Neuschwanstein holds secrets of lost art work beyond fairy tales during the Nazi era

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“The castle of the fairy-tale king” seduces more than a million tourists every year with its serene facade and mysterious air featured in postcards, travel guides and products from Walt Disney. The castle holds its own tales which it told to world and some and kept in mystery.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria who designed the castle as his solitary refuge was said to have been driven to insanity. Later in 1886, he was declared to have drowned a mysterious death. A few weeks later, the castle, Neuschwanstein, was opened to the public. Until today, it is among the famous tourist destination in Germany. Beyond the fairy-tale story, the fortress also holds a Nazi past. It was only recently featured in George Clooney’s World War II film, “The Monuments Men”. The film is about a special forces unit with a mission to track and steal back Europe’s stolen art works and treasures during the Second World War.

King Ludwig II did not just build the fortress forever immortalized in tales for royal ceremonies and residential purposes. He designed it particularly to isolate himself from the public. With the same intention as that of the king, the Nazis also chose the site to hide their plunders from the world.

Hitler’s Marching Orders

Hitler ordered the Rosenberg task force to “search lodges, libraries and archives of the occupied territories for material valuable to Germany.” The task force was created for the exclusive purpose of searching and looting art works from around the world. The command was given after German troops attacked France. It was the Fuhrer’s dream to open a “Fuhrer’s Museum” in Linz, Austria displaying all the treasures they have plundered during their war exploits. Acting upon orders, the Nazis looted art works and valuables and kept them hidden in various locations all over Germany including monasteries, salt mines and castles between 1940 and 1945.

“Neuschwanstein castle was chosen as headquarters of the ‘Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg,’ the German art-looting organization,” said an art historian Tanja Bernsau. The castle was also set in an ideal location being near the Austrian border and far from Berlin which are likely targets of Allied attacks. The castle was built with a design similar to that of medieval inspiration. However, the castle was featured with the latest of architectural technology of the time. The castle has central heating, electric bell system for summoning servants and flushing toilets. The cornerstone dated back to 1868. However, the castle was not yet complete. There was still a large part unfinished which could be used for storage.

Tracking Lost Art

In the film, ‘The Monuments Men,’ Rose Valland is played by Cate Blanchett. Most of stolen art works found in the Neuschwanstein were looted from France. It was also the French connection that provided the U.S. Army information that led to the castle. efore the death of Monuments Man and art historian S. Lane Faison, Jr., in 2006, he described their find in an interview for the Archives of American Art. He said that the key to unlocking the discovery was French curator Rose Valland.
“She pretended to be a [Nazi] collaborator,” Faison said of Rose Valland. The curator worked at the Jeu de Paume Museum which was one of the Nazi’s central collection points before the looted items were shipped to Germany. For many years, Valland secretly traced the route of the art work and found out where they ended up eventually.

Salvaging the Loot

Valland then made a report which provided the Allies with information of the looted items leading the U.S. troops to the Bavarian castle. The troops then stormed the hideout in 1945. The troops discovered a vast file of index cards, lists and slides which document in detail stolen items numbering to around 21,000.

Saving Europe’s Art
The crates which contained invaluable pieces of art work were then transferred to the U.S.-directed Central Art Collecting Points. The center is assigned with the restitution or the returning of the items to their original owners. “And that’s where the huge task started,” said Iris Lauterbach of the Central Institute for Art History in Munich. “The works of art had to be inventoried, photographed and restituted one by one. American and German art historians and secretaries worked together to restitute tens of thousands of pieces.”

S. Lane Faison also related how the task came as a daunting mission. Faison returned to Germany in 1951 to transfer the operations initially started by the U.S. to the Germans. “One of the saddest problems was that acres, I think you might say, of furniture just went on and on and on, piled up to the ceiling…and chairs, tables, household things, everything you could think of known to have come from Jewish sources,” Faison said. “But what do you do? And if somebody lost six Louis XV chairs, which ones were they? And did we have them? There was no way – you can’t identify such things.”

The Huge Task Ahead
The mission handed over to the Germans continue to this day. Germany continues the huge task of identification and art restitution. The discovery of stolen art in Germany also continues to be news. The film “Monuments Men” which recently had its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, though interesting and informative of the preservation efforts of the art in war, received its share of criticisms.

“I didn’t like the film,” Iris Lauterbach said. “The film pretends to be based on a true story, but it contains too many fictitious elements.” She shared that the film gave out some informative inputs. Yet she also has some reservations on whether the film connects the European war theater and art to the lay person given the complexities that surround them. The tour of Neuschwanstein will also not be able to provide answers of the lost art works. Tourists will only find themselves amused of the castle tours to the king’s bedroom, the artificial dripstone cave and kitchen all intricately and lavishly laid out. However, the tour does not answer questions on the role of the castle in one of Europe’s darkest episodes.

“We’re not trying to hide that fact,” said castle spokesperson Thomas Rainer. He also said that the management even wants to provide answers to the castle’s role in the Nazi plunder. The director of the Bavarian Palace Museum department recently wrote an essay about art looting and art rescue sites during the Second World War.  “But we have more than a million visitors per year and very strict regular tours that last 30 minutes,” Rainer said. “We focus on what we can during that time.”



Hitler’s Hunt for the Holy Grail and the Ghent Altarpiece

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Why did Hitler crave the missing panel in the famous Ghent Altarpiece? Maybe because the Nazi’s paranormal research group thought the masterpiece contained a map to the Holy Grail.

On the night of 10 April 1934, one of the twelve oak panels that comprise Jan van Eyck’s famous painting, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, was stolen from Saint Bavo Cathedral, in Ghent, Belgium. Often referred to as “The Ghent Altarpiece,” this monumental oil painting is arguably the single most influential painting ever made. It is also the most-frequently stolen, having been burgled, in its entirety or in parts, at least six times—quite a feat, considering that it is the size of a barn door (14 x 11.5 feet) and weighs about two tons. It was the most-desired artwork by the Nazis, including Hitler and his second-in-command, Hermann Göring.

The two Nazi leaders actually raced one another to be the first to steal the altarpiece. The Nazi art theft unit, the ERR, captured it first for Hitler, from its hiding place at Chateau de Pau, in the south of France, where the Belgian government had sent it for safe-keeping. But an emissary from Göring appropriated it for the Luftwaffe head’s massive stolen art collection, which included some seven-thousand masterpieces, displayed at his country estate outside Berlin. Hitler got wind of this, and intercepted the altarpiece, sending it first to Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, where it was restored, and then for storage in a salt mine in the Austrian Alps near Altaussee, where the twelve-thousand most famous stolen artworks from Nazi-occupied Europe were kept in secret, destined to feature in Hitler’s planned “super museum,” which would be the size of a city, and display every important artwork in the world. From the Altaussee salt mine, the Ghent Altarpiece and its fellow captives were ultimately rescued, thanks to the combined efforts of Austrian miners and a pair of Monuments Men, Robert Posey and Lincoln Kirstein, who only learned of the Altaussee hoard thanks to a fortuitous toothache that led them to a former SS officer, an art historian who was in hiding as the war drew to a close. The upcoming George Clooney film, The Monuments Men, dramatizes some of these stories, though taking a great many liberties in the process.

The iconography of The Ghent Altarpiece has long fascinated scholars. The painting was immediately the most famous in Europe, when it was completed in 1432. It was the first major oil painting. Oil had been used to bind pigments to paintings since the Middle Ages, but Jan van Eyck was the first to demonstrate the true potential of oils, which permit far greater subtlety and detail than largely-opaque egg-based tempera paint, which was preferred before The Ghent Altarpiece popularized oils. The altarpiece contains over 100 figures, and is an elaborate pantheon of Catholic mysticism—at its center stands a heavenly field, brimming with uniquely-depicted figures around a sacrificial lamb, representative of Christ (the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb from which the work draws it title). The lamb stands upon an altar and bleeds into a chalice—the Holy Grail.

Hitler so craved the Ghent Altarpiece because it was one of the most famous artworks in history, and it was by a Germanic artist, in the realistic, Northern Renaissance style that Hitler preferred.  It had also been forcibly repatriated to Belgium after the First World War, before which certain panels of the altarpiece had been displayed in Berlin. The Treaty of Versailles mentioned only four works of cultural heritage, foremost among them The Ghent Altarpiece. Hitler wanted to correct the humiliation inflicted on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles, and recapturing the altarpiece would go some way toward that goal.

But there may also have been a more fantastic reason why Hitler wanted this painting above all others. Rumor had it that he was convinced that the painting contained a coded map to lost Catholic treasures, the so-called Arma Christi, or instruments of Christ’s Passion, including the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Grail, and the Spear of Destiny. Hitler believed that the possession of the Arma Christiwould grant their owner supernatural powers. As the tide of the war turned ever more against the Nazis, Hitler cranked up his efforts to seek some supernatural way to bring victory to the Third Reich.

Cue the soundtrack to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Nazis tried to create super-soldiers, using steroids, in a twisted interpretation of Nietzsche’sübermensch, and they sought to reanimate the dead—coffins of famous Germanic warriors were found hidden in a mine, with plans to bring them back to life at the war’s end.
The idea that the Nazis had teams of researchers hunting for supernatural treasures, religious relics, and entrances to a magical land of telepathic faeries and giants might sound like a bad History Channel documentary, or out-takes from an Indiana Jones movie. But despite the considerable popular interest in all things Nazi-related, and all things supernatural, relatively few people are aware of a very real organization that was the inspiration for the Indiana Jones plots: the Nazi Ahnenerbe, or the Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Organization.

The Ahnenerbe (which literally means “Inheritance of the Forefathers”) was a paranormal research group, established by order of SS head Heinrich Himmler on 1 July 1935. It was expanded during the Second World War on direct orders from the Fuhrer. Hitler and other top Nazi leaders’ (Himmler foremost among them) interest in the occult is well and widely documented. The Nazi Party actually began as an occult fraternity, before it morphed into a political party. Himmler’s SS, ostensibly Hitler’s bodyguard but in practice the leading special forces of the Nazi Army, was wholly designed based on occult beliefs. Wewelsburg, the castle headquarters of the SS, was the site of initiation rituals for twelve SS “knights” that was modeled on Arthurian legend. The magical powers of runes were invoked, and the Ahnenerbe logo features rune-style lettering. Psychics and astrologers were employed to attack the enemy and plan tactics based on the alignment of the stars. Nazis tried to create super-soldiers, using steroids, in a twisted interpretation of Nietzsche’s übermensch, and they sought to reanimate the dead—coffins of famous Germanic warriors were found hidden in a mine, with plans to bring them back to life at the war’s end.

The Ahnenerbe sent expeditions all over the world. To Tibet, to search for traces of the original, uncorrupted Aryan race, and for a creature called the Yeti, what we would call the Abominable Snowman. To Ethiopia, in search of the Ark of the Covenant. To the Languedoc, to find the Holy Grail. To steal the Spear of Destiny, which Longinus used to pierce Christ’s side as Christ hung on the cross, and which disappeared from a locked vault in Nurnberg. To Iceland, to find the entrance to a magical land of telepathic giants and faeries called Thule, which Hitler and most of the Nazi brass believed was the place of origin of the Aryans, and was very real. If they could find this entrance, believed to be accessible via a secret code hidden in a Medieval Icelandic saga called The Eddas, then the Nazis might accelerate their Aryan breeding program, and recover the supernatural powers of flight, telepathy and telekinesis that they believed their ancestors in Thule possessed, and which was lost due to inter-breeding with “lesser” races.

As crazy as all this may sound, it was fervently believed by many in the Nazi Party—so much so that huge sums of money were invested into research, along with hundreds of workers and scientists. This pseudo-scientific institute both sought supernatural advantages for the Nazi war effort, but also had a propagandistic agenda, to seek “scientific” evidence to support Nazi beliefs, like Aryan racial superiority.

With all this in mind, it is entirely plausible that Hitler believed that the Ghent Altarpiece contained a coded map to supernatural treasure. After all, the Ahnenerbe was hard at work looking for a secret entrance to the magical land of Thule in the Icelandic saga, The Eddas. Whether such a map is in The Ghent Altarpiece is another matter, one that scholars dismiss out of hand, though it is tempting to interpret the complex, enigmatic iconography and disguised symbolism of van Eyck’s masterpiece in terms more exotic than those in the average art history textbook. But there is also another component to the story that fuels this theory, and it is linked to the 1934 theft of that single panel.

There has never been a convincing explanation for the motivation for the theft of the Righteous Judges panel, referred to as such because it depicts a group of Biblical wise men (while also hiding several portraits, including one of van Eyck). While the man who masterminded the theft of the Judges panel, Arsene Goedertier, is known, he could not have acted alone, and his motivation is uncertain. The panel was ostensibly stolen in order to ransom it back to the bishopric of Saint Bavo—but Goedertier had more money in his bank account than was asked for in the ransom demand. For lack of a clear motive, various theories have arisen, one of which is linked to a Nazi art detective, Heinrich Köhn, who was sent to Ghent to find the stolen Judges panel several years before the Nazis seized the other eleven panels of the altarpiece.

Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, along with Himmler, conceived of the idea to find the lost Judges panel and give it as a gift to Hitler at the tenth anniversary of his assumption of power in Germany, in 1943. Köhn investigated throughout the city of Ghent, even taking apart portions of the cathedral (for one theory held that the panel had been hidden on-site, never having left Saint Bavo). He found nothing, and was sent to fight in the Eastern Front for his failure. Why would the Nazis wish to locate a single stolen panel? They surely had designs on seizing the entire altarpiece, and did not wish it to be incomplete when they did so. Some have suggested that the coded treasure map leading to the Arma Christiwas missing a key component that was hidden in the Judges panel. In order for the map to bear fruit, that panel was needed. It was stolen in 1934, therefore, to keep it out of Nazi hands, should the nascent Adolf Hitler follow through with his plan to recapture The Ghent Altarpiece and make it the focal point of his super-museum.

While there are plenty of non-supernatural, non-Da Vinci Code-y rationales for Hitler to desire The Ghent Altarpiece above all other objects, it is entirely plausible that Hitler might have believed in the coded treasure map theory. It seems far-fetched to us today, until we consider the other crazy theories that were truly believed by Hitler and his cronies. If The Eddas might contain a code to gain entrance to the magical land of Thule, where Aryan ancestors lived as flying telepathic faeries and giants then, according to Nazi logic, then the world’s most important painting might indeed contain a treasure map leading to the Holy Grail.


Himmler, la Orden Negra

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Conocer las irracionales creencias del Himmer, el jefe de las SS de los nazis, son fundamentales a la hora de reconstruir el movimiento que llevó al mundo a su perdición. ENIGMAS ofrece un anticipo en exclusiva del libro Las reliquias de Hitler –Ed. Espejo de Tinta–, en donde se expone con todo lujo de detalles en qué delirantes argumentos místicos se fundamentaban quienes cometieron las atrocidades más grandes de la historia.

Himmler vino al mundo el 7 de octubre de 1900 en un confortable apartamento de Munich, en el seno de una familia profundamente católica. Tras la guerra, hacia 1992, este joven introvertido se convirtió en ingeniero agrónomo en la Technische Hochschule, en donde abrazó ideas ultranacionalistas y antisemitas que le llevaron directamente a los movimientos que se oponían a la degradante política de la República de Weimar. Los educados modales de Himmler no impidieron que en septiembre de 1923 se integrara en una unidad del ejército, conocida como Compañía Werner. Se sumó a los hombres de Hitler en el fallido golpe de Estado y formó parte de la tropa encabezada por Röhm que se dirigió al Ministerio de la Guerra. Himmler portaba la bandera…

Es bastante probable que a través de la Sociedad Thule y de su vínculo con Röhm, Himmler llegase al Partido Nazi, donde rápidamente haría carrera y potenciaría las SS –Schuzstafel–, que llegaron a ser consideradas con razón como un Estado dentro del Estado, a semejanza de lo ocurrido en el medievo con los caballeros templarios, puesto que su crecimiento implicó la creación de divisiones diversas que abarcaban aspectos como la cultura, la industria, la investigación histórica y científica, la potenciación del sector agrícola, el deporte, etc, hasta sumar cerca de cuarenta departamentos. Himmler monitorizó a través de las SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt –RSHA– a la temible policía secreta, la Gestapo, así como a la policía criminal Kripo, la policía del orden Orpo, la policía administrativa Verwaltungspolizie, la policía rural Gendarmerie, y un largo etcétera de unidades de control. Además, Himmler codiciaba la idea de crear un Estado SS habitado por la elite y unido al Reich, pero de administración independiente. Esto tal vez explique la complejidad organizativa que alcanzaron las SS, lo que precisamente no acudía en auxilio de su eficacia. No obstante, la mayor parte de la gente continúa hoy en día asociando exclusivamente a éstas con las escuadras de ejecución que, a partir del establecimiento del primer campo de concentración en Dachau, tuvieron por objeto el exterminio de los judíos, la solución final de Hitler que arrancaría en junio de 1942. Y con toda lógica, pues a partir de ese momento el terror se adueñó como nunca de la política nazi, masacrando a millones de seres humanos con el único pretexto de la raza. Se les concebía como animales, como grotescos seres inferiores que no debían inspirar compasión alguna. Su necesario exterminio tras la imposibilidad de deportarlos a todos a un mismo territorio cercado, quizá en África, era la primera parte de un plan mucho mayor que, más allá del antisemitismo, contemplaba el dominio ario sobre las demás razas, todas inferiores…

Wiligut, el Rasputín de Himmler

Aunque no lo habíamos mencionado hasta el momento, Himmler estaba fascinado y obsesionado con las leyendas y las sagas de caballeros heroicos –ya fueran artúricos, templarios o teutones– lo que, unido a sus inquietudes ocultistas, le llevó a revestir a sus SS de una parafernalia repleta de símbolos y barrocas ceremonias.

Uno de los más claros exponentes de esa forma de pensamiento ocultista lo representó la adquisición del castillo de Wewlsburg. Himmler consideró que era el lugar más adecuado para acoger los mayores secretos de la SS. Su forma triangular, la ubicación geográfica en Westfalia y los consejos de los sabios geomantes avalaron la adquisición de la fortaleza bajo el argumento de ser destinada, una vez rehabilitada, a escuela de mandos de las SS.

Uno de los personajes que más influyó en esta lectura hermética de la fortaleza fue, sin duda, Kart Maria Wiligut, su Rasputín particular, un curioso personaje que nació en el seno de una familia vienesa de tradición militar el 10 de diciembre de 1886, y que ingresó a los catorce años en la Escuela Imperial de Cadetes de Viena. Su presencia en diferentes frentes bélicos le hizo ascender a capitán en 1903, a mayor en 1912, y a teniente-coronel y otros grados superiores poco después, hasta que en enero de 1919 se retiró tras cuarenta largos años de servicio. Durante algún tiempo, hasta 1909, Wiligut respondería al nombre simbólico de Lobesam, ya que era miembro de una anodina orden de inspiración masónica conocida como Schilarraffia. Lo más interesante de su biografía es que se presentaba como el último descendiente de los uiligotis, una estirpe de guerreros ancestrales prehistóricos cuya historia, hazañas y legado eran conocidos por nuestro personaje gracias a la clarividente memoria ancestral que afirmaba tener.

El último de los uiligotis se consideraba objeto de una conspiración que pretendía destruir definitivamente su legado; finalmente acabó en un internamiento psiquiátrico en el sanatorio de Salzburgo. Después abandonó Austria y buscó una atmósfera mejor en Berlín en 1932. Esta elección permitió que un viejo amigo, a la sazón oficial de las SS Richard Anders, le pusiera en contacto con Heinrich Himmler. El líder SS quedó impresionado por aquella memoria ancestral que aseguraba posseer nuestro personaje. Decidió que no era buena idea desaprovechar la oportunidad de estar cara a cara con el más remoto pasado germano. Como apunta el estudioso Goodrik-Clarke, “en septiembre de 1933 Wiligut se unió a la SS con el seudónimo de Karl María Weisthor, y ocupó el cargo de director de un Departamento de Prehistoria e Historia Arcaica, dentro de la Secretaría de Raza y Poblamiento de la SS con base en Munich”. Su misión era entregar informes por escrito de sus visiones para que fuesen investigadas, estar plenamente disponible para conversar con Himmler y poco más. La amistad entre ambos fue fructífera, hasta el punto de que el jefe de las escuadras promocionaría al místico al grado de coronel para equiparar su rango al que ostentaba en el ejército austriaco. Su influencia se dejó sentir bastante en la simbología de las SS. Sin ir más lejos, en el buscador del Grial Otto Rahn, así como en el responsable de las investigaciones esotéricas dentro de la SS-Ahnenerbe, Friederich Hielscher. Por cuestiones de edad, el viejo mentor se jubiló, aunque siempre contó con la protección de Himmler y las Schuzstafel. Malamente sobreviviría a la guerra falleciendo el 3 de enero de 1946; su máximo y poderoso admirador lo había hecho en mayo de 1945, cuando se suicidó con cianuro al caer prisionero de los ingleses.


Ahnenerbe, el comité de los sabios

Dentro de los numerosos departamentos que integraban a las SS destaca uno de manera especial, a consecuencia de los contenidos ocultistas que tenían la misión de estudiar. Nos referimos a la “Sociedad para la Investigación y Enseñanza de La Herencia de los Ancestros”, fundada el 1 de julio de 1935 por el propio Himmler, Walter Darré y el profesor holandés Hermann Wirth, quien ya a finales de los años veinte había creado su propia organización con objetivos similares a los que perseguiría la Ahnenerbe bajo patrocinio del Tercer Reich. Como reflejo de las tendencias ramificadoras que como un mal endémico infectaban a las SS, también este departamento contó a su vez con un ingente número de sub-departamentos que sumaban la nada despreciable cifra de 43 equipos dedicados a estudiar aspectos tan diversos como la música tradicional alemana, los vestigios arqueológicos, los emplazamientos religiosos, o ciencias ocultas como la astrología, asuntos relacionados con la botánica, la astronomía o la experimentación biológica. Es en este último terreno es donde la Ahnenerbe escribió su página más atroz, ya que bajo el paraguas de su Instituto de Investigaciones Científicas para la Defensa Nacional se cobijaron auténticos sádicos que no dudaron en usar a los prisioneros judíos de Dachau como carne barata para sus experimentos.

Con frecuencia, este departamento se encontraba en la obligación de investigar asuntos insustanciales o que terminaban siendo un fiasco. Precisamente, Karl Maria Wiligut abrió el camino a un singular personaje que terminaría por agotar la paciencia de los estudiosos al servicio de las SS. Se trataba de Günther Kirchhoff, miembro de la Sociedad List, interesado en la historia mitológica germánica y defensor de la existencia de líneas energéticas que recorrían el planeta. El caso es que éste se reveló como otro iniciado que, siguiendo los pasos de Wiligut, aseguraba tener revelaciones sobre sus ancestros prehistóricos, desvelando a través de voluminosos informes la existencia de complejos religiosos irministas que los miembros de la Ahnenerbe se veían obligados a investigar –sin resultado alguno– por insistencia de Himmler.

Friederich Hielscher, como director del departamento responsable de los estudios esotéricos fue sin duda uno de los personajes que tuvo ante sí los retos más desconcertantes. Su biografía es un misterio, por lo que una vez más ha sido objeto de especulaciones de lo más variopintas, convirtiéndolo en militar dentro de sociedades secretas diversas o en las huestes del mismísimo Satán como mago negro. Bajo su responsabilidad se llevó a cabo, según parece, la búsqueda del Arca de la Alianza, la localización de restos de la Atlántida, la obtención del Grial, el contacto con el gobierno oculto en el Tíbet, y otros proyectos de similar corte. En este contexto hemos de interpretar, por ejemplo, una de las expediciones más intrigantes de las llevadas a cabo por este departamento. Nos referimos a la que encabezada por el naturalista Ernst Schäfer, que buscó en las estribaciones de la áspera tierra tibetana a los ancestros de la raza aria. Le acompañó el doctor Bruno Berger, quien influido por toda la literatura ocultista creía que el precursor de la raza aria podía subsistir en aquellas regiones, lo que daba sentido a las observaciones del yeti. Sea como fuere, los tibetanos veían con agrado lo que los nazis hacían, si bien es cierto que tal vez sólo conocieron una parte mínima de la historia nacionalsocialista… El resto ya lo conocen. Años después, al margen de la contienda que enfrentaría al mundo en una guerra cruenta, hubo otra en la que el ocultismo tuvo un papel fundamental. Pero eso es otra historia…

in Revista “Enigmas”