PRAQUE – On March 16, a Norwegian-based online news site, Local NO, published an article titled, “Norwegian ‘witch’ books stolen by Nazis found.” This story was quickly picked up by international media and expounded upon. The Local NO was covering a March 16 conference hosted by a project called “Books Discovered Once Again.” The conference topic was, in fact, the recovery of these confiscated books. However, according to one of the program organizers “no occult books” have been found.Historian and project manager Marcela Strouhalová of the National Library of the Czech Republic called the news reports “Not only exaggeration, but nonsense.” She told The Wild Hunt, “We have small pieces of many masonic libraries […] but we haven´t found any occult literature in them.”
Strouhalová went on to explain that the majority of the books found are from Germany with “3 exceptions of which one of them is Norwegian lodge and includes 7 volumes.” She added that the current 12,000 found volumes had 2,000 different owners, most of whom resided in the Czech Republic. This substantial historical collection was not owned by Himmler or by any single member of the Nazi party.
When asked how the rumor got started, Strouhalová said that she was not entirely sure, but she believes it came out of a misunderstanding of the presentations given by academics during the final seminar held at Stiftelsen Arkivet in Kristiansand, Norway. The title of the seminar was, “The ideological background for confiscation of books in an European and Norwegian perspective.” The corresponding website includes summaries and data from the seminar itself, and some background behind the discovery of the books.
Strouhalová said, “For me the story starts in the moment when the books were found in four Czech castles in 1945.” According to historians and not surprising to most, the Nazis confiscated thousands of documents, art and books from around Europe as part of their attempts to control cultural ideology as well as to study their enemies. These confiscated items were considered dangerous to the Third Reich or, in the case of art, termed “degenerate.”
While the confiscated items were stored in a variety of places, more than a half-million were found in these “four North Bohemian castles – Houska, Mimoň, Nový Berštejn and Nový Falkenburg” in 1945, as noted earlier by Strouhalová. The Czech National Library, after being partially closed during Nazi occupation, was given the task of sorting through and processing these found documents. At the time, many items were returned to their owners, with the exception of those owned by “enemies of the [Czech] state.” This included all German or Hungarian-owned items, and those owned by “national unreliable persons.” National unreliable persons included “everyone who at any time after 1929 as a Czechoslovak citizen had claimed German or Hungarian nationality in the census or had become a member of a group, unit or political party associating persons of German or Hungarian origin.” The large number of held items were then placed in storage, and have remained there until recently.The “Books Rediscovered Once Again” project, sponsored by the National Library of the Czech Republic, the Norwegian institution Stiftelsen Arkivet, the European Economic Area (EEA) funds and the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, launched a discovery project of those remaining confiscated and stored books. While many were German-owned, some were not. And part of the new project, along with cleaning and preserving documents, is the identification of ownership in consideration of all legalities.
As noted in the project’s legal report:
Given the course of confiscations on the spot (and given the rather disorganised activities of the National Committees and the Administration Councils in particular in 1945) and the condition of records and archive documents, it is not possible to positively identify the provenance (original owner) of all confiscated books and thus completely rule out individual, specific situations.
Due to this fact, many are being returned to museums, libraries and organizations, rather than specific people. As noted, “600 volumes of confiscated books were returned to the Jewish Museum in Prague.”
According to Strouhalová, they are processing over 12,000 books, many of which were taken from Masonic lodges across Europe. The Freemasons were considered an enemy of the Third Reich and, as such, needed to be studied. Helge Bjørn Horrisland, a researcher and member of the Norwegian Freemason society, has been working on various projects to help recover confiscated Masonic documents. He is closely involved with the “Books Discovered Once Again” project. Horissland said:
The Nazis confiscated whole collections from the different lodges, and sent these books, documents and other material, to Germany first to get them examined. The intention was to use these books for scientific research as the Nazis looked upon the Freemasons as a Jewish conspiracy, and had a plan to reveal what the freemasonry was about. To some extent this was done, but when the war intensified, these scholars had to participate in the warfare and could no longer be spared to do research on the Freemason societies. The confiscated Freemason books were therefore transported to various storages, also in what was then Czechoslovakia.
In our interview, Strouhalová agreed, saying that that the findings include “common philosophic literature, yearbooks of lodges, some Masonic poems collection and so on.” Again, she emphasized that there was nothing found in the collection, to date, that is considered occult or Witchcraft related.
But, once again, the question arises, how did the rumor begin?
It is very common to conflate all things Masonic with all things occult. The two are western cultural bedfellows as the term occult is used very broadly, and the two often overlap. Included in that broad definition of occult is ‘Witchcraft.’ And, the history of these practices, ideologies and beliefs have circled around each other for centuries, in fiction and in reality. The connection is not a stretch.
However, it is also commonly believed that the Nazi party and its leaders were interested in “the occult,” and that Heidrich Himmler was particularly fascinated with Witchcraft. Some speculate that Aleister Crowley and other well-known occultists had regular audiences with Hitler, and that Hitler’s suicide on Walpurgisnacht (April 30) was magically prophetic. There are speculations that Himmler was staging Witchcraft rituals in his famous Wewelsburg Castle, and that he believed that the “Burning Times” was really a strategic attempt to destroy German culture.
While modern historians have largely debunked most of these theories, the stories do remain, to one extent or another, in our western collective cultural imagination. They are not just limited to conspiracy theorists, Indiana Jones’ films and Dan Brown novels. Additionally, as the Third Reich and its leaders have become, ideologically-speaking, the western world’s symbol for ultimate evil, they have also been aligned with other cultural archetypes of evil – including Witchcraft.
Strouhalová added, “These libraries (masonic collections) were in the holdings of RSHA (Amt VII),” which she believes may have also initially caused the confusion, she said, “Because this organisation was created by Himmler in 1939.” The RSHA (Amt VII), or Reichssicherheitshauptamt, was the Nazi main security office, and Amt VII was the department in charge of “Ideological Research and Evaluation.” This included the confiscation of all “degenerate” works, and the monitoring and dissemination of propaganda. The entire security office, including Amt VII, was controlled by Himmler.
In summary, as explained by the historians, the 12,000 recently discovered documents and books, of which many were of Masonic origin, were originally confiscated by an ideological department found by Himmler.Whether any aspect of the Third Reich was derived from true occult practice and theory, of any kind, and whether or not Hitler and Himmler were interested in Witchcraft is irrelevant to this particular story. Will the researchers one day find Witchcraft books or other actual occult material? Perhaps. But it hasn’t happened yet. If there is a connection between the Nazi leaders and occult practice, it still remains shrouded in mystery. It is left to speculation, the imagination and a modern collective mythology that still rests heavily on medieval Catholic religiosity.
As for the “Books Discovered Once Again” project, the missions statement and explanation of the recent discoveries are described online. Researchers are currently working on providing digital access to many of the found historical documents, as that is one of the aims of the program. When asked how and if the public can view any of the materials, we did not get a response. However, we will update our readers when that information becomes available.