The secret history of Wolfenstein

While there doesn’t appear to be any record of an SS group set aside specifically to investigate paranormal weirdness, the secret division from Return to Castle Wolfenstein was actually based on the Ahnenerbe (German for “Ancestral Heritage”), an organization co-founded by Himmler that launched a number of expeditions during the ‘30s and ‘40s. Eventually absorbed into the SS, the Ahnenerbe was responsible for, among other things, launching expeditions that were meant to research and confirm the idea that the world’s greatest ancient civilizations had been shaped by Aryan hands.

Above: Like this

More to the point, they were also tasked with scouring the globe for any relics or artifacts the Nazis wanted to get their hands on, although these were usually of a more racial bent than a supernatural one. However, some of them – like the Polish altar of Veit Stoss – carried religious significance, and the Ahnenerbe were known to investigate and record pagan and occult rituals, particularly from people they considered to be of Germanic origin.

Above: (Not like this)

In general, they traveled the globe taking orders from Himmler, they delved into a lot of ruins and backwoods settlements and they had a hand in the infamous medical experiments conducted as part of the Holocaust. It’s not like they went around waking ancient monsters or being melted by ghosts, but their aims were creepy enough that adding supernatural research to the pile would be like inflicting acne on a leper.

The idea of an all-female regiment of elite Nazi commandos is extremely dubious, given that the Nazis were even more sexist than the rest of the world during the ‘30s and ‘40s. And even if they did exist, they probably wouldn't fight in slinky leather catsuits, like the Elite Guard of Return to Castle Wolfenstein do.

No, the image of the hot Nazi dominatrix more likely comes straight from the Nazisploitation films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, in which Nazi fetishism and brutality was played up to make Gestapo atrocities seem a lot sexier than they actually were. The genre boasts titles like SS Hell Camp and Love Camp 7, but perhaps no film in the genre is more famous than Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS.

In the movie, Ilsa is the domineering commandant of a Nazi prison camp who conducts experiments to prove that women have a higher pain threshold than men, and should therefore be allowed into combat. More disturbingly, she appears to have been loosely based on a real person: Ilse Koch, the so-called “Witch of Buchenwald,” a camp commandant’s wife who was charged with – among other crimes – torturing prisoners, forcing them to rape each other for her amusement and murdering prisoners with interesting tattoos so that she could later harvest their skins and use them to decorate her furniture.

Above: Not so sexy now, is she?

God, jumping from sexy Nazis to tasteless softcore porn to actual war criminals is depressing. So it could be that we're reading too much into this, and that an elite guard of leather-clad women is just kind of hot, regardless of the political context. Yeah, maybe we’ll just leave it at that.

Marianna Blavatsky, the Nazi sorceress from Return to Castle Wolfenstein, is fictional. But like much of the other stuff on this list, she has a foundation in history, in that there was a mystic named Blavatsky – Helena Blavatsky, actually – who was one of the founders of the Theosophical movement in the 19th century. A more Germanic-focused system called Ariosophy later splintered off from Theosophy, in turn giving rise to the Thule Society, sponsors of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Worker's Party), which was later co-opted by Hitler and his followers to become the Nazi Party.

In Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Marianna Blavatsky leads the Thule Society, working closely with Himmler and the SS to release the undead Heinrich I from his ancient imprisonment. But in spite of their shared connection to Thule and Nazism, Helena Blavatsky is markedly different from RtCW’s villainous witch. For starters, she wasn’t into leather bikinis. “If you go and Google Madame Blavatsky… she does not look like our Madame Blavatsky,” Cloud told OXM. 

Above: What you get if you Google Madame Blavatsky

“She’s not scantily clad, and she’s a little bit older,” Cloud said. Also unlike Marianna, Helena wasn't alive during World War II, having died in 1891.

Possibly the most bizarre liberty the designers of Wolfenstein are taking with history is the addition of the Black Sun, which in the new game is a powerful mystical energy source that players – and certain enemies – can tap into through a sort of shadow world called The Veil. It’s a major plot point and probably the biggest gameplay change that the new Wolfenstein will bring to the series, and like everything else on this list, it has a (loose) basis in fact.

Above: Sadly, it wasn’t quite this impressive

The “real” Black Sun wasn’t a limitless power source, but Himmler’s interpretation of a pre-Christian Germanic symbol that he installed in a floor mosaic in Wewelsburg’s north tower. At the time, it signified Himmler’s intent to make the castle the symbolic center of the world, once the world had been conquered. Now it’s just one more perplexing relic of a failed empire.

But whatever. Esoteric symbol or otherworldly power source, the Black Sun is still a more interesting prospect than another Normandy beach landing.

Above: 'SCHEISSE!'

Mar 13, 2009

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Wolfenstein made Lucy Liu cry
And nine more things you didn’t know about the first great shooter


  • iamcare - May 2, 2011 11:30 p.m.

    *sigh* another history fail. I just dont see point of doing this kind of thing if you're not actually going to research it beyond the storylines of indiana jones. Read "Reich of the Black Sun" by Dr. Joseph Farrell or anything by Peter Lavenda or Jim Marrs. I think it's a shame when you guys are so good when it comes to games.
  • DryvBy - April 21, 2011 11:32 a.m.

    The first image of Page 2 has the Kris Kross logo on the top right of the chalkboard. Example:
  • Mavarious - March 16, 2009 5:14 a.m.

    ^^^^ GAH! Giant, not Major! Me scrood it up
  • Mavarious - March 16, 2009 5:13 a.m.

    Heinrich Himmler was a major tool. Lol, yep.
  • EdHas503 - March 15, 2009 7 p.m.

    i just wrote a paper on nazi occultism for my US history class. coincidence...hiter thinks not
  • sixboxes - March 15, 2009 2:12 p.m.

    This was really educational, bordering on fascinating. While it's clear that elements of the games aren't exactly based in fact, I'm surprised to see just how much historical fact IS involved.
  • Demoneyes10 - March 15, 2009 5:23 a.m.

    Gave me a good laugh. Female Nazi Dominatrix, lol.
  • Oxfordcomma4 - March 14, 2009 10:32 p.m.

    This Nazi-occultist stuff is really (morbidly) fascinating to me... Also, @ Sebatian16, you would have to be incredibly clever (if not smart, at least clever) to orchestrate something as massive as the Holocaust... Shit like that ain't easy raCaptcha: Pontaic Rector... PRIESTMOBILE!
  • Sebastian16 - March 14, 2009 3:15 a.m.

    How do you have to be smart to orchestrate the Holocaust? "Uh yeah, set up a huge fenced perimeteres here, here and here, throw some cabins in to house prisoners, build some ovens and ooohhh, I know! Gas chambers! Don't give them food, and kill them after making them work!"
  • mexpunk666 - March 14, 2009 2:48 a.m.

    AMAZING article!!! u should look more into real history with other games more often :p
  • Amnesiac - March 14, 2009 1:16 a.m.

    Stuff like this is so morbidly fascinating to me. Awesome article. reCaptcha: Mozart's boundless. Why yes, yes he is.
  • PCG_Evan - March 13, 2009 10:29 p.m.

    Great stuff. Why would I visit lame game blogs like Kotaku to read regurgitated bullet-point press releases when there's interesting original content like this that relates to the game so much better?
  • jdwolfie - March 13, 2009 9:45 p.m.

    If you guys are interested in this, you might want to watch Nazi's Occult Conspiracy which is very interesting and so is the series Hitler's Bodyguard on the Military Channel.
  • cowsrule - March 13, 2009 8:55 p.m.

    wasn't the spear of destiny in a glass case in Hellboy?
  • RebornKusabi - March 13, 2009 8:32 p.m.

    Interesting article, really does show how bat-**** crazy many of the Nazi's members were!
  • Scotch - March 17, 2009 1:27 a.m.

    haha this was a great article! i was expecting it to be a long list of random comparison facts that no one cared about, but this is allot better that i thought! amazing job Mikel! :DDD capchta: 80 heyman BAHAHA
  • MoonPig - March 16, 2009 5:02 p.m.

    God, Seeing those Madame Blavatsky pics in order was disturbing. Oh well. Hey if Hitler got married would his wife be the Fuhrette?
  • ReaperOfDarkness - March 15, 2009 3:44 p.m.

    I wonder how long before our current wars will become like this. Terrorists who are actually aliens or cyborgs I'm betting.
  • megaton624 - March 15, 2009 11:59 a.m.

    wow. never expected history could be this interestin :P sigh... we're learning about the geogrophy of china in school. ugh
  • GamesRadarMikelReparaz - March 15, 2009 3:08 a.m.

    @Hobojedi: No, I had to use a PS1 image to show a PS1 game, Medal of Honor: Underground, in which you infiltrate Wewelsburg. As opposed to RtCW, in which you infiltrate Wolfenstein, which is loosely based on Wewelsburg.

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