It all began talking with some friends about pulp gaming and pulp literature.
Q: Great pulp villains?
In fact the Nazi as bad guy is not sch a given in pulp fiction – Nazis arrived late to be central villains during the Golden Age of pulps.
Sure, there were a lot of quasi-Nazis, of more-or-less thinly disguised Reich references, in the pulps; such as the fascistic and evil (obviously) Black Police which seizes power in New York in the Norvell Page “Black Police” trilogy, featuring The Spider.
The series dates back to 1938 – and indeed, in ’37, brown shirts and other unsavory tipes were making their appearence on pulp mag covers.
But it was only when the USA entered the Second World War that Nazis made it big in the pulps- and in movie matinee serials.
I havethe suspect that in Britain things were different – I’ve got this hunch that Biggles tackled the Reich earlier than his Yankee counterparts.
But anyway, you know how it happens with pulp fans – you start talking Nazis and Indiana Jones, and two hours later you are discussing the Hollow earth and lost tribes of Vikings fighting against dinosaurs.
Or stuff like that.
And, talking about pulp Nazis and the Hollow Earth, I remembered the infamous SS-Wehrgeologen Bataillon 500 – a German unit which was involved in a series of atrocities in northeastern Itali in 1944 and 1945.
My interest for this unit arises from the fact they were actually colleagues of mine – the SS-WGB 500 was a unit composed almost entirely of geologists, with a few archaeologists thrown in for good measure.
Many of them had a splendid CV, and a long list of learned publications.
Then, they joined the SS.
The unit was founded in 1941 by Himmler himself – already a sign of pulp goodness – and featured a multinational membership: there were German, Scandinavian, Dutch and Italian geologists involved.
The geologists were primarily specialist in underground mining and mining engineering.
SS-WGB 500 operated only in Europe, and had strong connections with the Ahnenerbe (the Nazi-sponsored institution dealing with the past and the Aryan heritage). They were in Holland and inNormandy just before the D-Day, and then they were moved east, to the Italian Alps – apparently to design and set up a line of defecnce to hold the Russians from spilling in the plains of Northern Italy.
One of the main connections with the Ahnenerbe was the unit leader, Rolf Höhne, an archaeologist.
Before he became the leader of the mysterious Geologist Battalion, he was one of the men responsible for the excavations in search of the body of Heinrich the First (the German king Himmler considered himself a reincarnation of), as part of a huge propaganda campaign that was afterwards strangely silenced.
Höhne’s articles on archaeology (and psaeudo-archaeology) appeared regularly on Schwartze Korps, the SS official magazine.
Höhne was the direct link between the Geologist Battallion and the Ahnenerbe, and was a notorious crackpot and a supporter of a lot of weird fringe theories including, you guessed it, the Hollow Earth Hypothesis.
Höhne was also in contact with Bruno Beger and Hernst Schafer, the two anthropologists and SS poster boys that led the infamous SS Himalayan expedition – they were searching for traces of the Aryan ancestors.
Or maybe of the gate to subterrannean Agartha.
Or they were there to steal the Kanghyur (however that’s spelled) – a supposedly powerful tome of Atlantean knowledge.
Great source material for stories and games.
Then, there is the historical detail – whatever their pulp mission could have been, the geologists and archaeologists of SS WGB 500 were involved in two terrible reprisal operations in the Italian Alps – in one case, executing the men in a village, and then shelling the houses from a distance, killing by firebomb women and children.
Luca Valente’s highly detailed I Geologi di Himmler is only available in Italian, but covers the events with precision, and a great documentary apparatus.
And of course, both Bager and Schafer ended up doing human experimentation on prisoners in concentration camps.
Alas, history is a lot crueler than the pulps.