Hitler’s Holy Relics: A True Story Of Nazi Plunder And The Race To Recover the Crown Jewels Of The Holy Roman Empire, by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick
Even after spending quite a few hours listening to this audiobook in my car, I’m not sure what to think about it, exactly. I’m not sure if the author himself was fully aware of the sort of book that he was writing here. The plot reads like the sort of story one would see on the History Channel, and that is not necessarily a compliment. What we have here is part detailed reportage, almost novelistic in fashion, about the efforts of one German-American MFAA officer, Lt. Horne, to recover five missing artifacts from the Holy Roman Empire collection, namely the crown, scepter, orb, and two swords, all of which were at least tangentially involved in granting legitimacy to offices for those inclined to resurrect the Holy Roman Empire. The other part of this book is a lot of speculation about a supposed effort to create a revived Teutonic Knighthood that would inaugurate the Fourth Reich. The book, quite obviously, aims to capitalize on the recent rise in interest about Hitler’s taste for stolen relics and other more obscure parts of World War II history .
As might be expected, the book takes a chronological look that focuses on a three week period in the summer of 1945. We have a bit of prologue, where we see the fall of Nuremberg to American forces, as well as the lives of a couple of friends who happened to be German-Americans recently immigrated to the United States in hostility to Hitler’s regime, one of whom happened to be of a Jewish background. The story has a great deal of humor and it goes through the details of Horne’s search for the lost relics of the Holy Roman Empire with a great deal of detail. This can be deeply enjoyable–there are some cinematic scenes here like tense interviews as well as the experience of bribing Soviet border guards to let Horne’s mother out of the Russian zone near Jena. That said, although the travels of Horne and his shrewd and dogged search for the relics of the Holy Roman Empire are gripping, at times the story slows to a crawl with interminable lectures and speculations of one kind or another that are repeated over and over again. The author avoids no opportunity to repeat motifs, like chessplaying, or the discussion of corruption in postwar Germany, as well as the way in which intelligence agents bartered for favors and influence. The book is an eye-opening one but one that is also dragged down a bit by tedious repetition.
Ultimately, how you feel about this book will depend in large part on how committed you are to discussions of the occult significance of relics like the supposed Longinus Lance or spear of destiny, and how tolerant you are of lectures that drag on and on, sometimes where Horne is the one giving the lecture, and sometimes where he is the one hearing it. The book’s ideal reader combines a certain sense of cynicism about American political legitimacy in the intelligence community as well as a certain credulousness about the lure of the occult, even to American generals like Patton. Given the failure of Monuments Men as a film to draw a wide audience, it appears unlikely that this book will draw interest as a film adaptation, but for those who enjoy reading it or listening to it, it makes for an interesting account of the life of a complicated man, complicated not least because this story explores him at an awkward time in life, where his much younger wife (whom he had started dating when she was his undergraduate student in art history) had divorced him and where he looked forward to promotion, pay, and plenty of German fraulein to sleep with. He is, in other words, not the most appealing of heroes, but the book appears a fairly honest account, for what it’s worth.
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