My Brush With Old Nazis, Looted Art And Daughter of God


Today’s headlines daughter3about the trove of priceless artworks looted by the Nazi’s in WWII brought back a lot of memories (Lost Nazi art: Unknown Chagall among paintings in Munich flat.)

Back in the early 1980s, I stood outside that apartment building in Munich while on my research quest for the facts and history I ultimately used to write my thriller Daughter of God on the divine feminine roots of Christianity.

That book has been a mixed blessing ever since. The blessing is that it remains one of the best books I have ever written.

But I needed to go to Zurich for the next step of my investigation and that’s where a bunch of old Nazis threatened to kill me.

Then, in 2003 The Da Vinci Code ripped off much of Daughter of God (and my predecessor hook, The Linz Testament.)

 

In Search Of Looted Art

At any rate, this is the story of sources told me in 1984 about the loot found in that Munich apartment, why I had to go to Zurich … and how Zurich ultimately led authorities to the looted art in Munich. Most of the following was written in 1999 for the publication of Daughter of God by McMillan/Forge.

Desperation has frequently been my muse. As an investigative reporter in Washington D.C. following the Koreagate bribery corruption scandal in the late 1970s, I obtained documents shredded by the scandal’s key perpetrator, Tongsun Park and then invented a way to put them back together.

Despite the technical challenges, threats from the Korean CIA, and attempts by the House Ethics committee to take the shreds away, I managed to piece them into a series of articles that helped send a number of people to prison including a Congressman.

I have always preferred to build my novels on a solid foundation of fact, and so my preparation for Daughter of God included a massive amount of historical investigation that included hands-on research at the U.S. National Archives into the Art Looting Investigative Unit of the OSS (the World War II precursor of the CIA). I set as my goal the task of locating at least one painting that had disappeared into Nazi hands.

So, about six years after the Koreagate experience – which taught me that desperation was my friend – I found myself at an investigative dead-end on a gray, snowy day in Munich where the trail of the art stolen by the Nazis had grown colder than even the December weather.

All roads led to Munich. And they all disappeared there as well. I remembered being very depressed at coming all this way and finding all avenues closed.

How Did I Find The Old Nazi?

Whenever I find myself discouraged, I walk, walk and think. I walked for hours that day. Suddenly, without any sort of premeditation at all, I found myself standing in front of the offices of the Abend Zeitung – the Afternoon Daily Times. Perhaps there was a reporter, a journalist like me, who might be able to point me in the right direction. I was a fairly agnostic semi-religious person then, having been completely turned off by the hypocritical racism and twisted logic of having been raised a fundamentalist Protestant in Mississippi.

So it’s only now, more than fifteen years later, that I have begun to believe that my steps had been guided that day. I met Werner Meyer, a post WWII German who had received his journalism degree in the United States and who just happened to have a hobby of trying to track some original musical scores of the composer Wagner, scores which had disappeared through Nazi hands as well.

The Schwabing Bomb Shelter

Meyer introduced me to Heinrich Heim, an old Nazi who lived alone in an unheated WWII bomb shelter. Heim was Hitler’s main adjutant for the art thefts and by the end of this extraordinary meeting, I walked out with a photo and document that had once been part of Hitler’s most treasured files. Snow, sleet, and freezing rain poured down on us that evening as we parked Werner’s car in a dark unpaved lot and made our way down a cluttered alley littered with paper and illuminated by a naked streetlight bulb.

Werner knocked at the metal blast shield that served as Heim’s front door.

Werner told me that Heim lived in constant terror of retribution from the Israelis because-even though he did serve some time in an Allied prison – there are many who believe he was involved in activities far more heinous than merely being Hitler’s main adjutant for coordinating art thefts. After several minutes, Heim came to the door and after some difficulty pushed back the protective barrier and welcomed us.

The phrase “stooped but unbowed” characterized the old Nazi precisely. At first glance, he looked like a street derelict, dressed as he was in two overcoats and a layered succession of sweaters and shirts. But Heim’s eyes still shone with a bright pale icy blue that could have served as a model for Hitler’s virile Aryan superman.

Hitler’s former aide showed us into the room in which he conducted his research, and once we were seated amid the prodigious clutter of papers, solicitously placed threadbare blankets over our knees lest we get cold. The bomb shelter was not heated. Meyer began to talk with Heim as I, with a novice’s grasp of the German language, listened. They talked only a few minutes before Heim began to speak fondly of Frederick Stahl, the painter favored by Hitler and other Nazis mentioned in this book. Heim quickly grew misty-eyed as he remembered Stahl and, I suppose, the old days. He spoke of the beauty of Stahl’s work and of how Hitler treated the artist as if he were a brother, or perhaps a surrogate father.

After a time, the old Nazi produced a sheaf of papers and an envelope of small photographs. They were all small black and whites, about two inches on a side and each depicting a painting. All the paintings were Stahl’s and all were inventoried on a sheet of paper Heim handed to me. The paintings, he said, had disappeared having last been seen in Zurich just before the fall of the Third Reich. He wouldn’t say exactly when they had been seen or by whom. He gave me one of the photographs and the inventory after I promised to look for the paintings and let him know through Werner if I had made any progress. This is the painting at the center of Daughter of God.

To Zurich!

From Munich, I went to Zurich to learn if there were any remaining traces of the Stahl paintings. I made inquiries and obtained the names of several art galleries that had been in existence during the period of the paintings’ disappearance. I went to the oldest of the galleries and spoke with the owner. I showed him the picture Heim had given me and said that I represented a wealthy collector who was interested in acquiring the Stahl painting. The man threw me out of his gallery and threatened to call the police if I did not leave the neighborhood quickly. He said he had nothing to do with the paintings and furthermore did not want anything to do with them or with the people who might be interested in them. I had a difficult time determining whether he was frightened or angry. Probably both. I was certainly frightened. In the course of my investigative reporting, I had had my life threatened before and had managed to press on, undeterred until I had gotten my story. But that was in the past and I was now committed to staying healthy and hearty. Ending up missing in Zurich was not my idea of how to spend the holiday season.

What Happened After The Death Threat?

I took the first train back to Munich the next morning. I made several other visits to scenes of the old art crimes — to Salzburg, Vienna, Amsterdam and finally to an old salt mine on the banks of the Altaussersee, a deep narrow lake in the Austrian Alps. Along this route, I interviewed other art experts, historians, museum and gallery owners. To this day I remain ignorant of where the Stahl paintings are, and what’s more, I don’t think it would be healthy to know.

That meeting, the session with the old Nazi and subsequent events changed my book from one about stolen art, to one about faith and religion in which the stolen art played a key role. It began for me a personal journey into my own faith and relationship with my Creator. That journey still continues for me, but back then it was just a great track for an investigative journalist to follow.

What Other Kinds of Research Did I Do for This Book?

Research for Daughter of God took me back to the foundations of Western religion, looking at how the concept of God changed from female to male. I interviewed more than 40 experts: ordained clergy and university scholars in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In the process, I studied more than 100 books on the subject including the Koran, the Old and New Testaments in the Christian Bible, the Jewish Publication Society translation of the Torah, the Readings and the Prophets, translations of portions of the Gnostic Gospels and other books

How much of the story is true?

Daughter of God is fiction based on fact, much of which is easily verified. For example, the true stories of the art theft and how escaping SS troops used looted art to buy their freedom. You can rest firm in the knowledge that many of the art works lost during the war are hanging on the walls of chateaux in the Alps. Many more rest beneath the streets of Zurich. As I learned first hand, many of these are fantastically valuable, far, far more valuable than the estimation of a human life for someone asking the wrong questions.

What Relevance Does This Have for Today and the New Millennium?

The last years of the Twentieth Century have been filled with long-overdue attempts to locate looted art and return it to its rightful owners. The sections of this book dealing with the Nicean Conference and the events and religious controversies leading up to it are true and far better documented than any of the scriptures in the Hebrew or Christian Bible or the Muslim Quran. It is also a matter of public record that Pope Pius XII turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the atrocities of the Third Reich. The recent book, “Hitler’s Pope” by John Cornwell make for an even more compelling case.

Students of history, theology, geography, and political science will find many, many more things in this book that are true. Did an historical Sophia exist?

Sophia means “wisdom” in Greek.

If you read Proverbs Chapter 8, you will find a first person soliloquy by her – one of the few places in the Jewish/Christian scriptures where the male-dominated editing failed to remove a mention of the feminine divine. To the ancient Greeks and to the modern-day Eastern Orthodox churches, Sophia is a very real, historical woman – or a concept made into flesh. Indeed, the earliest versions of scripture indicate that the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity is none other than Sophia. It requires no stretch of the imagination to believe that Sophia is the modern-day name for the Great Goddess of antiquity that stretches far beyond written history back to the time when people conceived of God as a woman.

On the other hand, I’m fairly sure that the parts about Sophia as a Fourth Century flesh-and-blood woman are my imagination, created as they were from fragments of intriguing research about the early Christian church and the seminal roles that women played in it, roles which the male-dominated spiritual revisionists have tried to excise. They have been largely successful, but significant references remain. As I said before, just read Proverbs or the Song of Solomon where Wisdom is given her due.

To this day, the Catholic Church and other faiths – especially the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches — are still ambivalent about a mythical Sophia. Some, particularly those who follow Gnosticism, say she is the prime creator of the universe. Others believe in her as the feminine part of an androgynous God and still others identify her as the embodiment of Wisdom or even the Logos of the Christian Trinity before it was thoroughly masculinized. Sophia has a place in history, but where in history is still to be determined.

What is Daughter of God About?

When fine art expert Zoe Ridgeway is summoned to Zurich to examine an illicitly obtained collection of paintings, sculpture and religious artifacts of fabulous value, she has no idea that she will be snared in a centuries-long quest for a priceless reliquary that has altered history for the worse each time it has emerged from obscurity.

The reliquary is irrefutable proof of a Messiah, a woman named Sophia. Kidnapped from her hotel room, Zoe is drawn into a web of conspiracy, murder and intrigue that begins and ends with the mystery of Sophia – and all the powerful forces who seek to protect their patriarchies from a divinely feminine truth.

As Zoe struggles to free herself, she is the object of an intense search by her husband, former police detective Seth Ridgeway. But a shadowy organization connected to both U.S. intelligence and the Vatican are also hunting her. And an ambitious Cardinal who wants to use Sophia to blackmail his way to the papacy also wants to capture Zoe.

Zoe and Seth embark on an adventure of faith and worldly purpose to keep the holy object from continuing to be used for evil, guided by an old priest who last saw Sophia’s reliquary more than half a century ago.

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