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Otto Rahn – Otto Skorzeny Raiders of the Found Ark?

Otto Rahn

The founders of the Third Reich were esoterically involved with matters which unavoidably skirt the mysteries associated with the valley of Rennes-le-Chateau. Their interests were not however, confined to the ephemeral, there is evidence of the tenacity with which they pursued the material associations of the valley. Many assorted books on Rennes-le-Chateau mention that a battalion of German mining engineers made excavations in the area during World War Two.

The trail leads to one Otto Rahn, a German, born in 1904 at Michelstadt, Germany. He attended university in Berlin, where he studied literature and philology (the science of language). During his youth, Otto Rahn had been attracted to studying in depth Wolfram von Eschenbach's Grail romance, Parzifal and the history of the Cathars. He became particularly intrigued by the mention of the Holy Grail being concealed, according to Parzifal, in the Holy mountain of Montsalvat. This was significant, especially when Rahn discovered that the Cathar stronghold of Montsegur boasted a nearby gigantic cave known as Montsalvat. He was at least intrigued enough to devote much time and energy in checking out the coincidence.

Although Eschenbach could allegedly neither read nor write, the Parzifal story had been passed down through the years by the 'Minnesingers', troubadours or minstrels of the medieval times. At any rate the records show that the story was first written down between 1200 and 1210, at least 33 years before the siege of Montsegur.

After many deliberations over the story, it would seem that Otto Rahn reached the conclusion that the Montsalvat of the Grail poem was in reality the Montsegur of the Cathars and he decided to visit the area to continue his research.

During his travels to the region, checking out leads to the Holy Grail, German folk legends and the history of the Cathars, he came across an elderl; former Austrian Army colonel, Karl Maria Wiligut-Weisthor, an expert in Germanic and pre-medieval history, runes, legends, magic and the occult. Weisthor soon became Rahn's most trusted friend. It was to prove a historical  encounter, for Wiligut (using the name Weisthor) later joined the SS in 1933 and was promoted to Brigadier General in 1936, at which point he became an advisor to Heinrich Himmler on occult matters, later becoming better known in the inner circles as Himmler's 'Rasputin'.

Into this weird maelstrom of neo-Nazi ideas strode Otto Rahn, little aware that the Cathars he was studying had already been claimed by leading National Socialists as the originators of many Nazi customs. Indeed, Hitler was so interested in the traditions and legends of the Middle Ages that he had already engaged composer Carl Orff to scour the medieval monasteries of Europe, to gather ancient chants and folk tunes. An amalgam of this material later became known as the famous Carmina Burana and was played at almost every rally.

One can only imagine the response when, through his friend Weisthor's connection with Himmler, Otto Rahn announced that he was on to the location of the Holy Grail, the Treasures of the Temple of Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant -sacred relics without equal. Himmler and Co. must have been over Hörbiger's moon!

Records show that Himmler and possibly the Thule Society agreed to finance Otto Rahn's trip to the Languedoc in 1931, where he stayed in the village of Lavelanet. On that he trip he evidently satisfied himself that Montsegur was indeed the Montsalvat of the Parzifal Legend. Although he had discovered various cave systems, he had not yet found any treasure. Nevertheless, he remained convinced that he was on the right trail. He had also found, deep in the cave system, drawings on the rock surface depicting Knights Templar, including one which featured a lance - possibly the lance of Longinus, the Spear of Destiny! The outcome of his early foray into Montsegur was his first book Crusade Against the Grail published in 1933.

In it, Rahn traced the story of what he had achieved so far and speculated that the evidence showed that there were two Grails - an Emerald Cup and a stone tablet. This latter artifact was supposedly inscribed with runes by a race of pre-German supermen who had attained the ultimate knowledge of the 'law of life'. They represented 'The Great Tradition' which was only valid for certain people, a theory which tied in with German legend and the beliefs of the Thule Society that the far north was inhabited by the Hyperborean super race. Needless to say, the book found a ready made audience in Hitler, Rosenberg, Hess, Dietrich Ekhart, Himmler and other leading individuals!

In a letter written to Weisthor in September 1935, Otto Rahn informed his friend that he was at a place where he had reason to believe the Grail might be found, and that Weisthor should keep the matter secret with the exception of mentioning it to Himmler. Thus, over the next few years, Otto Rahn, historian and philologer, became inextricably involved with the hierarchy of the Nazi party, meeting with Himmler, Alfred Rosenberg and Wolfram Sievers. He possibly did not realise that Adolf Hitler had been an avid student of the occult since his young days, and that the Führer's obsession would engulf his quest.

Otto Rahn returned to the area of Montsegur for a short while in 1937, but by this time the ominous rumblings of an imminent war could be felt throughout Europe. Himmler, meanwhile, had encountered a Dr. Hermann Wirth, who gave him the idea of creating a unit to research German history.

This was the Deutsches Ahnenerbe, a Society, which became totally dependent on the support of the SS. Rahn and Weisthor continued working on various projects, but having received no new assignments from Himmler for the previous four years, it was obvious that Rahn was considered untrustworthy as he was not an SS member. Rahn remedied the oversight by joining the SS Black Order as a private on March 12, 1936. As if by magic, once he had joined the SS club, doors began to open to Private Rahn. On April 20, 1936, he was promoted to sergeant without ever having been a corporal. Almost at once he received a mission to proceed to Iceland to investigate the land of Hyperborea.

Rahn's rise through the ranks was nothing short of spectacular. He made Technical Sergeant on January 30, 1937 and 2nd Lieutenant in the Black Order by April 20, 1937. His rise continued until September 1, 1938 when he was promoted 1st Lieutenant. His second book Lucifer's Courtiers was published in 1936 and soon became the bible of the National Socialist Party.

Meanwhile Himmler had chosen Wewelsburg Castle in Bavaria to be the future home of the Longinus Spear, the Holy Grail and the other treasures of the Temple of Solomon of which Otto Rahn had spoken. However, it was too dangerous to move them in peace time. Better to wait for the coming war with France. Rahn's 1937 expedition to the Languedoc is therefore thought to have been just to make sure that the cache had remained undiscovered by anyone else. 

On June 9, 1938, Rahn asked for and received leave of absence to write the sequel to Lucifer's Courtiers. From that moment on, his life took an unexpected turn for the worse. He had made his private views public - that he was opposed to the war and that instead, he thought Germany and then Europe should convert to Catharism! Opposition to the forthcoming war was tantamount to treason.

On February 28, 1939, Otto Rahn wrote a letter of resignation to Gruppenführer Karl Wolff, Chief of Himmler's personal staff, telling of 'grave reasons' for his resignation which he would tell to the Reichsführer in person on his next visit to Berlin.

The circumstances of "extremely grave nature" to which Rahn refers, and which could not be transmitted by letter, have an ominous ring. No one really knows the full scope of the dilemma which Rahn was facing but it seems reasonable to conclude that he was in a life or death situation of some kind or, even worse, in a death versus death position which left only the method to be decided.

The famous "Desert Fox," Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, was to face a similar fate at a somewhat later date. His choice was suicide with honor or execution with disgrace.

The reason for Rahn's quandary leaves ample room for speculation. His shifting political views and his vision of a New World Order, with Germany as its leader, were certainly in unison with Himmler's ambition as expressed in his words:

After the war, we shall really build up our Order, that Order to which we imparted its most important principles ten years before the war. We shall continue, we the veterans, for twenty years after the war, so that tradition can be established, a tradition that will last for thirty, thirty-five or forty years—a whole generation. Then our Order will be young and strong, revolutionary and active, in its march into the future. It will be able to fulfill its duty and provide the Germanic people with an elite. This elite will unite this people and the whole of Europe.

Even the charge of opposing the war effort could easily have been quashed by Himmler if Rahn had agreed to cease and desist. Thus, one is left with the uncomfortable and hard to shake feeling that something else was involved. The final question seems to revolve around the discoveries which Rahn made during his trips to the Languedoc. Was he a man who knew too much, or was he a man who had disclosed too little about the results of his quest - for the Treasures of Solomon and the Emerald Cup. No one will ever know the answer to this question. What we do know is that Rahn soon received a favorable reply to his request for discharge from the SS.

There is fragmentary evidence that Rahn tried to save his life sometime during this period by proposing that he be allowed to return to the Languedoc and live out his days in the mountain seclusion of the Pyrenees. His request was denied and he was left with the two remaining options, death by suicide or death by execution

On March 13, 1939 Otto Rahn disappeared.

On May 18, 1939 the following death notice appeared in the Berlin edition of the "Völkischer Beobachter":

Otto Rahn death

Image: SS - Obersturmführer OTTO RAHN died tragically in a snow storm during March 1939. We mourn for this dead comrade, decent SS-man and creator of outstanding historical-scholarly works.
WOLFF SS - Gruppenführer

However the story of the Grail did not end with the death of Otto Rahn. Although France was occupied by the Germans in June 1940, Himmler made no attempt to retrieve Otto Rahn's Grail from Montsegur. Instead, excavation expeditions were dispatched by the Ahnenerbe to other territories which the Nazi forces had overrun, and one to Tibet to search for the origins of the Aryan race.

Himmler possibly thought that with the location of the treasure reasonably described, there was no reason to hurry. Why not wait until the whole of France was occupied - things would be even easier then. However, by late 1942, the Nazi forces had received several reversals of fortune including EI Alamein, and in Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Heydrich. Allied forces had invaded Europe and suddenly time was running out to recover the treasure. So in June 1943, a gathering of experts appeared at Montsegur and various other possible hiding places in the region of the Languedoc, including Rennes-Ie-Chateau.

These experts consisted of historians, archaeologists and geologists. In the event, all of the teams came up empty handed. Himmler was left with few possibilities to consider. Had the treasure existed or not? If it did exist, then was it hidden in the area of Montsegur and if that was the case, had it been located by Otto Rahn? The one thing that Himmler thought rang true was that Otto Rahn had determined the approximate location of the treasure and based on that belief, he concluded that the treasure must lie in some place that neither Otto Rahn nor his teams of experts had found. Otto Rahn of course, could not be consulted because he had already had his 'accident' and Himmler realised that he needed a different approach to the problem and someone to tackle it laterally instead of head-on. One man came to mind - SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny.

Skorzeny had a reputation for being a soldier's soldier, one who if he accepted a mission, usually never failed. Skorzeny had a unique approach to problem solving. He had been an engineer by profession and was also a gifted linguist. He leapt to fame by performing the successful, daring mountain top rescue of Mussolini at the end of the war - a feat which was considered impossible. Indeed, such was his daring that on several occasions he had met with David Stirling, founder of Britain's Special Air Service for coffee in various European cities, whilst the war was at its height.

Skorzeny also had an Intelligence background, having worked for Admiral Canaris, Chief of German Intelligence and had sometimes received his orders direct from Himmler. From April 20, 1942, he had been promoted as 'Chief of Germany's Special Troops', operating from a hunting lodge at Friendenthal in Bavaria. So it was that in February 1944, after several other missions, Skorzeny received a call from Himmler -to recover the treasure from Montsegur.

After making the necessary plans and briefing his men, Otto Skorzeny with a small commando force arrived in the Languedoc and set up base camp at Montsegur. They spent the next several days reconnoitring the area, making several interesting discoveries, but none which revealed the treasure. Skorzeny then decided to ignore the places which Otto Rahn had reported and to concentrate on the illogical and the unlikely hiding places which would not easily present themselves.

As Montsegur castle sits atop a mountain peak approachable only on three sides, with a sheer drop of several thousand feet on the other, Skorzeny concentrated on the impossible precipice of the rock. After abseiling down the vertical rock face, he searched for and found, evidence of ancient tracks leading away from the foot of the mountain. By following these, he eventually discovered a walled-up cave, which, once broken open, allegedly revealed the treasure. According to The Emerald Cup - Ark of Gold, by Colonel Howard Buechner, Skorzeny then sent a message (probably by radio) to Himmler's headquarters in Berlin :

[Signed] Scar

The reply swiftly followed:

Well done. Congratulations. Watch the sky tomorrow at noon. Await our arrival.
[Signed Reichsführer - SS]

According to Buechner, Skorzeny had unwittingly discovered the treasure on the eve of the 700th anniversary of the fall of Montsegur (March 16, 1944),and was surprised to come across a large gathering of Cathar descendants, heading for the castle to pay homage to their ancestors. The figure 700 was doubly important to these latter day Cathars for an ancient prophecy had foretold :- "At the end of 700 years, the laurel will be green once more."

Whatever this strange phrase actually meant, an unusually large group had turned out for the anniversary. Although they had sought permission to go to the castle from the German Military Governor for the area, and had been refused, they nevertheless congregated at the foot of the mountain, ready for the long walk to the fortress ruins. At this moment, as luck would have it, Skorzeny and his small commando group stumbled across them. For a moment all must have seemed lost, but Skorzeny, when approached by the pilgrims for his permission, saw no reason to withhold it. Thus it was, that the group arrived at the fortress at mid-day, just at the time when Skorzeny had been told to "watch the sky".

Probably unseen by the crowd, a high-flying German aircraft, using skywriting equipment, 'painted' a huge Celtic Cross in the sky. To Skorzeny, it signalled that his mission was nearly over, but to the pilgrims in Montsegur, a miracle had occurred. The following day, an official delegation comprising of Reichsminister Alfred Rosenberg and Colonel Wolfram Sievers of the Ahnenerbe arrived to congratulate Skorzeny.

Arrangements were made for engineers to be brought to the treasure cache and for it to be taken back to the small town of Merkers, 40 miles from Berlin. And here, after it was catalogued by hand-picked members of the Ahnenerbe, most of it disappeared to various parts of the crumbling Reich. According to Colonel Howard Buechner, the catalogue of treasures included:
1. Thousands of gold coins...

2. Items which were believed to have come from the Temple of Solomon,which included the gold plates and fragments of wood which had once made up the Ark of Moses... a gold plated table, a candelabra with seven branches, a golden urn, a staff, a harp, a sword, innumerable golden plates and vessels, many small bells of gold and a number of precious jewels and onyx stones, some of which bore inscriptions...

3. Twelve stone tablets bearing pre-runic inscriptions which none of the experts were able to read. These items comprised the stone Grail of the Germans and of Otto Rahn.

4. A beautiful silvery Cup with an emerald-like base made of what appeared to be jasper. Three gold plaques on the Cup were inscribed with cuneiform script in an ancient language.

5. A large number of religious objects of various types... crosses from different periods which were of gold or silver and adorned with pearls and precious stones.

6. Precious stones in abundance in all shapes and sizes

Once catalogued, many of the gold coins were melted down and turned into ingots and then the Nazis started to disperse the treasure around

the world during the final days of the war. The town of Merkers fell to the 3rd US Army under General George Patton. His men soon discovered the nearby salt-mines in which the treasure had been concealed, and the amounts which they recovered may give some idea of the original size of the haul. When Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and Patton personally inspected the mine, the official account later records:

...600 gold bars, 750 sacks of gold coins...many other valuables mostly in the form of paper money. The estimated worth of the treasure was $250,000,000 (by 1945 standards, when gold was selling at $ 35 per ounce).

This of course, only represented the small portion of the treasure which had not been dispersed by the time the Americans arrived. Indeed, Buechner estimates the present day worth might be close to 60 billion dollars!

So what happened to the treasure of the millennia? According to Buechner, records show that some was dispatched to Antarctica (the Nazis' new Agharta) and other parts to South America, whilst some was buried deep beneath the Wewelsburg fortress in Bavaria and a bronze box, containing important documents was buried in a secret cave beneath the Schleigleiss Glacier near the Zillertal Mountain Pass in Bavaria. A final hoard is thought to have been hidden in the secret complex underneath Hitler's Berchtesgarden mountain retreat.

The last records show that the treasure of the Temple of Solomon was shipped from the Wewelsburg castle to Berchtesgarden in March 1945. It was trucked up the Obersalzberg and stored away in one or more of the many underground chambers which riddled the mountain. Here it was sealed into bunkers and placed under the continuous watchful eyes of a contingent of SS soldiers. When the bunkers were explored by troops of the US 101st., Airborne Division in the early days of May 1945 they found provisions and treasure in abundance but the Treasure of Solomon had disappeared.

~Emerald Cup - Ark of Gold by Col.H.Buechner)

Is this the last glimpse history will have of the Holy Grail and the treasure? Probably not, for experts have estimated that the Schleigleiss glacier is due to give up its secret by 1995, after which time, we expect the hunt to start all over again.

A word of caution. We are indebted to Co!. H.Buechner for his story of Otto Rahn and the treasures of Montsegur. We remain singularly impressed by the patience he has shown in waiting until 1991 to publish what must conceivably be the greatest treasure-hunt story of all time. History has seemingly undertaken us again, for in Time magazine, issue no. 43 dated October 25th 1993, an article by Michael Walsh has been written about the spoils of World War II and does not even mention the treasure of the Temple of Solomon. So whom should we believe, Buechner or Walsh?