Friday, September 2, 2011

#63: Hitler's Holy Relics: A True Story of Nazi Plunder and the Race to Recover the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire by Sidney Kirkpatrick

Simon and Schuster, New York: 336 pages

This fuckin' thing was just plain creepy. First, I kept thinking of Indiana Jones. The story finds our hero, Walter Horn, stationed in Nurnberg just after the fall of the city. Horn is a German-born art historian whose family fled to the United States in the 1930s. He took a job teaching at Berkeley, but maintained as many contacts in Germany as was possible. In the meantime, the Nazis push forward in creating an ideology so arcane and bizarre that I have trouble believing any of this crap actually happened. All I have to say is Edgar Cayce did not have anything on Heinrich Himmler. That little SOB with the glasses was a world class freakshow.

The plot centers on the actions and trail of Horn in finding the lost scepter, crown and sword of the Holy Roman Emperors. These were taken from Austria in 1938 and placed in a vault in Nurnberg. While some of the vestments and other relics (Including the Lance used by Longinus to pierce the side of Christ) were still in the bunker in May of 1945, the biggies were gone. This leads Horn and his assistant on a chase after the relics. The story is told with relish, is well paced and has as many twists as your garden variety spy novel.

What separates this book is Kirkpatrick's delve into Nazi Ideology. (Insert Here: "Hitler's obsessed with the occult.") I had always known that the Nazis corrupted multiple religious ideologies for their own aims; what Kirkpatrick presents is almost a complete mythological worldview held by Hitler and his cronies. (Indiana! This is a transmitter! A transmitter for talking directly to God!) If this was a separate book from the hunt for the artifacts, both would stand on their own as compelling reads.

Perhaps the best thing Kirkpatrick does is subtly take on those who believe that Christians are not capable of such atrocities as those perpetrated by the Nazis. Any religion or belief system can be corrupted to serve a powerful interest; the Nazis followed a very distinct corruption of Christian history, and identified themselves as Christians. Were they nuts? No. Were they living in fantasy land? Occasionally, but not often enough to justify that as an excuse.

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