Was Heinrich Himmler’s 'Nazi Witch Library' Discovered in a Czech Library?
In 2016, along with a vast array of international publications, the Daily Mail picked up a story that had been published by a Norwegian-based paper prior to a conference about the confiscation of literature by the Nazis during WWII. The article reported that a massive collection of 13,000 books related to witchcraft and the occult had been discovered in a depot belonging to the National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague. The premise was that the Prague library witchcraft collection had been compiled at the behest of Heinrich Himmler, the SS Nazi Chief and one of the main architects of the Holocaust, and that it had been all but forgotten since the 1950s.
Reports in the press claimed that SS Nazi chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the confiscation of 6,000 books from the Norwegian Order of Freemasons as part of his research into witch-hunts. The articles claimed that these had been found recently in the Prague library collection. (Public Domain)
Theories About Heinrich Himmler and his Special Nazi SS Witchcraft Unit
The Daily Mail article connected the discovery of the “rare” witchcraft books at the Czech National Library with the creation by Himmler of a special unit called H-Sonderkommando in 1935, so named for the first letter of the German word Hexe, meaning witch. Apparently this unit was part of a systematic search by the Nazis for texts connected with magic and witch-hunt trials, subjects which came to obsess Himmler, who believed “the hocus pocus books held the key to Ayran supremacy in the world,” according to the Daily Mail.
The Local claimed that the SS troops combed over 260 libraries and archives for information, accumulating the largest collection of books on witches and their persecution in medieval Germany, which was dubbed the witch library. Quoting a Norwegian Masonic researcher, the article claimed that about 6,000 of the 13,000 books were seized from the Norwegian Order of Freemasons in Oslo.
1627 engraving of the malefizhaus of Bamberg, Germany, where suspected witches were held and interrogated. (Public Domain)
Quack Theories on Race from the Mind of Heinrich Himmler
While the media jumped at the story of a witchcraft collection discovered in a Prague library, were the reports actually true? Marcela Strouhalová, of the National Library of the Czech Republic, described the articles as “not only exaggeration, but nonsense.” Meanwhile Peter Staudenmaire, author of the book Between Occultism and Nazism, describes them as “overblown and misguided” in an interview published in Vice. There are however some kernels of truth to be found.
Alongside Herman Wirth and Richard Walther Darré, Heinrich Himmler founded the Ahnenerbe Institute in 1935 to research the archaeological and historical roots of the Aryan race. The research was used to justify their policies and distorted anti-Semitic racial take on history. Apart from gathering texts, they also conducted experiments and expeditions to prove that they were the ancestors of the Nordic population which had once ruled the world.
- The Myth of National Socialism: How the Nazis Distorted the Nordic Past
- Ahnenerbe: Nazis and the Search for Relics
- Identity of 1000-Year-Old Warrior Corrupted by Nazi and Soviet Spin Doctors
Some scholars have claimed that Heinrich Himmler was a follower of the the witch-cult hypothesis, created by Margaret Murray, and that he believed that the power of the old occult masters and Christian Celto-Germanic Nature religion would help the Nazis rule the world. Himmler claimed that the Catholic Church’s Inquisition had purposefully attempted to repress an indigenous German pagan nature-based religion known as völkisch, in a conspiracy against the Aryan race. According to biographers on Himmler, he even claimed that one of his own ancestors had been burned as a witch.
Witches' Sabbath by Francisco de Goya. (Public Domain)
Heinrich Himmler and Esoteric Hitlerism
According to Georg Luck, the cult which Himmler followed had its roots in late antiquity. In his book, Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Luck described the basis of the beliefs which some have claimed became an important part of the political life of Nazis. The cult worshiped the Horned God of Celts and a Greco-Roman Pan / Faunus. It was a combination of gods which gave roots to a new deity, an early conception of the Devil.
Heinrich Himmler is credited as a founder of Esoteric Hitlerism. He has also been described as being deeply involved in astrology and attempting to construct a new pseudo-Germanic Neopagan religion, based on a cult created in his imagination. He approved officially pagan holidays and manipulated facts connected with traditional pagan cults.
Legends related to the Nazi fascination with the occult abound. Some accounts claim that all of the Nazis, including the Fürher, attended ceremonies of the new cult. Many of them are thought to have taken place in Houska Castle located 47 km (29.2 miles) north of Prague. Built in the 13th century, the castle still contains a Gothic chapel, a green chamber with Late-Gothic paintings, and a knights’ drawing room. According to local folklore, Houska Castle also contains a gateway to hell.
An American soldier in April 1945 stands amongst cultural property looted by the Nazis and stored at Schlosskirche Ellingen. (Public domain)
Fake News: How Did the Rumor Begin?
Heather Greene from The Wild Hunt claims that “modern historians have largely debunked most of these theories.” But they remain in our “collective cultural imagination,” thanks in part to popular culture such as Indiana Jones films and Dan Brown novels. “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,” she explains.
The real story about the Prague library books is related to the Books Discovered Once Again project, sponsored by the European Economic Area, Norway Grants, Stiftelsen Arkivet, and the National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague. The virtual exhibition of the project explains that the Nazis made use of censorship, seizure and propaganda, banning “all forms of expression that questioned Nazism.” This included Jewish and Freemason writings. In his interview with Vice, Peter Staudenmaire explains: “The reason the Nazis collected this stuff was not because the Nazis believed in it. It’s more because a branch of the Nazis thought that these groups presented a possible danger to Nazism.”
According to Marcela Strouhalová of the Czech National Library, who is interviewed in The Wild Hunt, the Books Discovered Once Again project is tasked with the complex process of identifying the ownership of the many confiscated books which were discovered in the Czech Republic after the end of the Nazi occupation, as well as creating a digital catalogue for the general public. These include more than 12,000 books taken from Masonic lodges around Europe.
Strouhalová highlighted that the collection does not include anything related either to witchcraft or the occult, arguing that the rumor began due to a misunderstanding of the academic presentations during the Norway conference in 2016. In Novinky, Strouhalová claims that the media reports are tantamount to science fiction: “This collection has nothing to do with Himmler's occult library.”
Top image: The National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague is best known for its baroque library hall, seen in the image. Reports published in 2016 claimed that a collection of 13,000 occult and witchcraft books that were once part of Heinrich Himmler’s witch library were found in a depot belonging to the library. (BrunoDelzant / CC BY 2.0) Insert: Example of a 1533 account of the execution of a witch charged with burning the German town of Schiltach in 1531. (Public domain)
Updated on January 29, 2021.