In issue #20 of James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds’ Image Comics series The Department of Truth, we learn how the world’s superpowers have jockeyed over reality since World War II, hearkening back to Hitler’s alleged occultism, and we glimpse something maybe even more outlandish — a Nazi flying saucer. Is there evidence for such a thing, or was this also just created from imagination?
Separately, the concepts of “Nazis” and “UFOs” immediately, almost unavoidably, invite attention. Put them together and you’ve got some great pulp fiction, but what’s the real history of the idea?
Its starts with the fact that Nazis were (and neo-Nazis are still today) just plain weird. National Socialist Ideology and Hitler’s thought grew out of a whole milieu of strange counter- and pseudo-scientific ideas and philosophies. Anti-Semitic global Jewish conspiracy hoaxes, secret lodges, the lost continent of Thule, Cosmic Ice theory, eugenics, a worldview based on eternal Darwinian struggle between “races” that were really mere ethnicities, and more, sparked by the trauma of World War I and national defeat. Nearly everything in mid-war pseudointellectual and fringe circles somehow got mixed into Nazi thought.
Plus, Hitler and the Nazis had a great interest in strange technologies and secret projects, to the point that today no one’s entirely sure which alleged secret projects were real or invented. (For instance, check out the P-1000 and P-1500 “landkreuzer” land battleship. Was it a real proposal, a pipedream an engineer designed for fun, or a hoax? No one knows.) With Nazi secret projects, it’s hard to tell fact from fiction, and that’s part of the appeal, of the Nazi UFO image.
And many Nazi projects involved things that flew, like the V-1 buzzbomb, the V-2 missile, and the ME-262 (the world’s first jet fighter). Not quite as successful was the ME-163, the world’s only operational rocket fighter plane ever. It tended to explode on take off or landing, making it more of a danger to its pilots than the enemy. Despite occasional claims to the contrary, the Nazis weren’t terribly efficient, and impartial historians generally agree these secret projects did little to actually affect the course of the war, and instead syphoned resources away from conventional manufacturing and development that could have had more of an impact.
The concept of Nazis constructing and operating UFOs first became widely publicized in the 1970s, an era when a lot of occult, paranormal, and fringe claims captured the public interest. In 1973, Trevor Ravenscroft’s pseudo-historical, Nazi themed, occult “non-fiction” classic The Spear of Destiny was published. Although containing no UFOs, it did have Hitler, lots of Nazis, and plenty of occult, New Agey content, and met with a good reception, making others notice that there was an eager audience out there for this subject matter.
Among the first to tie this in with UFOs was Wilhelm Landig, reportedly a former SS soldier, who in 1971 wrote a German language novel, Götzen gegen Thule (Idols Against Thule), which dealt with Nazi UFOs, a secret base in the Arctic, the lost continent of Thule, and similar themes. Although two sequels followed, to the best of my knowledge, his works were never translated into English and did not attract much attention in the English-speaking world.
Another who seized on the idea was Ernst Zundel, a German-born Canadian resident who also wrote under the pen names Mattern Friedrich and Christof Friedrich. Throughout his life, Zundel worked hard to change public impressions of Hitler, Nazis, and the Third Reich, largely by arguing that the Holocaust never occurred. Zundel seems to have seen the publication of allegedly non-fiction books on Nazi UFOs as a great way to obtain publicity, starting a mail order book catalog and a small publishing house that specialized in neo-Nazi and Holocaust denial literature.
On the off chance that Nazi UFOs didn’t attract sufficient attention, Zundel also mixed in ideas about the hollow Earth, the alleged headquarters of the Nazi UFO fleet. He even solicited funds for a planned expedition to Antarctica to find the entrance to the hollow Earth, and to make contact with the hidden Nazis and their circular aircraft. The result was a 1975 book entitled UFOs: Nazi Secret Weapon? Zundel’s Antarctic expedition never happened, and he ultimately stopped publishing the UFO books, fearing they detracted from the seriousness of his other work, and began focusing on ordinary hate-mongering.
In the early 2000s, investigator Kevin McClure spent some time tracking down the sources of Nazi saucer-shaped craft claims. He discovered that while the reports are widespread, they all seem to have originated with a very small number of extremely unreliable or provably wrong sources. The earliest of these (from 1950) are the claims of Renato Vesco, an Italian (not German) who wrote three books about man-made UFOs. Vesco was a teenager through most of the war, meaning there was little likelihood he’d have access to German wartime secrets. The same pattern was evident with the other claims McClure followed up on. Retconned and elaborated on, but lacking in physical evidence.
Like in the work of WA Harbinson, author of over 50 books, including five fictional and one “non-fiction” book on Nazi UFOs, 1996’s Projekt UFO: The Case for Man-Made Flying Saucers. Not surprisingly, McClure found this one suffered from the same sourcing problems as the other Nazi UFO books, and further asked why a war-era Nazi endeavor would be named “Projekt Saucer,” when “saucer” is not a German word, and “flying saucers” were not a recognized phenomenon yet.
And as if this all this weren’t weird enough, it gets weirder. To some, Hitler grew beyond an inspirational political figure into an actual religious icon, and the Nazi UFOs were not built by World War II Germans, but came here from outer space long ago, bringing the ancestors of the so-called “Aryan race.” Clearly such ideas are far beyond anything envisioned by Hitler even in his wildest moments.
Summarizing these ideas is a challenge, but right-wing Chilean politician Miguel Serrano somehow synthesized several diverse themes in his writings. Serrano was influenced not just by the usual mélange of 20th century fringe ideas like Nazi ideologies and the anti-Semitic conspiracies of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, but also by the ideas of white supremacist mystic Savitri Devi, whose writings taught that Hitler was an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu. Serrano mixed these in with the myth of Hitler’s survival, the Nazi UFO bases inside the hollow Earth, and ultimately the notion that the races of mankind came from very different, extraterrestrial worlds.
Of course, Serrano offered no hard evidence of these wild assertions that not only retcon Nazi UFOs into the events of World War II, but retcon the entire history of mankind, changing our ancestors from early African hominids into space aliens from different planets who bred together and somehow merged into one species. The weirder and bigger Nazi UFO ideas get, the more things get retconned.
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