69 years ago the Third Reich ended and rumors about Hitler's death began. It's probably more correct to say that conspiracy theories regarding Hitler's possible escape from Nazi Germany, as Soviet soldiers closed in on his bunker stronghold, have never been closed. The final days and hours of Der Fuhrer and the Reich he led continue to fascinate and even to mystify.
The official record states that Hitler and his newlywed wife, Eva Braun, committed suicide late in the afternoon of April 30, 1945, by gun and cyanide. According to some witnesses, their bodies were taken outside, doused with petrol and set ablaze. Attempts were made to destroy the bodies as completely as possible, but the conditions made the task difficult, so eventually, what was left of them was covered and abandoned in a bomb crater where they were found by Soviet soldiers who soon captured the compound.
At that point the record gets a little confusing, a situation that wasn't helped by the Soviets themselves who used the idea of Hitler's possible escape and survival as a propaganda device to throw their Western allies off track. Given all the evidence, it's difficult to know what really Stalin believed about Hitler's final fate, although it's also quite clear that various U.S. intelligence assets were checking out the rumors about Hitler's survival for many years to come.
Serpents of Fire, a classic conspiracy book, by paranormal and conspiracy author, Gray Barker, is resurrected, reedited and retooled for a new readership by Andy Colvin. Barker published his books privately through a press he called Saucerian Books. Colvin has chosen to reissue Barker's best using that model: New Saucerian Books. It is appropriate and fun.
Barker, whose reputation is notorious, (he researched and wrote about UFOs, ghosts, government cover-ups and, well, Hitler, and also played the double agent trickster with other investigators, like John A. Keel, flagrantly tried to profit from the scary experiences of others and even hoaxed certain events for publicity, some are convinced that he was a 'spook' himself), is in rare form in Serpents of Fire, co-written with Ruth Anne Leedy, as he scoots from rumors of Hitler's escape to Nazi-Alien technologies, the Hollow Earth theory, the grail and Reichstag occultism. It is classic Barker, one large conspiracy bag fits all, and it is just so much fun.
The thing about Barker is that he's a pretty good writer. He tells a hellava yarn and, you, the reader, really, really want to believe it. And as with all such forays into unofficial and unusual knowledge, he does uncover some pretty strange things.
According to his sources, and some of them are good ones, culled from primary documents and published interviews, Hitler had planned various methods of escape and the official story told of his discouragement and despair in that bleak April doesn't seem to track with other statements of defiance and intended survival that he apparently, really made. Add to this the fact that the Soviets hid evidence regarding Hitler's demise and even used the rumor of his survival as an intelligence ploy to throw the West off and the idea of conspiracy sometimes seems rather well founded.
The latest forensic evidence, again, at least what is officially accepted, even by the 'authoritative' Wikipedia entry, has concluded that Hitler was definitely dead at the time the Soviets found his body (he would probably be dead by now in any event even if he had escaped).But then, there's that 'skull story,' that the so-called Smoking Gun was really a woman's skull. Mystery upon mystery. But the symbol of Hitler, an anti-messiah if there ever was one, has survived as historians have discovered just how weird the Nazis really were.
Nazi scientists really did investigate the possibility of saucer shaped craft, time travel and some of them were obsessed with occultism, Hollow Earth theories and the possibility that the Aryan Race had descended from superior alien life forms. When one places these preoccupations next to the very real 'conspiracy' of Paperclip, that brought many Nazi scientists, including some who had experimented on human beings, to the U.S. to work on American government projects, including rocketry, improved nuclear weaponry and technology that would protect American astronauts in space, well, much else becomes easier to believe.
Barker simply stuffs it all together here-the real with the fanciful, true horrors with the simply bizarre and the mix is a little uncanny, even when the information he presents, since the original manuscript was written decades ago, is dated. For example, Josef Mengele was still alive when the book was written and plate tectonics had not yet become accepted knowledge to be taught in schools. (Mengele had escaped, incidentally).
But where Barker really shines is in his ability to detect the power of a symbol, a living, vital, if vicious symbol. And that, Hitler certainly became. And remains so-a form of survival that can survive either reality of his passing.
Barker's stories fundamentally influenced the course of UFO and conspiracy narratives in the United States. It was Barker who broke the genuinely strange, sinister and sad story of Morris K. Jessup, an aspiring astronomer (who was really a used car salesman, despite having a degree in astronomy) and the fate of his book, The Case for UFOs (1953) which ended with Jessup's mysterious suicide.
Barker also published the initial accounts,of the Men in Black phenomena that seem to plague many UFO experiencers. The fact is, where ever there were weird stories to be told, Barker was on the case. Unlike Keel, he wasn't really interested in trying to understand or solve what was going on, he was following the narrative threads, building a story, creating a legend. What truths may be contained therein just added to the mystery and allure.
This book is a classic, heralding back to the 'good old days' of maverick paranormal research, conducted in the paranoid shadow of Cold War politics, before the advent of Internet memes and mirroring algorithms. In such a world, Hitler, like Schrodinger's Cat, could be alive and dead at the same time. It's amazing to step back to a time when the study of unofficial knowledge was fun and and it seemed like all things were possible, even if they scared the crap out of you.