|A lunatic Chaplin imitator|
and his greatest fans
|First as tragedy|
|Then as farce|
Otto Rahn (1904-1939) was a Nazi student of folklore and pseudoarchaeologist. His early work involved studies of French sites once inhabited by the heretical Christian sect known as the Cathars, especially the caves and catacombs they used for secrecy. He eventually became convinced of the historicity of the Arthurian legend contained in Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th century epic Parzival (Percival), leading him to become obsessed with finding the Holy Grail. He wrote a book, Kreuzzug gegen den Gral (Crusade Towards the Grail), detailing his beliefs about the Grail.
In 1933, Heinrich Himmler took interest in Rahn's work - that is, his claims regarding the Grail - and recruited him into the SS. Tensions grew between Himmler and Rahn as Rahn continually came up empty handed. In 1937, he wrote a second book, Lucifer's Court. The publishers slipped some anti-Semitic material into it to promote German nationalism.
He was always uneasy with Nazi policies, but felt "A man has to eat. What was I supposed to do? Turn Himmler down?". Rahn was openly homosexual, and this is likely the reason he was eventually sentenced to three months of guard duty at Dachau's concentration camp in 1937. Rahn finally attempted to quit the SS in 1938, and was supposedly offered a choice between suicide and execution by his former masters.
He was found dead on a hilltop in Tyrol, Austria, in 1939; the official cause of death given was suicide, though the accuracy of the report is unknown.
Much rumor and pseudohistory surrounds Rahn and his work and some believe he actually survived and was imprisoned at Dachau until the end of the war, though no substantial evidence has been found for this. He is claimed by some to have inspired Raiders of the Lost Ark, although this has received no confirmation from the film makers.