The Nazis have always made great villains and for good reason. Their twisted philosophies, seemingly all-encompassing presence during World War II, their ruthlessness, and their numerous secret projects have all sort of wreathed them with this ominous air of evil and inscrutable mystique. Throw in stories of unleashing top secret super weapons, occult powers, secret underground lairs, and quests for powerful ancient artifacts and you have the perfect recipe for a mysterious villainous organization. Yet the movie portrayal of Nazis is not always as completely so far removed from reality as one might think. Indeed, the Nazis were deep into research, expeditions, and experiments that are just as fantastic and at times downright absurd as any fiction involving them, and they were involved in the dark world of the weird and the occult to a degree many might not be aware of. Truth is indeed sometimes stranger than fiction, and man’s propensity for evil knows few boundaries. It is a potent combination that makes the reality of the Nazis something at once stranger and far more terrifying than any movie depiction of them. Here we get into strange tales of experiments involving Nazis, super soldiers, and zombies.
Hitler and many of the Nazi leaders had an interest in the occult that is quite well documented, and in fact the Nazi Party had originally started as a sort of occult fraternity in the days before their meteoric rise to a devastating political force. This intense interest in the occult and the arcane led to the significant expansion of a secret cabal known as the Ahnenerbe, which had been originally founded on July 1, 1935, by Heinrich Himmler, who would later become the notorious leader of the SS, along with Herman Wirth, and Richard Walther Darré. The Ahnenerbe literally means "inherited from the forefathers,” and started out ostensibly as an institute dedicated to researching the archeological, anthropological, and cultural history of Germanic heritage, but in actuality it was more to find evidence that would support the German theory that the Aryan race was a superior and god-like people from whom the Germans descended. In this sense, they were more an agent of propaganda looking to find so-called scientific evidence or proof to support their twisted ideologies. To this end, this shadowy organization funded numerous expeditions and archeological digs all over the world in places as far flung as Germany, Greece, Poland, Iceland, Romania, Croatia, Africa, Russia, Tibet, and many others, looking for lost arcane runes, artifacts, relics or ruins that would bolster their claims that they were the perfect race above all others. Tibet was of special importance to the Ahnenerbe, as it was believed that it was here that a mysterious lost civilization existed that had been the origins of the pure, perfect Aryan race and which perhaps still lived in vast subterranean cities.
It was not long before the operations of the Ahnenerbe branched out from their brand of “science” and out into the outer edges of the occult, and perhaps considering the pedigree of its founding fathers it is no surprise. Herman Wirth was a Dutch historian obsessed with finding the location of Atlantis, and future SS leader Himmler had an intense well-known fascination with all things occult to a disturbing degree. In fact, Himmler was somewhat of a crackpot, who had grand desires to one day replace the Christian religion with one of his own making, and he was one of the driving forces behind the Ahnenerbe’s steady divergence from its original purpose and increasing role as a tool of the occult. As this ominous organization pulsed and grew, it fanned out around the world on numerous fantastic quests that seem like something straight out of an Indiana Jones film. They delved into the remote areas of the world looking for lost lands, various ancient relics, mystical texts, magical items, weird curiosities, bizarre paranornmal locations, and strange supernatural artifacts of all kinds. With the official Nazi endorsement and expansion of the institute, the Ahnenerbe expanded to approximately 50 branches dealing with everything from long range weather prediction, to archeology, to ESP research and the supernatural, and substantially stepped up their operations, scouring the far flung corners of the earth in search of a wide variety of such legendary wonders as the Holy Grail, the location of Atlantis, and the Spear of Destiny, with which Longinus had stabbed into Christ’s side as he suffered upon the cross. The group also searched for various portals to other realms, as well as for ancient lost lands, including Atlantis and expeditions influenced by an equally mysterious organization known as the Thule Society looking for a fantastical land called Thule, which was believed to be the true birthplace of the Aryan race and the discovery of which would endow them with vast superhuman powers such as telekinesis, telepathy, and flight, abilities which they had lost over centuries of mixing with “lesser races.”
So far, so creepy, but it doesn’t end there. Their strong desire to find new, secret weapons extended into the organization’s “scientific” divisions, which actively sought to develop top secret new technologies based on ancient lost or forbidden knowledge, mystical texts, alien technologies, and their own secret research. The group was heavily involved with various areas of bizarre pseudoscience, including finding crashed UFOS and the study of far out theories such as what was known as the World Ice Theory, which proposed that Earth had been created when a massive chunk of ice had impacted with the sun and that the planet had several moons orbiting it which could result in polar shifts and cataclysmic disasters. The Ahnenerbe was also interested in harnessing the power of the occult, magic, and psychic powers for use as weapons against their enemies, and to this end there were various programs devoted to such pursuits, including trying to develop psychic assassins who could kill with their minds, using astral projection to spy on the enemy, astrology to help plan strategies, the use of magic spells as weapons, and the divination of the future, among other various such bizarre projects. The organization also allegedly tried to harness the power of runes, a fact reflected in the use of rune-like lettering in the organization’s logo. There has also been much speculation that the group was heavily interested in finding and utilizing alien technology for numerous weapons programs. This may all seem absurd, but none of this was a joke to the Nazis, and many in power fervently believed in these numerous quests and projects, pouring a great deal of money, manpower, and resources into them.
Since these were the Nazis we’re dealing with, of course the Ahnenerbe’s malevolent dealings extended to human experimentation, and there were various sinister experiments to this effect carried out in their dark, secret lairs and laboratories. They performed all manner of experiments on people, testing out different diseases and what different combat conditions would do to the human body. It is somewhat unsurprising that most of these test subjects did not survive these demanding, inhumane trials which pushed them past their physiological limits. The use of human experimentation by the Ahnenerbe did not stop at finding human limits, reviving near dead subjects, the possibly psychic connection between twins, or anticoagulation agents, cures, and antidotes. There was always the desire to improve the human form and create some sort of super soldier as well. One way it was believed humans could become more powerful was by a very selective breeding process to produce “pure Aryan” people, a project which was called Lebensborn and which involved forcing ideal specimens to have children in order to remove “impurities” in the master race which were dampening human potential. The Ahnenerbe believed that this would unlock vast superhuman psychic powers that had been lost long ago due to the dilution of their true heritage and help them once again rule the world over “lesser races.” On many occasions, those who were deemed to be perfect specimens according to the deranged criteria of the Nazis, such as blue eyes, blonde hair, and Nordic features, did not even willingly volunteer to enter the program, but were rather kidnapped or otherwise forced, often taken away from their families.
Yet all of this would take many generations of careful breeding to come to fruition, and some within the organization were looking for more immediate results. One program developed with the intent of creating super soldiers with enhanced physical capabilities and without fear or limits for use in the battlefield involved the use of an experimental drug called D-IX, which consisted of a wild cocktail of cocaine, a potent stimulant known as pervitine, and a powerful painkiller called eucodal. Basically it was super speed rolled up with strong painkillers. It was believed that D-IX would significantly increase focus, concentration, fearlessness, heroism, and self-confidence, as well as boost stamina and strength, negate pain, and reduce hunger, thirst, and the need for sleep. It was first tested on prisoners at Sachsenhausen concentration camp and showed such promising results that it was soon administered to military volunteers. Soldiers were given the capsules and then forced to take long treks over harsh terrain with fully loaded packs, and indeed D-IX showed a dramatic increase in stamina and attention span in the test subjects, allowing them to march nonstop for up to 80 miles before collapsing, although it did lead them to become hopelessly addicted to the drug. Nevertheless, D-IX was considered a resounding success and officially used in the field to a limited degree starting from March 16th, 1944, with only the Allied victory preventing it from being truly mass produced and squashing the ultimate plan to supply the super drug to the entire Nazi military force.
Although D-IX did in fact exist, and did actually seem to work, there are other alleged experiments which are a bit murkier and indeed more steeped in the mysterious. Allegedly an American historian by the name of Jeff Strasberg wrote a book entitled The Secret Weapon of the Soviets, which supposedly delves into super soldier programs conducted by the Soviet Union but also makes mention of some decidedly bizarre experiments carried out by the Germans as well. It is claimed that in 1945, American forces raided a highly secret research facility in Germany that allegedly held some rather strange discoveries. Apparently the Americans found within the hidden lab various bodies from Soviet troops that were in differing stages of dissection, and that these bodies had bones which had been replaced with or enhanced by some sort of steel prosthesis, including one corpse which was claimed to have metal ribs. It would appear from this story that the Nazis had been studying and perhaps trying to duplicate this metal to bone grafting technology that the Russians had allegedly developed. Additionally it was claimed that there were also found the bodies of dwarves for apparent use as pilots which would take up less space and use less fuel. It sounds all very spectacular and certainly creepy, and the tale has circulated widely on the Internet, but one problem that has been pointed out is that the historian Strasberg and his alleged book don’t seem to actually exist. This could mean that it is a totally fabricated story or, as some conspiracy theorists would like to believe, that the book and its author were erased by parties who did not want the information known, further deepening the mystery behind these rather sensational claims.
Even murkier still are the persistent rumors whispered by some conspiracy theorists speculating that the Nazis were even involved with reviving dead animals and even humans through unknown enigmatic means. One interesting tidbit related to this is the finding made on 28 April 1945, when Allied forces captured a munitions factory depot named Bernterode, located in the German region of Thuringia. As some American officers explored a tunnel within the factory, they discovered a brick wall disguised to look like part of the rock which was 5 feet thick. When the mysterious wall was broken down, a vast chamber was revealed containing a trove of an immense amount of stolen artwork and relics, as well as many Nazi banners and a large number of new uniforms. In one adjoining chamber there were found to be four enormous coffins, with three of them containing the remains of the 17th century Prussian king, Frederick the Great, as well as Field Marshall von Hindenburg and his wife. The fourth coffin was empty and held a plaque engraved with Adolph Hitler’s name. Although it is unknown for what reason these remains were being kept for, some have suggested that the Nazis, specifically the Ahnenerbe, had plans to somehow resurrect or clone them at a later time. An Aug 23, 2015 article by Noah Charney for Salon magazine entitled Did Nazis really try to make zombies? The real history behind one of our weirdest WWII obsessions, points to this speculation as being largely a literal interpretation of an article in Life magazine from the 50s, in which it is stated:
The corpses were to be concealed until some future movement when their reappearance could be timed by resurgent Nazis to fire another German generation to rise and conquer again.
This article could have been taken to mean that the Ahnenerbe literally expected to bring their leaders back to life, with all of the uniforms meant for a new army or even some sort of undead legion. Indeed one persistent rumor among some conspiracy theorists is that the Ahnenerbe actively engaged in projects seeking to create mindless zombies to unleash upon the enemy. As ridiculous as it may sound, these would not have necessarily been zombies in the sense that they were raised from the dead, but rather could have been subjects that had been “zombified” somehow. This could have entailed some sort of medical procedure to annihilate intellect and reduce a human being to its very base, primal functions or an engineered virus such as rabies which could turn humans into mindless savages. Were the Nazis trying to raise the dead or create some sort of zombies? The evidence is tenuous at best, yet it is unknown just to what extent Nazi human experimentation reached. What was going on with any of this? Is there anything to it or is it just more Nazi lore? Who knows?