First Review!

"In a riveting narrative that is as exciting as a well-crafted novel… Sidney Kirkpatrick… paces his book about the case of the vanishing jewels with such skill that it grabs readers by the scruff of the neck and does not let go until the very last page."

Larry Cox, King Features

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During the Nazi march across Europe, thousands of priceless artworks and antiquities were systematically looted, including the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. The Crown Jewels were especially important because of the significance they had with the German people and the fact that the Nazis used the collection to legitimize their barbaric regime.

At the end of World War II, Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton became aware that the Crown Jewels had vanished from top-secret bunkers carved deep into the bedrock beneath Nuremberg castle. Realizing the possibility that the missing jewels could be used as potent weapons if they landed in the hands of unrepentant Nazis, the two generals ordered Lt. Walter Horn to track down and secure the missing loot. Horn, a German-born American and a professor of art history at the University of California, was given a mere three weeks to accomplish this almost impossible task.

Lt. Horn realized the daunting challenge given to him, especially since his search would begin in Nuremberg, a war-torn city that was being prepared for the war crime tribunals. Despite his misgivings, he began by searching the bunker for clues. He eventually zeroed in on two city councilmen who had strong connections to the Nazi government.

In a riveting narrative that is as exciting as a well-crafted novel, Hitler's Holy Relics documents how Lt. Horn unravels one of history's most notorious art thefts. Sidney Kirkpatrick, the critically acclaimed author of "Cast of Killers" and a frequent contributor to HBO, the History Channel and the Discovery Channel, paces his book about the case of the vanishing jewels with such skill that it grabs readers by the scruff of the neck and does not let go until the very last page.

(c) 2010 King Features Synd., Inc. Reviewed by Larry Cox

One doesn’t associate Adolf Hitler with holy relics. How did this come to be?

One can either declare Hitler and his inner circle certifiably insane and be done with the matter, as many historians have done, or one could, with difficulty, trace the evolution of Hitler’s monstrous agenda point by point, from the rantings of a political dissident in a Munich beer hall to the death camps. I’ve tried to connect the dots. In Hitler’s Holy Relics, readers get a picture window into the mind of this madman, and can follow, point by point, how the failed Vienna art student and former choirboy developed a profound obsession with Christian mysticism and the Holy Roman Emperors, and more important, how, in building the Third Reich, he sought to create a ‘Holy Reich.’ Most writers wouldn’t have the temerity to put the words Holy and Reich together. At least no self-respecting Christian would put them together, and it wasn’t what came to my mind before I read Horn’s reports. But it’s not such a mental leap as you might expect. The Nazis actually created their own bible, complete with an Aryan Jesus. A Catholic priest edited Mien Kampf. Hymnals and rosaries were found along with children’s toys in the gated compounds where death-camp clerks and crematorium supervisors lived with their families. And among Himmler’s corps of Aryan scholars were prominent theologians, historians, and scientists, who traveled the world collecting all manner of religious art and manuscripts. Possession of the Holy Lance and Holy Roman Empire Crown Jewels might have actually been, in Hitler’s mind, a means to justify his quest, like Charlemagne before him, to conquer the Western world. This could also explain why Hitler believed he had the authority to commit the atrocities for which his henchmen would stand trial in Nuremberg. There can be no greater distortion of power than one man, the leader of a nation, believing that his or her authority comes directly from God.

How does Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis figure into your story?

This was the book that she wanted written when she was an editor at Doubleday, but due to the ill-health of Walter Horn, the book never got beyond the planning stages. Caroline Kennedy, when she was working for the Metropolitan Museum, brought the subject to her mother’s attention. I am the grateful recipient of their collaboration as I have drawn on the extensive oral interviews that were conducted in anticipation of the earlier book being written.

How I Came to Write This Book

My initial interest wasn’t in General Patton and Heinrich Himmler, but with the holy relic known as the Spear of Destiny, the spear-point that a Roman centurion was said to have used to pierce Christ at the Crucifixion. I was fascinated by how this relic has been venerated over the centuries, that it wasn’t property of the church, as is the Shroud of Turin and most other holy relics, and how world monarchs, from Constantine to Napoleon, and finally Hitler, coveted the artifact. The challenge was how to tell the story in a compelling and personal way. How to humanize the story. I’m not a medievalist, and even if I had the credentials to tackle the subject, the documentary record doesn’t reveal what Constantine and Charlemagne and Napoleon really thought about the Holy Lance, or why they, and so many other world monarchs, went to such lengths to lay claim to it. Did they really believe in the spear’s alleged mystical power, or was possession of the artifact and the greater collection Holy Roman Empire Crown Jewels merely a matter of political expediency? Every emperor must have his crown, and spear too, perhaps. So I had given up on the idea of telling this story. Then, while I was digging through some boxes of recently declassified reports in the National Archives, in College Park, Maryland, I happened upon a report by Lieutenant Walter Horn. He turned out to be the officer who had been plucked out of the ranks and sent on the mission to Nuremberg, Germany to lay claim to the Spear and the other Crown Jewels on behalf of Generals Patton and Eisenhower and the Allied Army. As it turned out, a neighbor of the Horn family was a big fan of my Edgar Cayce book. She was also the best friend of Walter Horn’s widow. The rest naturally fell into place. I had a great story, and thanks to the support of the Horn family, I had my own treasure trove of material to write it. A Pandora’s Box, really.

The Question I'm Asked the Most

Many of my readers have pointed out the fact that I’ve written books on a wide variety of topics which range from biographies of American psychic Edgar Cayce and artist Thomas Eakins to a true crime thriller about Peruvian archaeology, and now a book about Nazi mysticism and plunder. The truth is, I can’t resist a good story. That’s what all my books have in common. They’re about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. In A Cast of Killers, we follow the footsteps of an aging film director, King Vidor, scrambling to stay in the movie business, who is compelled by unusual circumstances to solve a forty-five-year-old Hollywood murder. Turning the Tide is about a disillusioned marine biologist on a small Caribbean island who finds himself swimming with the kinds of sharks who pilot fast planes between Medellin and Miami; Lords of Sipan is about an archaeologist searching for evidence of what his colleagues believe to be a fantasy; Edgar Cayce and Thomas Eakins, though they possessed very remarkable talents, were basically two extraordinarily ordinary men who found themselves at odds with the world around them. The back-drop for Hitler’s Holy Relics is Nazi mysticism and plunder, but the compelling story belongs to Walter Horn, a medieval art historian who fled Nazi Germany only to find himself in Patton’s U.S. Third Army marching back to the Fatherland. Like King Vidor in A Cast of Killers, the past comes back to haunt him in a very unique and highly dramatic way.

Coast to Coast AM

I'm thrilled to be discussing Hitler's Holy Relics with Ian Punnett on Coast to Coast AM this Saturday night, May 15. Please tune in at 11 pm. Pacific Time, and 2 am. East Coast Time.

Sidney Kirkpatrick in San Francisco to honor Walter Horn

The San Francisco leg of my Hitler’s Holy Relics book tour has been a smashing success. I am most grateful to Chris Hallett, the new chair of U.C. Berkeley’s Department of History of Art, for arranging for me and medieval art historian Beate Fricke to honor Dr. Walter Horn at an event at the Doe Library on April 28. Among the many guests were Peter Selz, the distinguished art historian of German Expressionism, several of Walter’s children and grandchildren, and a very large and enthusiastic contingent of former colleagues, students and friends. Among Walter’s many intimates I had the pleasure of visiting on this trip was Bernard M. Rosenthal, the Berkeley antiquarian book dealer who provided me so much help while writing Hitler’s Holy Relics. This candid snap was taken of the two of us on April 19, at the SF Club’s “The Family,” at Barney’s grand 90th birthday party celebration, which was organized by John Crichton.