August 07, 2003

Of Lamas and Nazis: The SS in Tibet--1938-39

[CP-List] Of Lamas and Nazis: The SS in Tibet--1938-39
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mon, 19 Mar 2001 08:08:37 -0800

Hitler and the Himalayas
The SS Mission to Tibet 1938-39

Of all the exotic images that the West has ever projected
onto Tibet, that of the Nazi expedition, and its search for
the pure remnants of the Aryan race, remains the most

On the nineteenth of January, 1939, five members of the
Waffen-SS, Heinrich Himmler's feared Nazi shock troops,
passed through the ancient, arched gateway that led into the
sacred city of Lhasa. Like many Europeans, they carried with
them idealized and unrealistic views of Tibet, projecting,
as Orville Schell remarks in his book Virtual Tibet, "a
fabulous skein of fantasy around this distant, unknown
land." The projections of the Nazi expedition, however, did
not include the now familiar search for Shangri-La, the
hidden land in which a uniquely perfect and peaceful social
system held a blueprint to counter the transgressions that
plague the rest of humankind. Rather, the perfection sought
by the Nazis was an idea of racial perfection that would
justify their views on world history and German supremacy.

What brings about this odd juxtaposition of Tibetan lamas
and SS officers on the eve of World War II is a strange
story of secret societies, occultism, racial pseudo-science,
and political intrigue. They were, in fact, on a diplomatic
and quasi-scientific mission to establish relations between
Nazi Germany and Tibet and to search for lost remnants of an
imagined Aryan race hidden somewhere on the Tibetan plateau.
As such, they were a far-flung expression of Hitler's most
paranoid and bizarre theories on ethnicity and domination.
And while the Tibetans were completely unaware of Hitler's
racist agenda, the 1939 mission to Tibet remains a
cautionary tale about how foreign ideas, symbols, and
terminology can be horribly misused. Some Nazi militarists
imagined Tibet as a potential base for attacking British
India, and hoped that this mission would lead to some form
of alliance with the Tibetans. In that they were partly
successful. The mission was received by the Reting Regent
(who had led Tibet since the death of the Thirteenth Dalai
Lama in 1933), and it did succeed in persuading the Regent
to correspond with Adolf Hitler. But the Germans were also
interested in Tibet for another reason. Nazi leaders such as
Heinrich Himmler believed that Tibet might harbor the last
of the original Aryan tribes, the legendary forefathers of
the German race, whose leaders possessed supernatural powers
that the Nazis could use to conquer the world.

This was the age of European expansion, and numerous
theories provided ideological justification for imperialism
and colonialism. In Germany the idea of an Aryan or "master"
race found resonance with rabid nationalism, the idea of the
German superman distilled from the philosophy of friedrich
Nietzsche, and Wagner's operatic celebrations of Nordic
sagas and Teutonic mythology. Long before the 1939 mission
to Tibet, the Nazis had borrowed Asian symbols and language
and used them for their own ends. A number of prominent
articles of Nazi rhetoric and symbolism originated in the
language and religions of Asia. The term "Aryan", for
example, comes from the Sanskrit word arya, meaning noble.
In the Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures, the term
describes a race of light-skinned people from Central Asia
who conquered and subjugated the darker-skinned (or
Dravidian) peoples of the Indian subcontinent. Linguistic
evidence does support the multidirectional migration of a
central Asian people, now referred to as Indo-Europeans,
into much of India and Europe at some point between 2000 and
1500 B.C.E., although it is unclear whether these
Indo-Europeans were identical with the Aryans of the Vedas.

So much for responsible scholarship. In the hands of late
nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European jingoists
and occultists such as Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, these
ideas about Indo-Europeans and light-skinned Aryans were
transformed into a twisted myth of Nordic and later
exclusively German racial superiority. The German
identification with the Indo-Europeans and Aryans of the
second millennium B.C.E. gave historical precedence to
Germany's imperial "place in the sun" and the idea that
ethnic Germans were racially entitled to conquest and
mastery. It also aided in fomenting anti-Semitism and
xenophobia, as Jews, Gypsies, and other minorities did not
share in the Aryan German's perceived heritage as members of
a dominant race. Ideas about an Aryan or master race began
to appear in the popular media in the late nineteenth
century. In the 1890s, E. B. Lytton, a Rosicrucian, wrote a
best-selling novel around the idea of a cosmic energy
(particularly strong in the female sex), which he called
"Vril." Later he wrote of a Vril society, consisting of a
race of super-beings that would emerge from their
underground hiding-places to rule the world. His fantasies
coincided with a great interest in the occult, particularly
among the upper classes, with numerous secret societies
founded to propagate these ideas. They ranged from those
devoted to the Holy Grail to those who followed the sex and
drugs mysticism of Alastair Crowley, and many seem to have
had a vague affinity for Buddhist and Hindu beliefs.

Members of the German SS expedition. Inner circle, left to
right: Krause, Wienert, Beger, Geer, Schaefer. photo
courtesy Alex McKay

General Haushofer, a follower of Gurdjieff and later one of
Hitler's main patrons, founded one such society. Its aim was
to explore the origins of the Aryan race, and Haushofer
named it the Vril Society, after Lytton's fictional
creation. Its members practiced meditation to awaken the
powers of Vril, the feminine cosmic energy. The Vril Society
claimed to have links to Tibetan masters, apparently drawing
on the ideas of Madame Blavatsky, the Theosophist who
claimed to be in telepathic contact with spiritual masters
in Tibet. In Germany, this blend of ancient myths and
nineteenth-century scientific theories began to evolve into
a belief that the Germans were the purest manifestation of
the inherently superior Aryan race, whose destiny was to
rule the world. These ideas were given scientific weight by
ill-founded theories of eugenics and racist ethnography.
Around 1919, the Vril Society gave way to the Thule Society
(Thule Gesellschaft), which was founded in Munich by Baron
Rudolf von Sebottendorf, a follower of Blavatsky. The Thule
Society drew on the traditions of various orders such as the
Jesuits, the Knights Templar, the Order of the Golden Dawn,
and the Sufis. It promoted the myth of Thule, a legendary
island in the frozen northlands that had been the home of a
master race, the original Aryans. As in the legend of
Atlantis (with which it is sometimes identified), the
inhabitants of Thule were forced to flee from some
catastrophe that destroyed their world. But the survivors
had retained their magical powers and were hidden from the
world, perhaps in secret tunnels in Tibet, where they might
be contacted and subsequently bestow their powers on their
Aryan descendants.

Such ideas might have remained harmless, but the Thule
Society added a strong right-wing, anti-Semitic political
ideology to the Vril Society mythology. They formed an
active opposition to the local Socialist government in
Munich and engaged in street battles and political
assassinations. As their symbol, along with the dagger and
the oak leaves, they adopted the swastika, which had been
used by earlier German neo-pagan groups. The appeal of the
swastika symbol to the Thule Society seems to have been
largely in its dramatic strength rather than its cultural or
mystical significance. They believed it was an original
Aryan symbol, although it was actually used by numerous
unconnected cultures throughout history. Beyond the adoption
of the swastika, it is difficult to judge the extent to
which either Tibet or Buddhism played a part in Thule
Society ideology Vril Society founder General Haushofer, who
remained active in the Thule Society, had been a German
military attache in Japan. There he may have acquired some
knowledge of Zen Buddhism, which was then the dominant faith
among the Japanese military. Other Thule Society members,
however, could only have read early German studies of
Buddhism, and those studies tended to construct the idea of
a pure, original Buddhism that had been lost, and a
degenerate Buddhism that survived, much polluted by
primitive local beliefs. It seems that Buddhism was little
more than a poorly understood and exotic element in the
Society's loose collection of beliefs, and had little real
influence on the Thule ideology. But Tibet occupied a much
stronger position in their mythology, being imagined as the
likely home of the survivors of the mythic Thule race.

Here an SS anthropologist measures a Tibetan woman's head.
Some German scientists believed that Aryan features were
reflected in the dimensions of the skull. (C)Transmit Films

The importance of the Thule Society can be seen from the
fact that its members included Nazi leaders Rudolf Hess
(Hitler's deputy), Heinrich Himmler, and almost certainly
Hitler himself. But while Hitler was at least nominally a
Catholic, Himmler enthusiastically embraced the aims and
beliefs of the Thule Society. He adopted a range of
neo-pagan ideas and believed himself to be a reincarnation
of a tenth-century Germanic king. Himmler seems to have been
strongly attracted to the possibility that Tibet might prove
to be the refuge of the original Aryans and their superhuman
powers. By the time Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in the 1920s,
the myth of the Aryan race was fully developed. In Chapter
XI, "Race and People," he expressed concern over what he
perceived as the mixing of pure Aryan blood with that of
inferior peoples. In his view, the pure Aryan Germanic races
had been corrupted by prolonged contact with Jewish people.
He lamented that northern Europe had been "Judaized" and
that the German's originally pure blood had been tainted by
prolonged contact with Jewish people, who, he claimed, lie
"in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying
on the unsuspicious girl whom he plans to seduce,
adulterating her blood and removing her from the bosom of
her people." For Hitler, the only solution to this mingling
of Aryan and Jewish blood was for the tainted Germans to
find the wellsprings of Aryan blood. It may happen that in
the course of history such a people will come into contact a
second time, and even oftener, with the original founders of
their culture and may not even remember that distant
association. A new cultural wave flows in and lasts until
the blood of its standard-bearers becomes once again
adulterated by intermixture with the originally conquered
race. In the search for "contact a second time" with the
Aryans, Tibet-long isolated, mysterious, and remote-seemed a
likely candidate.

Posted by colin at 08:38 AM | Comments (5)