The Parsifal Pursuit


Historical Notes for The Parsifal Pursuit

The Parsifal Pursuit is a work of fiction but there are certain historical elements which provide a foundation and framework for the story.

Winston Churchill. Churchill did not travel to Germany in 1931 to research his biography of his great ancestor, the first Duke of Marlborough, as depicted in the novel. He had written his American publisher Charles Scribner in May, 1931 of his plans to travel to Berlin and Vienna that year for this purpose but the controversy over self-rule for India caused a change in those plans. Churchill did travel to Germany for this purpose the following year where Hitler backed out of a dinner with Churchill arranged by Putzi Hanfstaengl and, as Churchill later wrote, "Thus Hitler lost his only chance of meeting me."

Those with only a casual knowledge of Winston Churchill may question his being cast as a key character in an historical thriller. They shouldn't. Saving the world tends to overshadow lesser accomplishments but Churchill was a first-class athlete in his youth, an all-public schools fencing champion, and a championship polo player, a sport he played into his 50s. His detractors –– of which there were many before 1940 –– dismissed him as an "adventurer" and a "half-breed American." He was both of those things and more. He fought Islamic warriors on the Afghan border and in the Sudan in the late 1890s, bloody no-quarter battles where he killed many men at close range. He escaped from a prison in South Africa during the Boer war in 1899 and made his way over hundreds of miles of enemy territory to freedom. He bagged a rare white rhino in Africa in 1908, drawing the admiration and envy of Theodore Roosevelt who tried to do the same but was not so fortunate. He became a seaplane pilot in the early 1910s after becoming, at age 38, the First Lord of the British Admiralty. In the First World War and temporarily out of office, he commanded a battalion in the trenches in the bloody Ypres salient where Corporal Adolf Hitler also served and where both men drew sketches in their spare time of the same bombed-out Belgian church.

Bourke Cockran (1854-1923). Winston Churchill's real life mentor and oratorical role model was the prominent turn-of-the century New York lawyer, statesman and Congressman William Bourke Cockran whose fictional son's exploits (Cockran was childless) are depicted in The Parsifal Pursuit. Churchill's feelings and comments about his mentor in Chapter 4 are accurately portrayed. A Democrat, a close adviser to President Grover Cleveland in his second term, and contemporary of William Jennings Bryan, Cockran was acclaimed by members of both parties, including his friend Theodore Roosevelt, as America's greatest orator. Churchill was only 20 years old when the two men were brought together in 1895 by Churchill's mother, the American-born heiress Jennie Jerome, with whom Cockran had an affair in Paris in the spring of that year following the death of their respective spouses. Sixty years later, Churchill could still recite from memory the speeches of Bourke Cockran he had learned as a young man. "He was my model," Churchill said, "I learned from him how to hold thousands in thrall."

Those wishing to know more about the Churchill-Cockran relationship are referred to Becoming Winston Churchill: the Untold Story of Young Winston and His American Mentor, by Michael McMenamin and Curt Zoller, originally published in hardcover in the U.K. and the U.S. in 2007 by Greenwood World Publishing and in trade paperback in 2009 by Enigma Books.

The Kaiser. Plans to restore the Hohenzollerns, either the Kaiser himself or the Crown Prince, to the throne of Germany as part of a constitutional monarchy and as an antidote to Hitler's National Socialists were underway at various times during the late 1920s and early 1930s, especially after the Nazis became Germany's second largest party in August, 1930. Even Winston Churchill once suggested a constitutional monarchy in Germany during the 1920s as the best way to nurture democracy and the best antidote to a Bolshevik takeover.

The Spear of Destiny. A spear once thought to be the lance with which the Roman centurion Longinus pierced the side of Christ to end his agony on the cross is on display today in the Hofburg Museum in Vienna where it was located for most of the twentieth century. It is the same spear which in the past was possessed by Constantine, Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, and Frederick the Great. Its possession had been unsuccessfully sought by other world-historic figures including Napoleon and Kaiser Wilhelm II. All of these men believed the sacred spear to be a talisman of power, the Spear of Destiny.

Adolf Hitler. Hitler's views on the Spear and the legend of Parsifal are accurately portrayed. Hitler took possession of the Spear of Longinus in March, 1938, after the Austrian Anschluss, and had it removed from the Hofburg and given a place of honor in the Hall of St. Katherine's Church in Nuremberg. The only objection was voiced by SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler who had renovated Wewelsburg Castle (not actually purchased until 1933) specifically to serve as the true home of the SS as well as a shrine for the sacred relic of the Spear of Destiny, dedicating separate rooms within the Castle to each of the world leaders who had possessed the Spear. With the Spear in his hands less than six months, Hitler bloodlessly regained the German Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and a year later invaded Poland. The Spear of Destiny remained in Nuremberg throughout the Second World War until 1945 when it was taken by the American armies of General George Patton who returned it to the Hofburg where it still resides.

Reinhard Tristan Hoch. Hoch is a fictional character whose background, appearance and characteristics mirror his real-life namesake, SS Intelligence Chief Reinhard Tristan Heydrich. Hoch's monologue on "the Jew as Parasite", however, is not derived from Heydrich –– who undoubtedly shared those views. Instead, Hoch's words are reproduced almost verbatim from private conversations of Adolf Hitler in 1931 as recounted by a close confidant, Otto Wagener. Hitler was a skilled politician during the years 1930 to 1932 when he was on the cusp of power, tailoring his public and private comments to fit his audience. The fact that he did not utter anti-Semitic comments in private to people like Mattie and Kurt who did not share his racial views is accurately portrayed in the novel as was the absence of overt anti-Semitism in his speeches during this period when he led the second largest party in Germany and was on the cusp of power only 18 months away.

The Order of the New Templars. Adolf Josef Lanz, a former Cistercian monk who renounced his vows in 1899, founded Ordi Novi Templi in 1905 and served as its Prior through the end of World War II. The Order of the New Templars reached its peak between 1925 and 1935 with seven priories and over 300 monks in Austria, Hungary and Germany. While the New Templars were indeed inspired by the medieval order whose name they bore, their blood-thirsty role in hiding and protecting the Holy Spear as depicted in the novel is entirely fictional.

Born in 1874, Lanz was one of the principle theorists of Ariosophy, an odd combination of pan-Germanic nationalism, racism and mysticism. In fact, the ideas of Ariosophy and National Socialism share many common tenets. One scholar has written that the "ultimate aim" of the New Templars was "world salvation through eugenic selection and the extermination of racial inferiors." While a young man in Vienna, Hitler met Lanz and was greatly influenced by his ideas. Hitler was an avid reader of the pan-Germanic periodical Ostara, a self-described "racial-economic" magazine published by Lanz and the New Templars. Nevertheless, after Hitler came to power in 1933, the New Templars were officially dissolved by Heinrich Himmler's Gestapo and Lanz was forbidden to publish.

Eugenics. The pseudo-science of eugenics flourished in America during the first thirty years of the twentieth century as nowhere else, frequently supported by prominent religious leaders, Protestant, Catholic and Jew alike. The Nazi eugenics laws passed early in 1933 after their ascension to power provided, among other things, for the involuntary sterilization of mental defectives. The Nazis based these laws almost exclusively on model state legislation drafted by American eugenics supporters who had persuaded over half the states to adopt comparable legislation. And an aging Oliver Wendell Holmes did write such a shameful passage in Buck v. Bell, the underlying facts of which are accurately portrayed in Chapter 5.

Nazi V-men. A source of fund raising for the National Socialists in Germany during the late 1920s and early 1930s was extortion from businesses paying protection money to the SA and SS, who would otherwise terrorize their owners and their property, crimes winked at by "V-men," [Vertrauensmannen] secret Nazi sympathizers in state and local governments.

Alfred Eisendstadt. The German- born photographer who served as Mattie McGary's photographic mentor emigrated to America in the mid-1930s and became one of Henry Luce's top photographers on Life magazine. He is most well-known for the iconic photograph of the unknown sailor and girl kissing on V-J Day in Times Square in New York. A less well-known Eisenstadt photograph perfectly illustrated his "not good enough…not close enough" motto and served as the inspiration for Mattie's misadventure on top of the Graf Zeppelin. In the photograph, three zeppelin crewmen are on top of the ship over the Atlantic, clutching ropes and lowering a fourth crewman down the side of the massive airship to repair damaged fabric. It is impossible to tell Eisenstadt's vanatage point from the photograph but it certainly appears as if he was outside on top of the zeppelin hanging on to a rope running along the airship's spine just like Mattie was.

The Graf Zeppelin. The famed German airship made an historic around-the-world voyage in 1929 sponsored by the media empire of William Randolph Hearst. In the spring of 1931, the Graf Zeppelin flew a round-trip voyage from its base in southern Germany to Alexandria, Egypt as depicted in the novel. From 1930 through the crash of the Hindenburg in 1937, it conducted regular passenger service between Germany and Brazil, safely flying well over a million miles. The Graf Zeppelin, however, was never used for regular passenger service between Germany and America as depicted in the novel.

Autogiros. The Juan de la Cierva-designed autogiro was the next big thing in aviation when it was commercially introduced in the early 1930s. Fortune magazine devoted two articles to it in its March, 1931 edition, describing it as "a complex if not revolutionary addition to the science of aerodynamics." It flew and handled like an airplane but could take off and land in short spaces at safe, slow speeds. Lift was provided solely by the blades of its huge hinged rotor, a common feature on today's helicopters.

Michael McMenamin & Patrick McMenamin
January 2011