Other websites like to tiptoe around the issue, but we've never hesitated to come out and just say it: The Nazis were bad.
And the thing is, the Nazis weren't strictly about tearing Europe down brick by brick and the Holocaust. They actually had tons of other horrible and, quite frankly, stupid ideas. Not all of them were brought to fruition, fortunately, but at one time or another, Hitler was all about ...
Fun fact about Hitler: In the 1930s, he ordered Catholic schools to replace their classroom crucifixes with pictures of him. If ever there was a piece of trivia that encapsulated how Adolf saw himself in the larger world, that was probably it. In hindsight, it's kind of easy to blast the papacy for not doing enough to help European Jews during the Holocaust, just so long as you remember that they were dealing with a guy who was only steps away from abolishing all religions and setting himself up as Germany's lord and savior.
On one hand, militarism is terrifying. On the other hand, artillery would have made math class 4,000 percent more interesting.
Step one in that plan: Seize the Vatican. Step two: Kidnap the Pope. Step three: Hitler ... is declared God, we guess?
By 1943, Pope Pius XII began making vague yet public condemnations of Nazi human rights abuses, and Hitler started making vague threats of killing him for it. Not to the world at large, of course, because he was crazy, not stupid. Or not that stupid, anyway. According to SS General Karl Wolff, Adolf himself gave him a special mission in September 1943, saying, "I want you and your troops to occupy Vatican City as soon as possible, secure its files and art treasures and take the Pope and curia to the north."
"Once I have that hat, the armies of the Reich will be unstoppable!"
OK, but that's just occupying the Vatican, kidnapping the Pope and stealing some art, right? All of which fits the Nazi profile we've come to know and loathe. But there was a second component to the plan. Once the first wave of soldiers secured the Vatican and got their hands on Pius, a second, secret group would come in under the pretense of rescuing the Pope, kill the first group under the pretense that the guys in the first group were really Italian assassins, then accidentally shoot the Pope in the chaotic melee that followed. But it would be cool, because the Nazis could blame the Italians for the gaffe when it was all over. What could possibly go wrong?
Fortunately, the plot never took place because one of the inside men alerted the Italians before it ever got underway. The craziest part is that the scheme even got past the "What if we took over the Vatican?" phase in the first place. According to historian Robert Katz, assassinating Pope Pius XII posed zero potential benefits to the Axis powers, and probably would have ushered in a global backlash that would have made "the Ten Plagues that rained down on the pharaoh ... look like confetti." Which is a hard thing to pull off, if you think about it.
You have to hand it to the Nazis. It takes hard work to be that consistently terrible.
There were two things the Nazis hated the most, and the second was getting bombed by their enemies. So when Great Britain began bombing German population centers, the Nazis took the bull by the horns and created a whole weapons program specifically aimed at retaliation. Upon learning that their first-choice name "Das Shit-ton of Vengeance" wasn't appropriate, the project was named "Vergeltungswaffen," which is "reprisal bombs" in German.
It's also the German term for "penis envy."
This series of rockets, bombs and cannons were eventually known as Germany's V-weapons, because even Germans couldn't be burdened with saying "Vergeltungswaffen" every day.
It's hard to read about the V-weapons program without picturing an Aryan version of Wile E. Coyote engineering the whole thing behind the scenes. Especially when rockets routinely failed for such hilarious reasons as "too steep," "fell on airport" and "steam generator misbehaved." According to one disgruntled engineer whose V-2 exploded only three seconds after ignition, "We just blew a million marks in order to guess what could have been reported accurately by an instrument probably worth the price of a small motorcycle."
The Nazis weren't great at thinking things through.
Of the nearly 6,000 V-2 rockets constructed, only 3,170 were actually launched. Of the 1,403 lobbed at England, nearly 300 somehow missed. And we mean they missed England, a 50,000-square-mile target. The V-2s aimed at London fared no better, with only 517 hits out of 1,359 attempts. It seems like you could consistently do better with huge, cartoonish catapults.
"This would be a lot easier if computers weren't the size of houses right now."
Still, we guess that's not bad as far as experimental weapons programs go ... unless you compare its price tag of 3 billion wartime dollars to, say, the $1.9 billion the U.S. spent to create a significantly more effective weapon called "the atomic bomb."
Even when they reached their targets, they couldn't do all that much damage -- the famous V-2 rocket only had a 2,200-pound warhead. In comparison, one allied B-29 bomber could drop 10 times as much, on a target 2,667 miles away, all while displaying sexy paintings of naked ladies on its fuselage. Guess who won that war for global military supremacy?
Bundesarchiv, RH8II Bild-B0786-42 BSM / CC-BY-SA
Hint: Not the guys who opted for sexy paintings of naked men.
Maybe you think of the Swiss as the Bill Paxtons of Europe, mildly hanging out as neutrally as possible, blending in with the background, completely inconsequential in the plot of the story. And you'd be right, if Bill Paxton was rocking some serious ammunition up in that beautiful hair of his.
It's like a nest made by birds with poor depth perception.
Because there's a reason Switzerland managed to stay neutral when the world was burning all around them: They're incredibly hard to invade. They've got mountains on the southern and northern borders, and despite what the Von Trapps would have you believe, mountain climbing isn't a walk in the park. It's even harder when you're trying to drag thousands of tons of ammunition behind you.
For another thing, the Swiss have jealously guarded their neutrality in the best way known to man: with guns. When the Nazis started revving up, the Swiss got their shit together in three days. Most countries are lucky if they can get all their congressmen in town for three days, much less arm an entire army 500,000 strong. So, sure, you can take Switzerland -- but you'll leave many, many bodies behind. And at the end, all you'll have to show for it is freaking Switzerland.
Above: The treasures of Switzerland.
But Hitler, with world domination on his to-do list, just would not stop talking about it.
So right in the thick of World War II, just as Winston Churchill was taking office and the Nazis started gearing up for battle with the last Allied power in Europe, Adolf Hitler asked his senior strategy guys to come up with a massive plan to invade Switzerland. He hated Switzerland for some reason, calling them the "pimple on the face of Europe," as if Cyprus didn't even exist or something. And he was oddly emotional about the whole deal, causing his chief of the General Staff to complain, "I was constantly hearing of outbursts of Hitler's fury against Switzerland, which, given his mentality, might have led at any minute to military activities for the army."
"It almost seems like a bad idea to let one crazy guy decide where the army goes."
What they came up with was Operation Tannenbaum, a plan to put stupid Switzerland in its place once and for all. Want to know how hard it is to invade the land of chocolate and versatile pocket knives? The plan called for roughly 25 divisions and up to 500,000 freaking men -- as many as four times the soldiers deployed for the invasion of Norway.
And for what? A tiny, mountainous piece of land that one German diplomat called "an indigestible lump" that wasn't worth choking down. IN YOUR FACE, SWITZERLAND!
They didn't have Pepto-Bismol back then.
In short, instead of getting bogged down in Russia, Nazi Germany nearly got bogged down in their own backyard against an enemy that was no threat to them whatsoever, grinding out a bloody siege in freezing mountains guarded by half a million Swiss Rambos.
Hitler shelved the plan for reasons unknown to this day (maybe it turned out he was thinking of a different country the whole time?), and the closest Switzerland ever came to fighting in WWII was when they occasionally got bombed by the Allies.
Please note the lack of the word "accidentally."
In some ways, pre-Nazi Germany was a pretty happening place. While Americans spent the 1920s Charlestoning and bootlegging and flapping (?), German artists were revolutionizing the art world. Between the Bauhaus movement, dadaism and that one time when everyone wore their suspenders backward for a week, the German art scene was thriving. That is, until the Nazis came to power and decided the popular art of the day wasn't blond enough. Books were burned, films and plays were censored, more than 5,000 works were seized. You know, Nazi stuff.
Like making a bunch of young men stand around in their underpants holding wood.
Then, to really make the point hit home, the Nazis staged an exhibition of all that was wrong with modern art, cleverly titled "Entartete Kunst," or "degenerate art." That's right -- put all of the awful non-Nazi art together to show everyone how terrible it is! This can't possibly backfire hilariously!
Let's just move on.
The Committee in Charge of Ruining Everything Ever made one tactical error when staging their "Bad Art" exhibition -- they simultaneously staged a "Nazi-Approved Art" exhibition. So anyone with eyes could see which show was more popular, and it certainly wasn't the one featuring totally not homoerotic sculptures all over the damn place.
The wang-to-artwork ratio here is incredible.
Five times as many people visited the Entartete Kunst as they did the Aryan art expo, turning the "degenerate art" exhibit into one of the biggest modern art exhibits of all time. Meanwhile, Haus der Nazi-Approved Art went down in history as ... the future mess hall for American officers during the Allied occupation of Germany.
Of course, at the heart of the Nazi ideology was the notion that they belonged to a superior race. Not just the white people race, but the Nordic portion of the white people race, the ones who were extra blond, extra blue-eyed and extra good at coming up with humanity's good ideas. There was only one problem: scientific evidence that all of this was true. As in, there wasn't any. All the Nazis had was a hunch that they came from a long line of the best and the brightest.
"Look at those beards! These guys are definitely the master race."
Thus the Ahnenerbe was conceived. These were the guys who were going to get their hands dirty and literally dig up ancient evidence that it was ancient ultra-white people who came up with all the good stuff all along. Roman civilization? They were really Nordic. Ancient Bolivian temples? Designed by the ancient equivalent of the Hitler Youth.
At least that was what the Ahnenerbe hoped to discover.
"This wall looks exactly like a Volkswagen. Clearly the work of ancient Germans."
Needless to say, none of those smoking guns were ever produced. Instead, Heinrich Himmler and his goons made gods out of men who likely shat where they slept and were so technologically inferior that they never came around to inventing the back scratcher. In addition to squandering SS resources, countless researchers and one perfectly good monkey in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the few artifacts Ahnenerbe was able to turn up only proved that the whole myth of Aryan supermen was full of shit.
As if Indy's fists and that plane's propellers hadn't already made the truth clear.
Despite their best efforts, they learned that mystical Tibet was not the cradle of Aryan civilization, and that while the Romans were setting up one of the biggest empires the world had ever known, ancient Aryans were ... making pots? Maybe? Even Hitler himself got a laugh out of the Ahnenerbe's digs:
"Why do we call the whole world's attention to the fact that we have no past? It isn't enough that the Romans were erecting great buildings when our forefathers were still living in mud huts; now Himmler is starting to dig up these villages of mud huts and enthusing over every pot-shard and stone axe he finds. All we prove by that is that we were still throwing stone hatches and crouching around open fires when Greece and Rome had already reached the highest stage of culture."
"Cut it out, guys, you're making Nazism look ridiculous."
That's right, buddy. You got mocked by Hitler. That has to be something of a career low point there.
Jacopo della Quercia would like to thank @DanHand1984 and @josh_groft and @foresthouse and everyone else for following him on Twitter.
For things we should thank the Nazis for (begrudgingly), check out Third Reich to Fortune 500: 5 Popular Brands the Nazis Gave Us. Or discover about the 5 Most Certifiably Insane Cold War Projects.