The Nazis weren't defeated at the end of World War II. Instead, they fled to Antarctica in a flying saucer constructed by Nazi scientists, where the SS continued their struggle against Freemasons from a secret base in the German colony of New Swabia. The Americans would later launch the Antarctic expedition Operation Highjump in 1946 in a bid to capture the Nazis' flying saucer technology.
That, at least, is one version of events. Such far-fetched theories about Nazi flying saucers are deconstructed in a new exhibition by Polish artist Hubert Czerepok which opens Thursday at Peenemünde Historical Technical Information Center on Germany's Baltic coast.
"I'm concerned with questioning official versions of history, which are not always true," says Czerepok. "I'm interested in asking which version is really true."
The exhibition is entitled Haunebu, one of several names for the alleged flying saucer project, which are also referred to as Reichsflugscheiben ("Reich flying discs"), Vril discs or V-7s. According to believers, the disks were up to 71 meters (230 feet) in diameter and could reach speeds of up to 5,000 kilometers per hour (3,100 miles per hour).
Peenemünde is an appropriate location for exploring such topics, given that it was where the German V-2 rockets were developed during World War II; some ufologists believe the Haunebu project was an offshoot of the V-2 program. In fact, many aspects of the UFO conspiracy theories in circulation are inspired by real events relating to the V-2 -- such as the idea that the Allies seized the flying saucer technology at the end of the war and took the Nazi scientists to the United States to continue their work in secret. However, there is no historical evidence that any flying saucer program ever existed.
Between Fact and Fiction
One of the strands that feeds into ufologists' fertile imaginations is a peculiar structure located outside the village of Nowa Ruba in Poland's Owl Mountains, a part of the country which belonged to Germany up until 1945. The mysterious construction consists of a dozen concrete pillars arranged in a circle with a ring around the top. No one has ever been able to come up with a definitive explanation of what the Nazis used it for -- prompting ufologists to speculate it was used in the alleged Haunebu project.
"There's no other structure like it," says Czerepok, who has visited the site, which was featured in a BBC documentary. "Some believe it was some kind of storage facility or an ammunition factory. Others believe it was used for an anti-gravity engine." A large-format photograph of the structure forms part of the exhibition, which also includes a scale model of a Nazi flying saucer and what are alleged to be photographs, some clearly doctored, and design sketches of the UFOs.
Czerepok, who says he has always been fascinated by urban myths and conspiracy theories, was inspired by works by the sensationalist Polish historian Igor Witkowski. He also found a wealth of material on the many Web sites devoted to Nazi secret technology.
Some of the sites go into extraordinary detail about the supposed Nazi UFOs, featuring information about specifications and test flights. "The Vril 1 Jäger (Hunter) was constructed in 1941 and first flew in 1942," reads one site. "It was 11.5 meters in diameter, had a single pilot, and could achieve speeds of between 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) per hour and 12,000 kilometers per hour!"
The sites are illustrated with -- inevitably blurry -- photos, artists' renditions and technical drawings which purport to show the advanced technology described. The authors also discuss at length the role of supposed Nazi secret societies such as the Order of the Black Sun or the Vril Society. "I've met people who really think it's true," says Czerepok.
However, the artist insists his aim is not to poke fun at people who believe in the theories. "The project deals with history, which is not like science," he says. "Instead, it consists of several small narratives." He feels artists often occupy the gray area between fact and fiction. "As an artist, you are in a position to reconstruct things which did not exist, things which are not certain."
In the past, theories about a Nazi UFO program gained particular traction in Germany's radical right, neo-Nazi communities. But Czerepok isn't concerned about his exhibition becoming a magnet for the neo-Nazi fringe. "It's not a show dedicated to them and I am not trying to get their special attention," he says. "It's an exhibition about history, which has been seen by some people as science fiction and by others as true historical facts. It's open for all possible interpretations and different audiences."
Does he believe in UFOs himself? "I'm kind of in between. You have skeptical days and days when you believe in things. As they say, the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us."
The exhibition "Haunebu" runs at the Peenemünde Historical Technical Information Center from Feb. 12 until April 19, 2009.