You’ve seen Otto Rahn’s story before. It’s the story of a brave archeologist who is searching for the Holy Grail when he is confronted by Nazis. Although the movie Indiana Jones has a happy ending, the real life Jones was not so lucky. That’s because archeologist Otto Rahn made a faustian bargain with the Nazis and it proved to be his undoing.
Otto Rahn was a Germany archeologist specializing in recovering lost antiquities. At an early age, he became obsessed with finding The Holy Grail – the cup that was allegedly used to catch Jesus Christ’s blood when he was crucified. Despite many investigations and conspiracy theories, no such cup has ever been discovered. Rahn was born in 1904 and took an interest in the subject during his university studies. Later he resolved to use the 13th century text the Parsifal to trace the whereabouts of this cup, which was reportedly smuggled out of the Middle East by knights in the 13th century. When Rahn’s initial explorations came up empty, he wrote a book about his exploits.
In 1933 he received a mysterious message asking him to write a follow-up book. The message asked Rahn to go to an address in Berlin if he was interested. When Rahn arrived at the location, he was confronted with Heinrich Himmler, the head of Hitler’s SS. Himmler was completely obsessed with the Holy Grail and he had committed Rahn’s book to memory. Himmler gave Rahn the task of bringing back the Grail and promised him the full backing of the German government.
Rahn agreed and somewhat naively started the hunt. Shortly thereafter, he was “asked” to join the Nazi party. He agreed, but started to feel like he was in a tight corner. “A man has to eat. What was I supposed to do? Turn Himmler down?” Rahn asked a friend. Rahn still didn’t find the Grail, but he did write a second book. Much to his surprise, Himmler had 5,000 copies printed and distributed to the Nazi elite. That was when Rahn realized he was in trouble. Himmler or someone else had inserted anti-semitic passages into the text. Some believe that Rahn was Jewish. It is known that Rahn was openly gay.
Himmler tolerated Rahn’s sexuality until it was obvious he couldn’t find the Grail. Rahn secretly started associating with anti-Nazi activists. Himmler sent him to Dachau for a three-month punishment for a gay relationship. While there, Rahn wrote a formal letter to Himmler resigning from the SS. No one knows exactly what happened next. It appears as if Himmler turned the Gestapo on Rahn for handing in his resignation. In 1939, Rahn was found dead in the snow of the Tyrol mountains. Some believe he tried to escape. Others say he was poisoned. No cause of death was given.
Although it seems definitive that Rahn died on that snow slope, conspiracy theorists believe Rahn faked his own death. Some believe that he was working for British intelligence. Others are convinced he faked his death, changed his name and eventually wound up as ambassador to Italy. While the truth will never be known, his story will always live on in some part on the big screen.