a quasi-official acknowledgement of the truth behind the crash event.
So, as we sputter to a conclusion, Tsoukalos asks if a Nazi time machine crash landed in Pennsylvania in 1965. “I’m not saying this is what happened, but just the possibility is mind-blowing.” Unwittingly, Tsoukalos seems to have uncovered the raison d’être for science fiction. As H. P. Lovecraft said in the Whisperer in Darkness, “To shake off the maddening and wearying limitations of time and space and natural law—to be linked with the vast outside—to come close to the nighted and abysmal secrets of the infinite and the ultimate—surely such a thing was worth the risk of one’s life, soul, and sanity!” Some people find this release in fiction; others insist that fiction is fact in order to achieve that same level of mind-expanding bliss. And some people pretend that anti-Semites and racists have some good ideas about what the Nazis were really up to.
Note: This post has been edited to remove the name of a Prometheus Entertainment staffer because she informed me she did not work on this particular episode.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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