Stranger Than Fiction: The Real "Indiana Jones" Might Have Worked for the Nazis
12.05.12 by BJSprecher
It's been more than 30 years since Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) first globe-trotted around the world in search of precious relics from antiquity and, thanks to the popularity of the four movies chronicling his exploits, the character has transcended film to become an enduring part of our American culture. Even the least knowledgeable of movie buffs know that Indiana loves his hat, hates snakes, and relishes saving artifacts from the fiendish clutches of the Nazis.
Throughout the years, dozens of real-life adventurers have been offered up as the inspiration for the character, but if any of them truly did serve as the basis for Indiana Jones we may never know because creators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg aren't talking. One of the most recent additions to the list is also one of the most controversial because this "Indiana Jones" actually worked for the Nazis.
The Strange Truth
One of the most mysterious figures in modern archaeological history, German medievelist Otto Rahn traveled the world in search of ancient artifacts and legendary treasures. Rahn's meticulous study of The Iliad led him to the western coast of Turkey, where he discovered ruins that he believed to be the legendary city of Troy. Obsessed with finding the Holy Grail, Rahn journeyed to the Pyrenees region of southern France because he believed there was a link between Wolfram von Eschenbach's epic 13th century poem "Parzival" and the Grail. After publishing his findings, Rahn was contacted by Heinrich Himmler, the brutal leader of Hitler's SS, who wanted to fund his research into finding the grail. Though not a Nazi himself, Rahn accepted the commission, telling a friend, "A man has to eat. What was I supposed to do? Turn Himmler down?"
Himmler was so confident in Rahn's theories that he had a space set aside in Wewelsburg Castle in Westphalia for the Holy Grail. Rahn never did discover the Grail and his alternative lifestyle landed him in hot water with Himmler, who ordered him to serve a three-month tour of duty as a guard at the Dachau concentration camp. Rahn was horrified by what he saw at the camp, writing, "I have much sorrow in my country… impossible for a tolerant, liberal man like me to live in a nation that my native country has become." The archaeologist naively attempted to resign from the SS and Himmler accepted, but soon thereafter Rahn was dead. Or not. Some say he committed suicide, while others say Himmler had him killed. Another theory has it that he didn't die at all, but changed his name and became an ambassador. Rahn's true demise is, perhaps, forever lost in time. That is, until another real-life "Indiana Jones" digs up the truth in some long lost tomb...
Raiders of the Lost Ark,
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
In the two most popular movies in the series, Indiana Jones (Ford) races to discover legendary religious artifacts before the Nazis can get their clutches on them. In Raiders, we see that the Nazis will spare no expense to discover the Ark of the Covenant for Hitler, employing thousands to dig holes all over the desert. In Last Crusade, the Nazis are on the hunt for the Holy Grail, the very same item that Rahn spent his career searching for on behalf of the Nazis.