The Nazis went on trips to Iceland, Antarctica, and Tibet, and this is known from history (the Tibetan expeditions can be found here). Since the end of the war, though, there has been a lot of discussion about what the real reasons were for these expeditions. We’ve already said that Guido von List, Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels, and Rudolf von Sebottendorff came up with the Nazi idea of Thule. They thought of it as the ancient home of the Aryan race.
Pytheas of Massilia went on a trip to the north sometime between the third and fourth centuries BC. He got to Scotland and then kept sailing for another six days, probably to the North Shetland Islands. Then he said he had reached Thule, which could have been Iceland or Norway, before running into a frozen sea.)
The idea Thule was Iceland
Volkisch’s interest in the Scandinavian Eddas led von Sebottendorff to think that Thule, which was thought to have been gone for a long time, was actually Iceland. This link to the lost Aryan homeland sparked a lot of interest in the island’s caves and prehistoric monuments as possible places to learn more about their long-ago history and even where they came from.
Peter Levenda says that Alfred Rosenberg, a Nazi mystic, philosopher, editor of the Volkischer Beobachter, and later Reich Minister for the occupied eastern territories, set up the Nordic Society in Lubeck. Rosenberg lived from 1893 to 1945. Members of the society came from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland. They were brought together to protect the Nordic countries from threats from the Soviet Union, Jews, and Masons. In an article in the Volkischer Beobachter on August 22, 1938, about one of the Nordic Society’s meetings, Rosenberg was quoted as saying, “We all stand under the same European destiny, and we must feel obliged to this common destiny, because in the end, the existence of the white man depends entirely on the unity of the European continent!” We must all work together to stop Moscow’s terrible plan to destroy the world, which has already killed a lot of people.
Rosenberg wrote about his Thulean mythology in his 1930 book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century (Der Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts), which was a huge best-seller in Germany despite the fact that most people thought it was awfully written nonsense. (Once in power, Hitler didn’t care much for paganism, whether it was Thulean or not. He called it “stuff nobody can understand.”)
Rosenberg explains why he thinks there was an ancient Aryan homeland in the north:
Geologists show us the remains of a continent that used to be between North America and Europe. These remains can be seen in Greenland and Iceland today. They say that islands on the other side of the Far North (Novaia Zemlya) have tide marks that are more than 100 meters higher than they are now. This makes it likely that the North Pole has moved and that the Arctic used to have a much milder climate. All of this makes the old story about Atlantis look different. It doesn’t seem impossible that where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean now crash and break off huge icebergs, there was once a blooming continent that rose out of the water, where a creative race built a powerful, wide-ranging culture and sent its children out into the world as sailors and warriors. But even if this Atlantis theory isn’t thought to be true, there must have been a cultural hub in the north in the past.
Even though Rosenberg said that the great secrets of a long-gone Aryan civilization could be found in Iceland, most of the top Nazis laughed at and looked down on him, so he was not part of the actual expeditions that went there. Heinrich Himmler gave permission for them to be done through the Ahnenerbe, which is the SS Association for Research and Teaching on Heredity.
Ahnenerbe Research trip to Iceland
Levenda has found a lot of information about these missions, and some of it is in his fascinating book Unholy Alliance (1995). One of these papers was sent to the Ahnenerbe by a The letter is from Dr. Bruno Schweizer and is dated March 10, 1938. It includes a plan for a research trip to Iceland:
Every year, it gets harder and harder to find living witnesses of Germanic cultural feelings and Germanic soul attitudes on the classical Icelandic soil that haven’t been changed by the strong hold of western civilization. In just a few years, the natural look of the country, which has been mostly untouched since the Ur-time in stone and meadow, desert, and untamed mountain torrents, has shown its open face to man and has fundamentally changed from mountainsides and rock slabs to manicured lawns, nurseries, and pasture grounds, almost as far from Reykjavik as the barren coast section; the city itself expands with almost American speed.
Dr. Schweizer goes on to lament the loss of ancient farming skills like forging, woodcarving, spinning, weaving, and dying, as well as the forgetting of myths and legends and the lack of belief in a “transcendent nature.” After talking about the sad rise of materialism that drove people from the country to the city (and gave a bad impression to good Germans! ), the doctor says, “Every year that we wait quietly damages a number of objects, and other objects are ruined for camera and film by modern public buildings.” Only the summer months of June through August are good for the work in question. Also, you have to be aware that it can sometimes rain for several days in a row, which can slow down some photographic work. Because of how the ships connect, you might only be able to go to and from the Continent once a week.
All of this means that the trip will have to last at least 5–6 weeks.
There are a lot of different things that could be done on a research trip to Iceland with a cultural knowledge mission. So, it’s up to us to choose only the most immediate and possible ones. There are many other tasks that should be thought of as extra assignments.
So, taking pictures of people (race measurements) and looking into museum treasures are considered to be extra tasks.
Levenda says in a funny way that it is not clear how the people of Iceland would have reacted to “race measurements” or the “investigation of museum treasures,” which almost certainly would not have stayed in the museums for very long.
Germans have been interested in Antarctic exploration since 1873, when Eduard Dallman led an expedition on his steamship Gronland for the German Society of Polar Research, which had just been founded. Less than 60 years later, the Swiss explorer Wilhelm Filchner, who had led an expedition to Tibet in 1903–1905, planned to lead two expeditions to Antarctica to find out if it was a single piece of land.
Filchner’s plans called for two ships, one to go into the Weddell Sea and the other to go into the Ross Sea. Then, the two groups would go on a land trip and try to meet in the middle of the continent. This plan cost too much, though, so only one ship, the Deutschland, was used. The Deutschland was a Norwegian ship that was made to work in the polar regions. Ernest Shackleton, Otto Nordenskjold, and Fridtjof Nansen helped get the ship. In December 1911, the group reached the Weddell Sea. In 1925, the ship Meteor was used for another expedition. Dr. Albert Merz was in charge of the ship.
Expedition to Antarctica with the Schwabenland
In the years leading up to the Second World War, Germany wanted a foothold in Antarctica, both as a way to show the power of the Third Reich through propaganda and because of the strategic importance of the territory in the South Atlantic. An expedition led by Captain Alfred Ritscher was sent to the South Atlantic coast of Antarctica on December 17, 1938. They got there on January 19, 1939.
The ship for the expedition was the Schwabenland, which was an aircraft carrier that had been used to deliver mail across the Atlantic Ocean since 1934. The Schwabenland was built for the expedition in the Hamburg shipyards at a cost of one million Reichsmarks. It had two Dornier seaplanes, the Passat and the Boreas, which were launched from its flight deck by steam catapults and made fifteen flights over the area that Norwegian explorers had named Queen Maud Land. The plane flew over an area of about 600,000 square kilometers, took more than 11,000 photos of the Princess Astrid and Princess Martha coasts of western Queen Maud Land, and dropped several thousand drop-flags (metal poles with swastikas). The Third Reich took over the area and changed its name to Neu Schwabenland.
This expedition found a number of large, ice-free areas with lakes and sparse vegetation. This may have been the most surprising thing they found. Geologists on the expedition thought that underground heat sources might have been to blame.
The Schwabenland left Antarctica in the middle of February 1939 and went back to Hamburg.
Ritscher was surprised by what the expedition found, especially the parts without ice, and as soon as he got home, he started making plans for another trip. The start of war, however, seems to have put an end to these plans.
At this point, conventional history gives way to strange rumors and guesses about why the Third Reich was so interested in Antarctica. People have said, for example, that the 1938–1939 expedition was to find a place on the continent without ice that the Nazis could use as a secret base after the war. W. A. Harbinson, a writer and UFO researcher, says that during the war, the Germans sent ships and planes to Neu Schwabenland with enough tools and people (mostly slaves from the concentration camps) to build huge complexes under the ice or in well-hidden ice-free areas. Some Nazi scientists and SS troops fled to Antarctica at the end of the war.
Such ideas belong to a field called “Nazi survival”. So, let’s put them aside and look at another important part of the idea of a lost Aryan homeland: a symbol that once meant good luck but was ruined by the Nazis and now means only terror and death.