Folklore, magicians and “monstrous science”? Nazis weren’t just evil – they were also obsessed with the supernatural under Hitler’s direction.
Eric Kurlander is a history professor who published “Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich” last year. He joined Glenn on today’s show to talk about how a fascination with bizarre pseudo-science and the supernatural fueled the Nazi conviction that Aryans were a master race.
“You’ve never heard any of this before, and it will give you … a new look on what allowed the Nazi movement to really grow,” Glenn said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: If you listen at all to the program, you know that I — I read an awful lot. And I could go through — I could go through two or three books a week, pretty easily. And I thought I would devour this book by Eric Kurlander. Hitler’s Monsters. But this has taken me about a month to get through, mainly because I get sidetracked and start looking up the things that he is pointing out. Because you’ve never heard any of this before. And it will give you a couple of things. A new look on what allowed the Nazi movement to really grow. And grow deep roots for a while.
And also, the fact that, no, uh-uh. No. This was not a Christian movement, which a lot of people like to say, national socialist. Hitler was a Christian. No. Uh-uh. No. No, that was not a Christian movement.
The only guy that has done serious work on the supernatural history of the Third Reich is Eric Kurlander. And he joins us now. And I want to make sure that you understand that this isn’t some guy who is just like, I just did some research. He has his PhD of Modern European History from Harvard. MA, Modern European History, Harvard. BA History. Is it Bowdoin College? I’m not familiar with that.
ERIC: Bowdoin. It’s Belgium.
GLENN: Bowdoin. Sorry. Belgium, okay.
Well, welcome. I’m a huge fan of this book. And thank you for — how many years did it take you to compile all of this?
ERIC: Well, thank you, Glenn for having me on. I really appreciate it. I watched the show many years ago. And Robert Gellately, one of my colleagues at Florida State University was on. I think on a book, comparing Hitler and Stalin to Mussolini.
And I appreciated the way you brought in academic historians into your conversation. So thank you for having me on.
GLENN: Thank you. Thank you.
ERIC: And like many academic monographs, it took me a good eight to ten years from conception to going to archives and doing the due diligence. Reading other people’s work and then finally starting writing, presenting it. And eventually deciding I had a critical mass of information to make my arguments.
And it doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be a reviewer somewhere that is like, well, you could have looked at that or this. But as you point out, it’s pretty dense already. I mean, at some point, you’ve got to say, you’re ready.
ERIC: And get it out there.
GLENN: Yeah. There’s a couple of things. And I want you to kind of lead this a bit. But I want to kind of ask you a couple of questions up front, that I think show the depth of your research.
One, you went and this fascinated me. You went to the detail of looking at books that Hitler had collected and had read. And you looked for things he underlined. And there were a couple of things that — that you talked about. I could only find one of them now as I was looking this morning. But one that he underlined was horror always lurks at the bottom of the magical world. And everything holy is always mixed with horror.
This comes from a book called magic in 1923. He underlined this. And there was also another quote about something about a truly great man has to have the seeds of a demon inside of him.
ERIC: That he did underline the quotes from a page that he had underlined. But he hadn’t underlined that particular quote. And I want to be very clear about this. Because this is an important methodological point. A fellow historian, a journalist who writes history, found the book in the library of Congress, where we have Hitler’s library. And it seems to be underlined and annotated in the way that Hitler had annotated other books. We’re not 100 percent certain that he read and annotated it. But he’s the most likely suspect. So I use this book to represent a kind of cultural milieu in which he may have been thinking. Because it seems that he may have read it. And then I tie in other sources that talk about Hitler, seeming to be interested in parapsychology, magic. Even if he just thinks it’s a way to manipulate people and not an actual force in the universe, he clearly was involved in that kind of milieu. That’s the point I’m making. And it does appear that he underlined 66 passages in that book. But as someone who is not — I’m not a specialist in handwriting. I don’t know for certain that he did. I just want to put that out there.
GLENN: So, Eric, the other thing that I thought would be important to start with, to show the depth of your research was the — I mean, you go back to the 1800s, and you’re really trying to lay out the mindset of Germans at that time. And I was not aware — and you talk a lot about the films that were made, the silent films in the teens and the 20s. And I went back and I I don’t remember which one I watched, but I watched one of these silent films that you pointed out in your book. And it is terrifying. And it is — it — the — the — the distortion of the Jew into a monster or later, Nosferatu, the vampire is terrifying —
ERIC: Right. Right.
GLENN: — that that went on for so long without the Nazis.
ERIC: Right. So a number of film scholars and literary scholars have argued that Weimar because of all the trauma it went through, the way the people of Weimar processed it was through horror. Through expressionism. Through very kind of avant-garde artistic media that were, you know, channeling a kind of return of the repressed, right?
And I try to show the ways in which certain images, monster’s images of the other, right? Jews, Slavs, communists, were portrayed in not an empirical way.
Here’s what’s going to happen to the economy if finance capital does that or the Communists do this. But in a metaphysical or supernatural way, right?
And that’s — and I’m trying to show how that culture proceeds the Nazis. It doesn’t mean everyone who watched horror movies was a Nazi. But their way of processing trauma and crisis, I argue was influenced by a kind of supernatural thinking.
GLENN: How much — how much of this came from the churches — I know the churches in the West, in England, et cetera, et cetera, many of them were really damaged because of World War I.
And the people were kind of shook from that. And they kind of started to see, wait a minute. The church is kind of a political organ here.
How much of this return to magic in Germany came from the churches kind of selling out or not being what churches should be?
ERIC: That’s an excellent question. And you’re not going to want to me to get into too much detail here.
But I will say, is I point out in chapter one, that Max Weber, the famous sociologist, was alive at the time said, clearly the traditional churches in the wake of hyper industrialization, even before World War I, and science, are no longer providing the kind of answers for a lot of people, a lot of younger people, living certainly in cities that they used to provide.
And yet, with this disenchantment of the world, right? People still need something higher than themselves. They need faith in something. If science isn’t going to do it and traditional religion doesn’t do it, what’s in between?
Well, New Age religion, occultism, the so-called border sciences that claim to explain everything, like World Ice Theory, really can’t be proven empirically. That’s a vehicle for faith.
Pulp Fiction, science fiction, and we see that across the West, after the 1890s, and especially after World War I. With the decline in traditional religion. We even see some of the Catholic and Protestant leaders trying to tap into that more grassroots, central way of thinking.
But what I argue, and I guess this is something that as you point out in the intro, it would be reassuring for you as someone who believed believes in the Judeo-Christian ethos in the West, it’s usually to the degree that they move away from that, that they’re open to these new ways of thinking. I don’t find a lot of devout Catholics and Protestants who like — who believe in world ice theory, for example.
ERIC: But they’re compatible because they’re both faith-based ways of thinking. But I do think you’ve got to take a step away from traditional religion, towards what I would call border science, or occultism, in order to find that as your new religion. So you’re right, that while the churches may have made certain concessions to it, or like you say, become too political.
ERIC: I don’t think Christianity, per se, was a bridge to this kind of thinking.
GLENN: And I don’t mean it exactly that way. I mean the absence of that thinking led people to go find something that was different and worked.
GLENN: I want to have you explain border science and things like that, when we come back. And kind of get in and set the groundwork of, what they actually believed and what they used. I mean, the idea that they were using astrologers and divining rods to find submarines is amazing. And eventually the miracle weapons that they were going after, and the reason why, possibly, they did not get the bomb, is — is — is an amazing revelation. And we’ll get to that here in just a second.
STU: The book is Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich. Eric Kurlander is the author. If you’re fan of like those incredible crazy, you know, documentaries they’ve made on this topic, this goes much, much further.
GLENN: Oh, much —
STU: It explains it with real credibility.
GLENN: Yeah. This is — this is Indiana Jones and the, you know, holy grail and the last crusade. It is — it’s, you know, the Ark of the Covenant and Captain America. But it’s the real stuff. It’s amazing.
GLENN: We have Eric Kurlander on. He is the author of a book, Hitler’s Monsters. This is a serious scholarly book about the supernatural history of the Third Reich and what they believed and what they used.
Eric, help me out. Let’s get a couple of definitions. What — define the occult, what does that mean? Is that devil stuff?
ERIC: Right. So I started out thinking, oh, you know, I’m going to look at occultism, whatever that means. And then I realized that occult is a pretty specific meaning to scholars. It’s things related to demonology, witchcraft, certain what I later call border sciences, but really that are linked to things like astrology and dowsing and doctrines like Ariosophy or anthroposophy. These are also things that usually come under the umbrella of occultism, something that is between religion and science, and will help you uncover a secret world or a hidden world. That’s where the term comes from.
GLENN: Pretend I read the book, but still could not get my arms around the osophies. Can you —
GLENN: Can you define those?
ERIC: Right. Excellent question. And, again, these osophies are larger doctrines, which supposedly explain the world in ways that traditional religion and science can’t because they integrate both. So theosophy, which Blavatsky, a Russian thinker in the mid- to late 19th century is this idea that if you study the religions in the East and the kind of practices of the East and unite it with Darwinism and evolution, you can come up with a syncretic doctrine that explains all of world history. So she came up with this idea of root races, the most superior of which lived in Atlantis. Millennia earlier maybe mated with extraterrestrials, and these other races which had various qualities. You know, the early theosophists were not as explicitly racist as the later anthroposophists or ariosophists, obviously with Arian in the title. But they all believed in this idea of root races, that modern biology and Darwinism makes sense, but it’s got to be leavened with Eastern philosophy and religion. And that you can understand the stages of world history through that.
And if you reverse-engineer everything, you can get back in touch, both spiritually and racially with the great races of the earlier period.
And so much of what they were doing was having seances and following certain doctrines to try to get back in touch with humanity when it was at its highest point. You can see why that was attractive to some central Europeans.
ERIC: And the folkish movement. The more racialist political movements and anti-Semitic movements. Because it in a way justified their view of the world.
GLENN: So, Eric, I just want to go back. I was — I was interested to read how much they were into eastern religion. And I can’t remember, was it Himmler that carried around the sayings of Buddha in his pocket?
ERIC: The Bhagavad Gita. It’s not exactly the same thing. But, yeah, Himmler, Hess — Rudolf Hess, the deputy furor, Valter Duray (phonetic), just to name a couple.
GLENN: This would not be something that people would expect.
ERIC: No. But it makes perfect sense when you think about, what is their larger view of the world? Why do they use the swastika? Which is an Indo-Aryan fertility symbol, right?
Because in their mind, coming out of this 19th century supernatural imagery of the first chapter, they recognize that the great races and civilizations — and, of course, we don’t have scientific evidence of this, but that this is their view of the world — all came from these Indo-Arian races, which may have developed in Atlantis or the Hyperborea, some ancient Arian or racially pure Atlantian civilization. But at some point, because of a flood or giant blocks of ice, did migrate East, thereby populating India, east Asia, Japan.
And the reason all these superior civilizations occurred is because of the leadership of the Indo-Aryans, for whom the symbol of the swastika and the religion of Tibet.
Why Tibet? Well, it’s a high point where in a flood, a lot of the high priests of Arian religion could have fled.
And then they’re trying to reinscribe those ideas back into their view of Nordic race and religion in the ’20s and ’30s. So that’s their kind of view of the world. So it’s not that odd. They just skip over the flaws in Jews, right? Because those are subhuman races, are Africa. But Asia makes sense to them.
GLENN: We’re talking to Eric Kurlander, he’s the author of Hitler’s Monsters. It is a scholarly book on the — the supernatural leanings of the Third Reich. And what — what was in the society that made them embrace Naziism. And what did the Nazis use to strengthen that embrace? More in a second.
GLENN: There is a book that is a must-read. But I warn you, it’s going to take you a while, just because it’s so fascinating. You will jump out of the page and go, wait a minute. I’ve got to look that up. It’s called Hitler’s Monsters. Eric Kurlander. A supernatural history of the Third Reich.
This is a scholarly book. You know, this is not Pulp Fiction. It is a deep dive and well-documented on what the Nazis believed and what they did. And, Eric, I want to — I want to clarify one thing with you that I didn’t — I didn’t walk away knowing for sure. And maybe you don’t know the answer, how much of this did they believe or make a pact with, and how much was just being used?
ERIC: That became a central question for me as I was going through different sources.
So one thing I can say, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, believed — truly believed in a lot of these different doctrines. Border sciences like parapsychology, dowsing, astrology. They truly believed that if you did it in a scientific way, you could glean answers that mainstream science and religion would not give you.
GLENN: So he was looking into — Himmler was looking into the holy grail.
GLENN: At the end, he was — I guess you could credit this to Tesla. But I’m not sure if he credited it more to Tesla or to Thor’s hammer.
GLENN: Which was it. Was it Tesla, or was it, he believed, the Thor hammer, electricity in the air.
ERIC: We have the — I mean, one of the greatest historians of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. And other sources, both corroborate him asking his acolytes to look into whether the energies that we associate with Thor’s hammer can somehow be harnessed, that maybe they’re not traditional scientific energies. But something more occult or hidden.
And that’s why certain of the gods had certain powers. He thought he was the reincarnation of Otto the great or Henry the follower, I’m sorry. One of the great medieval German princes.
Many people have noted Himmler’s actual investment in these ideas, as well as Hess. What I find though, and that’s where the real debate comes, is that many other Nazis, Otto Ohlendorf, who led the Ainzgot (phonetic) group in to kill thousands of Jews, he was seen as a kind of — one of these technocrats. Highly educated.
Turns out, he was pushing biodynamic agriculture and anthroposophic, which is an occult doctrine, approaches to the world, as a kind of — not a substitute religion, but as something that could unite religion and science in the Third Reich. He’s not normally associated with those ideas. Hitler had a dowser in the right chancellery to look for cancer-causing death rays. And gave an honorary degree to one of the progenitors of World Ice Theory.
GLENN: Some people — some in the Third Reich said that they found Mussolini through divining rods or dousing over a map. And you document that really well.
Did — did Hitler believe that stuff?
ERIC: So I would say Hitler is — he’s perfectly representative of the Nazi movement and maybe Austro-German society. He’s right in the middle. He clearly believed with some of these doctrines because he had grown up with them, and he didn’t find traditional Catholicism compelling. And he didn’t embrace modern science because he considered it a Jewish science and it was too empirical. But he wasn’t as invested as some other Nazis were, like Himmler or Hess. On the other hand, there were a few Nazis like Heydrich — he’s one of the only leaders I can find who almost never shows authentic investment in any of these ideas. And wants to combat them as another form of sectarianism.
So he doesn’t care what religion, a cult or philosophical doctrine you have, whether you’re a liberal, a communist, or even a conservative, if you’re not a Nazi, that’s potentially a problem. So Heydrich goes after occultists. But many of the other leaders who claim they don’t like the occult, like Rosenberg or Himmler actually just don’t like people who practice it in a way that challenges their beliefs. The minute — by the way, this is the problem with a lot of religion, right? People argue that they have the true faith. The true method or path to the Lord, right?
So what you see in the Third Reich, much like occultism more generally is claims that they’re doing it scientifically. They understand it. These other people are charlatans. And many historians, when they saw that superficially, who weren’t particularly interested in research. Were like, oh, they’re hostile to occultism. And I point out, they’re not hostile to it, epistemologically. They’re hostile to anyone who practiced it in a way that isn’t compatible with their racial ideas, their politics, their propaganda.
GLENN: It actually worked to the West’s advantage to some degree.
The SS Obergruppenführer Kammler, who was — who was really only known for making the crematoriums in Auschwitz more effective, was the replacement for Von Braun in the rocket science department. Because — if I’m not mistaken, wasn’t it because of horoscopes or astrology?
ERIC: We can’t confirm it’s because of astrology. What we can confirm is that Himmler preferred to have SS men who shared some of his approaches to science and politics and race theory around him. More than — than tried and true professionals like Von Braun.
ERIC: And that’s why Speer, as you see in my chapter — the primary sources I have from the archives are Speer reminding the other Nazi leaders, we aren’t going to come up with miracle weapons that are going to decide the war.
This is propaganda. And then you have Goebbels and Himmler and Kammler saying, oh, no, we can do this. With enough will. With enough faith, if we harness the right energies. And clearly, that tips over into the realm of border science very often. It’s not empirical. It’s not something that’s actually feasible.
GLENN: Towards the end, it seemed to really work towards the West’s advantage again. Their race theory and their belief in what you called border sciences.
I was — I was really interested in what you said one of the reasons why we think that they weren’t farther along with the nuke, is because they saw that as a Jewish science. And so it was a little underplayed. And the border sciences, the miracle weapons were — were looked at with possible equal shot of it working. Do I have that right?
ERIC: Exactly. You have two parallel things going on. Obviously, you lose a lot of the best scientists, who may have been, quote, unquote, liberal or Jewish. Right? Many who stay are still top scientists. Heisenberg, Max Planck, right? Von Braun.
But they’re working — they’re doing — they’re carrying out traditional science, mainstream science. And then you’ve got a lot of Nazis, led by Himmler, who has this whole institute. The honoree (phonetic) by the institute for ancestral research, who is frustrated they don’t want to work with his scientists. Who are operating based on folklore. And Indo-Aryan race theory. And want to experiment with hidden electrical energies.
The one thing I’m certain of is that the incompatible of those two cultures, certainly undermines some of their strategic thinking. We know that Hitler and Himmler, because they read science fiction, liked the idea of rockets and, you know, ships and jets. And didn’t think in terms of these more abstruse ideas like nuclear physics, which is not something you can concretely hold or build, but is something they associate with abstract thinking of Jews and liberals and communists.
GLENN: Thank God.
ERIC: Thank God. But in a way — now, I can’t quantify — a lot of the things I bring up in the book, as scholarly as it is, are things that someone else who is a specialist in these areas, armaments, military history, should really pursue, and see to what degree this really did you shouldn’t undermine their war effort. I suggest it did. Speer suggests it does. But, you know, that’s a whole other line of research. Yeah.
GLENN: Eric, I could spend hours with you. I’d love to have you back. Because we haven’t gotten into some of the miracle weapons. And the bell, which, you know, the flying saucer and antigravity stuff that they supposedly were working on, but were really not sure if they were.
GLENN: I’d love to continue our conversation on that.
I do want to switch gears because you wrote another book, which I have not read. It is your first book. And let’s see if I have it. The Price of Exclusion: Ethnicity, National Identity, and the Decline of German Liberalism.
Just based on the title. I have a feeling we would have a lot to learn from that in today’s world.
ERIC: We would.
And the second book, Living With Hitler: Liberals and the Third Reich, which I think you would appreciate most of all. We have slightly different political views. But I think you’ll find the arguments in that book about the way that progressives kind of sold out to fascism, not because they were fascist, but because they saw certain continuities that made accommodation possible, I think you’d find that interesting.
GLENN: Eric, I don’t want to turn you political. But if you had any historic milestones that would be important, there’s — CPAC announced that they’re having the National Front speak from France, which is a national Socialist Party.
ERIC: It is.
GLENN: And I think they’re doing it because they’ll say, there’s lots of things that we do have in common. And we don’t have to take that. And this is a big movement that is happening all around. And any lessons from history?
ERIC: Well, this is — if anything unites the three books I’ve written, which have been written in a time when I would argue our liberal — so-called liberal parties have moved to the right on socioeconomic issues, and then in other ways, embraced values issues. Fights over values.
And our right has done the same thing. What you see happening is an unwillingness for very — we could maybe both agree that it’s the role of Wall Street and government elites who don’t want to fight it out over the actual empirical relates of, how do you get the best health care or the best tax policy? They fight it out over ideology and values. And those values have moved more and more to what I would argue the populist right.
So how do you win elections in America and France and the Netherlands now? You claim you’re going to protect people in ways that can never quite be explained. From global forces. Other ethnicities. Religions. Terrorism. Economic forces that both parties used to embrace, right? Trade. Those are dangerous.
And this, of course, moves both parties — but obviously our right-wing, more than what I call now our center, towards what you used to call, what we now call the alt-right, but we used to call fascism. And that’s very dangerous. Especially in America, you could always trust conservatives to defend the Constitution. To be at least classical liberals, right?
And as you’re pointing out, you can’t always trust that anymore. And if our so-called liberals have to be the constitutional conservatives, we’re in trouble. Right? They’re the interventionists, right? They’re the ones — the progressives —
GLENN: The balance is.
ERIC: — are the ones that want to tear down the Constitution or change it. And now they’re the ones defending the FBI and the Constitution. We have a constitutional crisis. We have a political cultural crisis. I think both traditional conservatives and so-called liberals or progressives could agree with this. And the lessons in history from the ’20s and the ’30s are scary ones about the way this happens.
GLENN: Yes. Eric, I would like to talk to you again. Thank you so much. And thank you for the really hard work. I’ve read a lot of books. And I don’t think I’ve read one that took more hard work than this. This was turning over every stone. And thank you for your hard work. One last question.
Would you definitively say the national socialist movement in Germany was not a Christian movement?
ERIC: When you’re talking about a country of 80 million people or 20 or 30 million who suspected the Nazis, obviously lots of Christians saw something in Naziism, whether it was extreme nationalism, anti-Semitism, Lutheran kind of patriotism.
GLENN: Sure. Sure.
ERIC: But when it comes to the leaders, and here’s where I feel like I’m on solid ground. Those leaders were frustrated by traditional Christianity, which they linked to Judaism and to universalism and to a world beyond the here and now. Which they saw as not helpful in creating a racial ancestor-worshiping blood and soil movement. That’s why they liked Shinto and Hinduism, whether they interpreted those religions properly or not. They saw those as more compatible with creating a religion of the here and now.
GLENN: Eric, thank you.
ERIC: And so in that, I would say they weren’t — the leaders at least were not Christians, by any conventional of the word. No.
GLENN: Thank you very much, Eric. Hold if you would, I would like to talk to you in a minute.
STU: Hitler’s Monsters is the book. Supernatural history to the Third Reich.
Eric Kurlander is the artist. We got to have him back on again. There’s so much to go through on this.
GLENN: I want to talk to him about all the miracles stuff. The bell. Did you even know what the bell is? Just look it up. Just look up Nazi bell. Never heard of it. Never heard of it.
And it’s fascinating. Whether it happened or not, I don’t know.