Base 211 (2014)

DISCLAIMER: The authors explicitly reject any form of Nazi ideology, its aims, and all forms of revisionism and racism.

Basis 211

Base 211 is a multi media exhibition project dealing with the myth of a secret Nazi base in the Antarctica. This legend, which was originally spread by post-war tabloids, has seen a revival in recent years and has spread on the Internet. The work is designed in the fashion of a documentary exhibition dealing with a historical subject. It includes information panels, framed documents and photos, books, and various other objects. Base 211 was shown, for example, at the Künstlerhaus S11, Solothurn (CH), 9.-26.9.2019:

1. A Nazi-Base in Antarctica?

Since the late 1940’s rumours have been circulating about a secret Nazi base in Antarctica. Having been reserved to fringe publications for decades, the myth began to proliferate with the rise of the Internet in the 1990s. In recent years this myth has been exploited and its historical facts blurred by Neonazis and conspiracy theorists. Nazi Germany did indeed have a keen interest in the Antarctic, and there is evidence that following a 1938/39 expedition, several posts were established on the continent. It is presumed that key evidence of these posts was destroyed during the bombardment of the German naval high command‘s building (Marinekommandoamt) in Berlin in 1943 and of the main security office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) in 1945. All that remains is a scattered puzzle of documentation, unverifiable testimonies, and unconfirmed reports.

This exhibition presents new evidence of German activities in Antarctica after 1939. Swiss private historians Dorothee and Urs Huwiler aim to make information about these events available to the public, the details of which remain elusive but are too significant and provocative to be ignored. The material on display in this exhibition is part of the Huwilers’ growing portfolio.

Überblick: Textpanel 1 und zugehörige Ausstellungsstücke

– Video wird hinzu gefügt –

2. The German Antarctic Expedition 1938/39

In the years before World War II, Germany, like many other countries, was anxious to gain a foothold in the Antarctic. The Nazi government’s interest in the region revolved around securing whaling grounds, which would liberate the country from its dependence on Norwegian blubber. At the same time, the Reich believed that the ‘legal’ and uncomplicated seizure of this expansive territory would reinforce Germany’s ‘superpower’ status.

In the late 1930s, plans were made for an expedition to Antarctica under the command of experienced Captain Alfred Ritscher. On December 17th, 1938 the ‘MS Schwabenland’, a modified cargo ship carrying two aircraft, left the port of Hamburg, reaching the Antarctic coast on January 19th 1939. During the two weeks that followed, seven reconnaissance flights surveyed an area of almost 350,000 square kilometres (an area approximately the size of the British Isles), producing 11,600 aerial photographs that were used to update existing Norwegian maps of the area.

Several previously unknown mountain ranges were discovered that were later named after members of the expedition, as was a large ice-free region containing several lakes. For the German authorities, this region, named the ‘Schirmacher Oasis’, was to become the most coveted.

In an effort to lay claim over this territory, German flags were posted along the region’s perimeter, and inland areas were designated by air-dropping swastika-topped markers. The new territory was named ‘Neu-Schwabenland’ (‘New-Swabia’) after the name of the original expedition vessel.


3. Planning a Permanent Post

Neu-Schwabenland was officially administered by Herrmann Göring, the plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan for German rearmament. As priorities changed with the outbreak of the war in September 1939, the German navy became increasingly involved in Neu-Schwabenland’s development, establishing at least two small stations (Base 209 and Base 210) in Antarctica to add to a global network of outposts, one of which was reportedly destroyed by the American navy in 1941.

Two of several radio messages* sent by Dr. Friedrich Seidel, an experienced military engineer and logistician who was in charge of finding a suitable site for a permanent base, shed some light on German Antarctic activities. In a radiogram to the German naval leader Grand Admiral Erich Raeder dated February 14th 1940, Seidel proposes that the area of the Schirmacher lakes is the ideal location for a permanent post (Base 211), arguing that hot springs in the area would make the base energy-self-sufficient. Another message sent on January 31st 1941 suggests that by this time work had already commenced on an underground facility.

By 1941 Germany‘s whaling fleet, under the control of the navy, was being used to transport equipment to Antarctica. The operation was classified as a military secret (‘Geheime Kommandosache’), and, except for an incident in January 1941 when Norwegian whalers were removed from Antarctic waters by German authorities, it continued unimpeded.

*A total of ten radio message transcripts and letters from Dr. Seidel were recently discovered in the private archive of the Russian collector and Red Army veteran Dimitri Schirjajev. Schirjajev was involved in the occupation of Berlin and in the search of various former Nazi government buildings in May 1945. Urs Huwiler acquired the documents shortly after his death in 2005.

Überblick: Textpanel 3 und zugehörige Ausstellungsstücke

4. Further Developments during the War

In September 1942, vice-admiral Freiherr Hubertus von Szoltey was appointed head of the navy’s department for special tasks (‘Leitung Sonderaufgaben’) and coordinator of the base’s further development. Facing increasing attacks by the British navy, von Szoltey gave the order to modify the transports to Antarctica from camouflaged whalers to submarines, which meant a severe reduction in cargo capacity. To make up for the shortcoming, the German freighter ‘Isolde’ started to operate between Patagonian ports and Antarctica. From December onwards building materials and supplies were mainly imported from Argentina, where the NSDAP/OA (the Nazi party’s organisation for Germans living abroad) had a strong foothold.

After allied bombing raids in August, various military production facilities inside Germany were moved underground. Von Szoltey and Seidel took interest in these operations; however, the development of the Antarctic underground base slowed down significantly at the same time. By late November supply shortages and persistently bad weather brought work almost to a standstill. From April to October, 12 men spent the first entire Antarctic winter on the base.

In January, von Szoltey received orders from Reich Chancellery to expand the base. The plan was difficult to realise as German transport submarines were under heavy attack in the Atlantic, however, a number of scientists and engineers did make it to the base. By the end of the year the outpost was occupied by an estimated 100 people. In March former technical supervisor Erich Seidel was appointed base commander by von Szoltey, who, on August 5th, died in Eberswalde near Berlin. The circumstances surrounding von Szoltey’s death are still unknown. Von Szoltey’s position remained vacant until the end of the war, leaving the Antarctic base project free from the influence and guidance of the Reich.

5. An “Impregnable Fortress” for the Führer?

After the war, stories appeared in various media suggesting that Adolf Hitler himself may have escaped to Antarctica. Although this myth was quickly dismissed, it was suspected that the sudden expansion of the base during the last year of the war was part of an evacuation plan for some members of the Nazi elite. This suspicion was further substantiated by German naval leader Karl von Dönitz, who, in November 1943, declared in front of cadets:

“The German submarine fleet is proud of having built for the Führer, in another part of the world, an impregnable fortress.”

The navy, and vice admiral von Szoltey in particular, had enjoyed an unprecedented degree of freedom in developing the facility; in fact, it was largely disregarded by Nazi leaders outside of the navy until early 1944. Some historians have recently questioned the notorious loyalty of Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann to his Führer. They argue that as German troops were retreating on three fronts by the end of 1943, he and several SS-leaders developed an evacuation plan for parts of the Nazi elite that did not necessarily involve Hitler. The alleged plot called ‘Operation Avalon’ was intended to help a select group of people escape to Argentina and other parts of the world. Bormann’s order to expand the Antarctic base at a time when Hitler was drawing all resources together to produce munitions in Germany connects the plot to von Szoltey’s office. Von Szoltey himself was described by his secretary Gertrude Alt as “…a genius of logistics and rhetoric with an obsession to create a little ‘Antarctic Reich’”, and – benefiting from the turmoil of war – “an ability to pull the strings necessary to make his dream come true”. Hitler either failed to pay sufficient attention to these activities or he was misinformed about their scope.

Überblick: Textpanel 5 und zugehörige Ausstellungsstücke

6. Living in the Antarctic Underground

It can only be speculated what daily life on the base was like. Some clues can be obtained from floor plans visible on a photograph taken inside the base. Three of the rooms appear unusually large. The largest of them (1) seems to be unconnected to the rest of the structure, and may have been accessible only from another floor. This room was possibly the conservatory that is visible in other photographs.

Entertainment must have been particularly important for the residents’ mental health in the bleak and isolated environment. Six months of complete darkness, frequent storms and average temperatures of -1°C in summer and -22°C in winter limited outdoor activities. Some pictures show men and women at leisure in the vicinity of the base, which was essential for combating boredom, depression and homesickness. The existence of a theatre/cinema, a library, and even a troupe is mentioned in a letter written to the base’s chief physician Dr. Erich Wohlbrandt in 1963 by Otto Sedenik, a former cook on the base. The curved wall of the second hall (2) may indicate the existence of a theatre or cinema.

In his retrospective report, Sedenik also mentions a gymnasium. This could explain the third big room visible on the floor plan (3). It would have provided not only the means to work out physically, but also to neutralise tensions and aggressions. Another detail Sedenik recounts concerns his accommodation, which comprised one room shared with seven others. A cluster of rooms in the bottom right corner (4) of the plan may have been a dormitory unit with attached bathrooms and toilets (5).

Überblick: Textpanel 6 und zugehörige Ausstellungsstücke

7. The End of the Base

Due to its extreme isolation, Base 211 went undisturbed for several years after the war. Its only connection with the outside world was infrequent supply deliveries organised by German expatriates in Argentina. There, the NSDAP/AO – Nazi party‘s overseas organisation – had a strong foothold until 1945.After the war the country became a notorious haven for Nazis escaping prosecution. Although the details of the Argentine-Antarctic connection are sparse, it is assumed that inhabitants of Base 211 used the supply delivery transports to leave the base.

A serious problem for the base, and the underground conservatory in particular, was the constant mal functioning of the geothermal heating system. As a result of this, the inhabitants suffered malnourishment, frostbite, and severe depression. In 1949, an influenza epidemic had devastating consequences. In the germ-free Antarctic air the inhabitant’s immune systems had become highly compromised, and the virus, most likely imported from Argentina, infected 51 people, 36 of whom died including all seven children born on the base. Considering these dismal living conditions, the evacuation of the base was inevitable.

Established Nazi colonies in Argentina could have facilitated the final exodus and provided refuge to the remaining survivors. An entry in the Argentinean land register shows that Dr. Erich Wohlbrandt, the chief physician of the base, purchased a house in the town of Bariloche in June 1951, so it is assumed that the base was evacuated shortly before this date.

Überblick: Textpanel 7 und zugehörige Ausstellungsstücke

8. Where exactly was Base 211?

A recent geological survey of the Schirmacher Oasis suggests that the ideal location for the base would have been near today’s Russian research station Novolazarevskaya. This assumption is supported by a variety of mysterious artefacts discovered in 1984 by Swedish meteorologists working in the Novolazarevskaya area: A swastika badge a German pocket knife from the 1940s and the cover of a Nazi army flask.

In 1998 a Geologist from South Africa found several pieces of concrete in the same area that could not be traced to any of the documented building activities in the Schirmacher Oasis. Finally, in 2009 a Dutch tourist brought back home parts of a toolkit made in Germany in the 1930s.These finds substantiate the suspicion that Base 211 was located at the eastern rim of the Schirmacher Oasis.

Überblick: Textpanel 8 und zugehörige Ausstellungsstücke

9. The Base 211 Myth

Who seeks information about Base 211 today finds a vast body of conspiracy theories and hoaxes. The myth goes back to the late 1940s – most notably to the writings of the Hungarian journalist Ladislas Szabó and the Chilean (Nazi) mystic Migual Serrano. Ever since, old and new Nazis, right-wing esoterics and conspiracy theorists have “interpreted” the facts about the German activities in Antarctica, reiterating the already widespread legend, blending historical facts and adding some “new evidence” to the story.

The story is usually fused either with the theory that Hitler managed to escape from his Berlin bunker, or with an alleged top secret development of disc-shaped aircraft and other ‘wonder weapons’ by the Nazis. According to this latter myth, prototypes of the so-called “Nazi UFOs” (which came just slightly too late to turn the war’s fate for Germany) were taken to Antarctica. It is argued that on Base 211 Nazi scientists continued to develop and test these weapons after the war.

No story seems too absurd to be published. It is often claimed that Base 211 and Hitler’s ‘wonder weapons’ are the result of a Nazi-alien co-operation. It has also been claimed that Base 211 serves as an entrance to the earth’s hollow interior and is linked to the site of ‘secret wars’ and ‘nuclear assaults’.

Countless conspiracy articles, online discussions, even feature films and TV-documentaries have been produced on the subject of Base 211. Today the internet is the leading medium where the manifold myths surrounding Base 211 proliferate. Whenever (new) ‘facts’ about the German base in Antarctica have surfaced they have later been revealed as nothing but fantasies.

Überblick: Textpanel 9 und zugehörige Ausstellungsstücke
List of Illustrations
Img-No. 2.1/2.2. The German Antarctic Expedition 1938/39. Herrman, E., 1941. Deutsche Forscher im Südpolarmeer. Berlin: Safari
Img-No. 2.3/2.4. The German Antarctic Expedition 1938/39. Herrman, E., 1941. Deutsche Forscher im Südpolarmeer. Berlin: Safari
Img-No. 3.1. Lieutenant Dr. Friedrich Seidel, technical supervisor and later commander of Base 211. Photo: Fuchs. Bilddienst Wagner, image NS02-3167
Img-No. 3.2. German base 209 on the Antarctic peninsula, November 1940. Photo: Stuhrkopf. Bildddienst Wagner; image AF11/2-144a/b
Img-No. 3.3. Destruction of base 210 by the American navy, February 14th 1941. The North American Archives of Trade and Commerce, Boston
Img-No. 3.4/3.5/3.6/3.7. German submarine at bay in Neu-Schwabenland, September 1942 (3.4). Cargo ship at bay in Neu-Schwabenland, February 1946 (3.5). Transportation of goods to the Schirmacher Oasis, September 1942 (3.6). Crew aboard supply vessel, 1942 (3.7). Photos from the estate of Dr. E. Wohlbrandt. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Img-No. 4.1. US coast guard crew of cutter ‘Spencer’ watching as a depth charge explodes near German submarine U-175, April 17th 1943. Photo: January. United States National Archives
Img-No. 4.2. German cargo vessel ‘Odin’ sunk by the British navy, December 5th 1942. Photo: Straw. The North American Archives of Trade and Commerce, Boston
Img-No. 4.3/4.4. German transport sumarine U-3698. Photos: Schroth. Bilddienst Wagner, images QR14-34/a+b
Img-No. 4.5/4.6. The German supply vessel ‘Isolde’ in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, February 1946 and April 1946. Photos: Mendez. Archivos Patagonia
Img-No. 4.7. The German supply vessel ‘Isolde’ discharging in Neu-Schwabenland. (probably) December 1945. Original negative from the estate of Dr. E. Wohlbrandt. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Img-No. 5.1. Naval leader Karl von Dönitz speaking to cadets aboard the training ship ‘Horst Wessel’ on November 27th 1943. Photo: Emde. Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), image 183-J16093
Img-No. 5.2. Vice-admiral Freiherr Hubertus von Szoltey, head of the German navy’s department for special tasks (“Leitung Sonderaufgaben”) 1942-1945. Photo: Sandmann. Bilddienst Wagner, image NS02-3128
Img-No. 6.1a. Base 211 Floor Plan. See Img-No. 6.1
Img-No. 6.1/6.2/6.3/6.4. Two staff on the base, not dated (6.1). Officer (identity unknown), February 1946 (6.2). Unidentified location, December 1945 (6.3). Staff at leisure, December 1945 (6.4). Photos from the estate of Dr. E. Wohlbrandt. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Img-No. 6.5/6.6/6.7/6.8. Corridor, March 1947 (6.5). Exit, February 1946 (6.6). Corridor, December 1945 (6.7). Exit, two staff and explosion in the background (6.8). December 1945. Photos from the estate of Dr. E. Wohlbrandt. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Img-No. 6.9/6.10/6.11/6.12. Women posing on the Antarctic peninsula, February 1945 (6.9). Group of officers (possible entrance to the base visible in the background), not dated (6.10). Men curling and women posing with pinguins, December 1945 (6.11). Photos from the estate of Dr. E. Wohlbrandt. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Img-No. 6.13/6.14. Conservatory, 1943 (6.13). Conservatory, not dated (6.14). Photos from the estate of Dr. E. Wohlbrandt. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Img-No. 6.15. Vessel with Argentine flag in Neu-Schwabenland, February 1946. Original negative from the estate of Dr. E. Wohlbrandt. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Img-No 7.1/7.2. Base interior, 1948. Explosion at the eastern rim of the Schirmacher Oasis, April 10th 1950. Photos from the estate of Dr. E. Wohlbrandt. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Img-No. 7.2. Nazi parade in Rio Gallegos, Argentina, 1941. Photo: unknown. Foto Roil, Rio Gallegos, Argentina
Img-No. 7.3. Grave of Dr. Erich Wohlbrandt (1897-1967) in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. Photo: Huwiler. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Img-No. 8.1. Russian research station Novolazarevskaya, 2006. Photo: Novolazarevskaya. CC-BY-2.5; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License
List of Documents
Doc-No. 2.1. Map of Neu-Schwabenland. Herrman, E., 1941. Deutsche Forscher im Südpolarmeer. Berlin: Safari
Doc-No. 3.1. New York Times, May 6th 1941
Doc-No. 3.2. Radio message from base commander Friedrich Seidel to the German naval high command, February 2nd 1940. From the estate of Dimitri Schirjajev. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Doc-No. 3.x. Radio message from base commander Friedrich Seidel to the German naval high command, April 10th 1942. From the estate of Dimitri Schirjajev. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Doc-No. 3.x. Radio message from base commander Friedrich Seidel to the German naval high command, January 31st 1941. From the estate of Dimitri Schirjajev. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Doc-No. 3.3. Logbook excerpt from the ‘Pinguin’ reporting the capture of Norwegian whalers off the Neu-Schwabenland coast, January 1941. Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)
Doc-No. 4.1. Radio message from base commander Friedrich Seidel to the German naval high command, March 15th 1944. From the estate of Dimitri Schirjajev. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Doc-No. 4.2. Radio message from base commander Friedrich Seidel to the German naval high command, April 10th 1945. From the estate of Dimitri Schirjajev. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler
Doc-No. 4.3. The German-Antarctic Connection. Cartomuseale, Milan
Doc-No. 5.1. Associated Press, July 18th 1945.
Doc-No. 5.2. The Plain Truth, June 1952.
Doc-No. 5.3. Heim und Welt (German women’s magazine), July 1952.
Doc-No. 6.1a/b. Letter from former base cook Otto Sedenik to chief physician Dr. Erich Wohlband (page 1/2), July 23rd 1963. From the estate of Dr. E. Wohlbrandt. Courtesy D. & U. Huwiler

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