The television documentary "The Search for Atlantis: The True Story" was produced in 2000 by Atlantic Productions Ltd for the British TV Channel 5. It was directed by Shaun Trevisick. Researchers were Martin Andreasson and Fiona Garlick. There is a long version of approx. 96 minutes and a short version of approx. 48 minutes. Both versions contain essentially the same statements.
This docu is an impressive collection of misconceptions about Plato's Atlantis, revealing the gullibility and conceit of Atlantis sceptics. Only someone can produce such a concoction, who is so convinced of his own thesis that he abandons all care and believes that he can turn a blind eye as long as it only benefits the supposedly good cause.
The docu begins – as so often – with declaring Atlantis a paradise wonderland. Of course, this is done, as always, in order to be able to declare Atlantis an invention all the more easily afterwards. However, this documentary is almost overflowing with such explanations. It is obviously not enough to talk about "rare plants", "exotic animals" and "sacred island". No, it must also be "earthly paradise" and "land of plenty". There is no mention of the cold winds from the north or the drought in summer. Nor are there any comparisons with other ancient accounts of real lands blessed by nature, e.g. Herodotus' account of Mesopotamia. There is no hesitation or reflection on the own position in this documentary. One is sure to be dealing with a kind of myth of the Golden Age, as is said time and again.
Not much work is done with the historical context of Plato's time and the genesis of the Atlantis dialogues. There is no look at Plato's philosophy, nor at how he wrote his dialogues. The term "Platonic Myth" is not even mentioned. Without further ado, it is said that Plato heard the story as a little boy at a dinner party. Pictures of a little boy at a dinner party are superimposed. The thesis is as false as it is amusing. But then they dig deep into their bag of tricks: Allegedly, no one but Plato would have taken up the story, and that for 18 centuries, i.e. until the discovery of America! In this way, one elegantly gets rid of any discussion about Aristotle, Theophrastus, Crantor, Strabo, Posidonius, the debates of Platonists with Christians or even the late antique Neo-Platonists, who mostly assumed that Atlantis was a real place. The viewer shall better not learn anything about this.
It is claimed grandiloquently that the search for Atlantis began with Columbus. Columbus allegedly searched for the island of Antilia, and the name "Antilia" was supposedly formed in the Middle Ages from the name "Atlantis". Two experts confirm these theories in interviews. Of course, this is all wrong. There is no proof and no evidence that Columbus was looking for Atlantis. Moreover, Atlantis was considered a sunken island: This means, even if it was thought to be real, people did not believe they could have sailed there at the time. The documentary phantasises freely and sells its phantasy as expert opinion.
Then the docu jumps to Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, who in 1680 wanted to show that the American Indians are descendants of Atlantis just as the Europeans, and therefore the American Indians must be recognised as equal human beings. Furthermore, that the "New World" had also produced advanced civilisations like the "Old World". Sigüenza followed a clear humanist impulse. But this honourable concern is only briefly touched upon; indeed, Sigüenza's project is discussed almost disparagingly. Instead of the humanist impulse underlying the idea, the error of cultural contacts between America and Europe and the error of a biblical view of history are highlighted, which is of course obvious to us modern people but not to the people at the time. Thus, it is overlooked that this thesis was – at the time of Sigüenza – by no means as pseudoscientific as it is today. And it is overlooked that Sigüenza was basically right in many respects: Europeans and Indians indeed descended from the same ancestors. Only that the common place of origin was not Atlantis.
On top of this unfavourable view of Sigüenza, it is claimed that Sigüenza was supposedly the first to look for physical evidence of Atlantis! What nonsense: Sigüzena lived approx. 200 years after the discovery of America, so numerous Atlantis supporters with respect to ancient American civilizations can be named before him. Even more: When Sigüenza published his work in 1680, Olof Rudbeck had already been searching for Atlantis in Sweden in a very concrete way, laying the first foundations for the evolving archaeological science. This documentary does not know what it is talking about.
In the Age of Britain's Queen Elizabeth I, two authors are discussed: Francis Bacon and John Dee. The technologically advanced island in the Pacific that Bacon describes in his fictional work "New Atlantis" is said to have been populated by survivors of Atlantis. But this is false. The island even is not named Atlantis. For Francis Bacon, America was Atlantis. – It is also false that John Dee allegedly contacted deceased Atlanteans through crystal gazing. This is complete nonsense. Rather, John Dee called America Atlantis without further ado, as seems to have been customary in England in his time. In his crystal gazings, John Dee tried to invoke biblical and cabbalistic demons, not Atlantis.
The next stop is France. One moment you are still with the fascination with Egypt, which was triggered by Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, and which of course has to be stylised as an "obsession" in this documentary – the next moment you are with Jules Verne! As if there were not at least two generations of history between Napoleon and Jules Verne. The short passage about Atlantis that Jules Verne included in his novel "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in 1869/70 is said to be the most fascinating description of Atlantis since Plato. It would have developed a great influence and even inspired Ignatius Donnelly. Again, one can confidently forget all about it, for none of it is true. Jules Verne's description of Atlantis is very short. And it would have been nice if they had mentioned that Jules Verne had neatly listed the scientists who were for and against the existence of Atlantis in his time. But that would have been a higher standard of quality. You cannot expect quality from this documentary.
Then comes the inevitable Ignatius Donnelly. Yes, he has played a major role in popularising the subject, indeed. Astonishingly, he is largely spared accusations of racism here. Nevertheless, Donnelly's good intentions are completely missed: for one thing, Donnelly encoded his politically progressive intentions in his idea of Atlantis. For another, he was quite serious about his thesis, and it would be worth pondering why science had lost its power to convince people at this point, of all times, that Donnelly is wrong? But that would be self-reflection, and a higher standard ... there is none here. One of the experts interviewed is then allowed to make Donnelly's work out to be fiction, as if Donnelly had wanted to pull a fast one on his fellow human beings. Simply nonsense.
With Blavatsky, the next station, the accusation of racism is then played out to the full. However, it is questionable whether Blavatsky is also responsible for the later Anti-Semitism, because Blavatsky counted the Jews as Aryans. What is also disturbing at this point, and what becomes stronger as the documentary progresses, is the accusation that the Atlantis story is inherently racist. Since Atlantis is interpreted as a myth of the Golden Age, the Atlanteans are ascribed an ideality that no real human being can fulfil. But this has nothing to do with Plato's Atlantis. That should have been said. But it is not said.
Allegedly, the propagandists of the Third Reich had the idea of a pure Atlantean race, and allegedly they had this idea taken up from Blavatsky. As soon as Hitler and his party were in power, they allegedly launched a search for the earliest myths: For the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and for Atlantis. And "the Germans" would have formed "völkisch" groups in which the German past was associated with Atlantis. – Of course, this is all wrong. Hitler and National Socialism had nothing whatsoever in mind with Atlantis and other "occult" things. Only individual National Socialists, such as Heinrich Himmler, quietly and privately pursued such ideas. One could call a few of Himmler's expeditions unofficial Atlantis expeditions, yes. But that was it. Atlantis played no role in National Socialist Germany. Atlantis did not appear in the curricula of the schools. At the universities, scientists continued to declare Atlantis an invention of Plato. And the "völkisch" groups were small minorities, e.g. the "Artamanenbund". The central pseudoscientific idea of National Socialism was biologism, a ruthless Social Darwinism, but no belief in Atlantis. Documentaries like this convey a completely false picture of National Socialism and the true causes of its crimes.
The claim that the National Socialists were looking for the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant is striking. It is true that Heinrich Himmler – without public attention – looked for the Holy Grail in Spain. But for the Ark of the Covenant? That only happens in the Indiana Jones films. This means that this documentary is seriously selling its viewers an episode from Indiana Jones as a historical event!
It is said of Adolf Hitler, somewhat in a roundabout way, that he believed of Edmund Kiss' Atlantis books that "they were a true-to-life, if fictionalized, representations of what actually happened". This is wrong. We do not even know whether Hitler read Kiss's books at all. We do, on the other hand, know for a fact that Hitler had a negative opinion of occult and Atlantis speculations. Himmler was isolated in the NS leadership with his occult ideas and was thus only tolerated because he kept them private. There is only one quote of Hitler from his last years that indicates a cautious and reserved acceptance of Hörbiger's World Ice theory – but not of Kiss' ideas.
It is horrendous when this documentary claims that allegedly "many Germans" and "Hitler himself" believed in the truth of Edmund Kiss' novels, plus Hörbiger's World Ice theory. In addition, Hörbiger's World Ice theory – as false as it is in itself – is inflated here with another ingredient that has nothing to do at all with Hörbiger's World Ice theory: It is claimed that the seed of the Aryan race came from outer space and was superior to the ape-men of Earth ... what this documentary claims is not only "a little" ahistorical, but horrendous and grotesque.
This British Atlantis documentary from 2003 achieved a special feat with the German Atlantis documentary "Auf der Suche nach Atlantis" (In Search of Atlantis) from 1933. Allegedly, this German Atlantis documentary would have documented one of the many Nazi expeditions in search of Atlantis. It allegedly shows a German expedition to Guatemala to excavate the Mayan culture. In the process, elongated skulls were found. The scientists allegedly avoided the question of what these elongated skulls are all about. "Local people" would draw a connection to Atlantis. – In truth, the 1933 German documentary owes its existence to a film expedition, not a scientific expedition, and it was not sent out by National Socialists. The excavations in the film took place in Venezuela, not Guatemala, the excavators were Venezuelans, not Germans, and the civilization excavated was not the Mayan civilization, but a much older civilization. Nor was it a "Nordic" Atlantis hypothesis, but the Atlantis hypothesis of the Venezuelan Rafal Requena (1879-1946), who was probably meant here by "local people". The German film documentary distances itself from this hypothesis and does not adopt it as its own. Finally, the German documentary reports that German scientists would attribute the elongated skulls to a deliberate deformation in infancy, giving exactly the explanation that is still valid today. So the claim that this question would be suspiciously dodged was also wrong, at least concerning German scientists. – Thus the 1933 film documentary "Auf der Suche nach Atlantis" is a very ordinary documentary that takes up a "normally crazy", "non-Nordic" Atlantis hypothesis, and is not unlike Atlantis documentaries today. In 1937, i.e. in the midst of National Socialism, the German Maya researcher Paul Schellhaas described the idea of a connection between Atlantis and the Mayan civilization as a fabled hypothesis of the uninitiated, which owed itself to the sensationalism of American journalists. And thus everything that this British Atlantis documentary of 2003 claimed about the German Atlantis documentary of 1933 has really been proven wrong.
Finally, Atlantis is held responsible for the Holocaust: "The lost racially pure homeland of Atlantis became the model for the new Nazi Germany". Pictures of Jews with Star of David are shown. And a scientist says: "That meant removing elements that were not Nordic from the population, from the reading population and from the culture, and genocide then becomes an option. So, I think the Atlantis myth plays a role there, quite definitively." And the narrator: "The myth of Atlantis had come full circle. Transformed from the story of an earthly paradise into the ideology behind a genocidal nightmare." – We would like to repeat at this point: The central pseudoscientific idea of National Socialism was biologism, a ruthless Social Darwinism, but not a belief in Atlantis. Documentaries like this convey a completely false picture of National Socialism and the true causes of its crimes. Anyone who believes that the Holocaust took place "because of Atlantis" is completely on the wrong track. It is downright irresponsible to put such false claims into the world.
Strikingly, the documentary adds a remarkable thought on the connection between National Socialism and Atlantis: Allegedly, after 1945, German scientists purged the archives of any trace of the alleged Atlantis belief, so that today there is hardly a trace to be found. The truth is, of course, that the claimed Atlantis belief never existed. Indeed, the "traces" of scientists, including Nazi careerists, who spoke out against (!) the existence of Atlantis in the midst of National Socialism are abundantly clear. And then there was also a speech by Adolf Hitler in which Hitler made fun of Atlantis believers ... the tape recorded unrestrained laughter of the National Socialist audience about Atlantis believers. But the viewer of this documentary learns nothing about that.
After a few brief words about Hollywood and Atlantis, the documentary moves on to the hypothesis that Atlantis was the Minoan civilization. This hypothesis is treated extremely shabbily. The amazing similarities of the Minoan civilization to the civilization of Atlantis are not shown. Instead, it is claimed that Akrotiri is not similar to Atlantis at all. Moreover, that Santorini is not in the Atlantic Ocean and that is not 9000 years old. Here the lack of quality of this documentary has reached a new low, which reveals a lot about the thinking of Atlantis sceptics. Instead of engaging in a historical-critical interpretation of Plato's text, as one does with every other ancient text, they insist that this text must necessarily be literally true, or not true at all. This is not scientific thinking. On the contrary, it is a completely irrational approach.
Even if Plato had invented his text, one would have to interpret it historically-critically. Of course, the 9000 years do not point to the last ice age even if Plato should have invented Atlantis, but must in any case be interpreted in the context of the general misconception at the time about the age of Egypt of more than 11,000 years. Even if Atlantis was to be an invention, Atlantis is to be dated to a time after the true founding of Egypt in 3000 BC, because that was Plato's intention, be it an invention or not. But the makers of this documentary do not think on that level.
After an episode with the "sleeping prophet" Edgar Cayce, who is not to be taken seriously, two Altantis seekers, Jim Allen and Rand Flem-Ath, are shown searching for Atlantis with the help of modern technology, but are unable to present any convincing evidence.
And now, after the viewer has been bombarded with completely erroneous information about Atlantis, this Atlantis documentary strikes out for the final blow. Now the question is asked whether Plato's text can be taken so literally? Richard Ellis is interviewed, and he says that Plato wanted to make it look real, but did not believe a word of it himself: "I don't think that Plato believed a word of it." Not a single word? Now, that is radical ... Plato's motivation would have been the deep pain that the death of his master Socrates caused in him. Plato wanted a world in which such injustices no longer existed. Thus, Atlantis is presented to the viewers of this documentary as a myth of deception, a Noble Lie, with the help of which Plato wanted to deceive people into creating a better world. That's quite a daring thesis.
Even more confusing, however, is the fact that only now, at the very end of the documentary, viewers are told that for Plato the ideal state was not Atlantis at all, but primeval Athens. One seriously wonders what a normal-thinking viewer might think of this: First he is told that Atlantis is an earthly paradise, and then suddenly another city is the ideal city? Here it becomes completely obvious that the makers of this documentary have failed grandiosely in drawing a halfway correct picture of Plato's Atlantis story for the viewers. Consistently, the documentary continues to talk about Atlantis as the myth of the Golden Age. Primeval Athens that was just briefly mentioned is again quickly forgotten.
Allegedly, Atlantis is something like a new religion. A search for a better world that never reaches its goal. And every era would interpret myths in its own way. That is how myths of the Golden Age have always worked, the viewers are told. And for all those who are still not convinced, it is added that Atlantis, as long as it has not been discovered, only exists in our imagination, which is also a measure of our humanity but also of the lack of humanity. So the viewer is released from the documentary with a strange moral warning about Atlantis, and the statement that Atlantis does not exist, on the one hand certainly not, and on the other hand in any case not, until it has been found – this "logic" is really stunning in its dogmatism.
By the time the viewer has removed the last of the knots from his brain that this documentary has inflicted on him, Baron Münchhausen has already flown away three times on his cannonball. Normally such Atlantis documentaries are translated into German in the course of a few years. This one not. Probably because the nonsense is too thick, and especially the nonsense about National Socialism is too easy for a German audience to see through.
A review of the documentary appeared in the British Guardian, which praised it highly: The docu "was a fast-paced hour of history and philosophy worthy of any of the more 'highbrow' channels. ... ... ... and it made the rest of the line-up of property shows and holiday shows look like the junk they are." So the reviewer actually believed he had seen a high-quality documentary.
Unfortunately, he believed all the nonsense from A to Z. From small discrepancies – "Plato, who heard the myth from Socrates" – to the very big nonsense, namely that Blavatsky's ideas "appealed to Hitler, who devoted enormous energy to archaeological quests and liked to believe that the Aryan race came from outer space, crash-landed on Atlantis and established their superiority to earth's ape-like hominids. This came in handy when he needed to justify genocide." That is what the Guardian reviewer believed, and that is even more what the average viewer will have believed.
You only can shake your head at the nonsense that can be served up when it comes to declaring Atlantis an invention. And the nonsense is believed, is believed by people who consider themselves educated! Atlantis truly seems to be a touchstone for what a human being's education is worth, and this independently whether pro or con Atlantis.
Every Atlantis sceptic should take this documentary as an opportunity to check the basis of his – or her – own Atlantis scepticism: How much of it is really based on reliable science? And how much of it owes itself to a conceited know-it-all attitude that can do its work unhindered? It is not to be expected that even a single Atlantis sceptic would become an Atlantis supporter through this self-examination. But it would bring more fairness to the debate. And Atlantis scepticism itself would also benefit from such a self-examination, because it would gain credibility.
The professor of Anthropology and Archaeology Bettina Arnold from the University of Wisconsin makes several statements in this Atlantis documentary which seem to be questionable. But please note: It is not clear whether this is due to Arnold's intentions, or due to a questionable cut of the film, which puts Arnold's statements into misleading contexts. Unfortunately, Bettina Arnold did not respond to questions on the matter. Either way, however, the message conveyed to viewers by these statements and their context must be refuted.
Statement No. 1: (contained only in the long version)
Narrator: "... Kiss's novels were not meant to be pure phantasy, they were based on ideas which many Germans actually believed to be fact."
Arnold: "Edmund Kiss published a series of novels, at least four that I know of, 'The Glassy Sea', 'The Spring in Atlantis', 'The Last Queen of Atlantis', and then there is a sort of diaspora novel, that talks about the eventual migration to South America, and these seem to be quite popular. Certainly Himmler was a big fan, and Hitler believed that they were a true-to-life, if fictionalized, representation of what actually happened."
Narrator: "Kiss's Atlantean city closely resembled Plato's ..."
It is true that Himmler believed more or less in the hypotheses put forward by Edmund Kiss (which include Atlantis). But this cannot be said for Hitler. Hitler is generally known to have rejected the crazy ideas of Himmler. For Hitler, it was enough to believe that the Germanic peoples once came from the "North" (without considering Atlantis, or the World Ice theory, or any other deeper thoughts on the origin of the Germanic tribes). If it was this what Arnold wanted to say with her enigmatic phrase "a true-to-life, if fictionalized, representation of what actually happened", then it is correct – but this is surely not the message taken away by viewers of this documentary. Only in Hitler's last years we find a statement in which Hitler cautiously said that Hörbiger's World Ice theory could be true (but this does not automatically include Atlantis).
We have no statement of Hitler about Kiss's novels. It is even not known whether Hitler ever read a novel of Kiss. What is known is that Himmler prepared a leather-bound copy of Kiss's book "Das Sonnentor von Tihuanaku und Hörbigers Welteislehre" as a Christmas present to Hitler in 1937 (cf. Pringle (2006) p. 182, pointing to a letter by Wolfram Sievers in the German Bundesarchiv: Sievers to Koehler & Amelang, 09.12.1937, BA, NS 21 / 166). But this does not mean at all that Hitler has read the book, let alone that he was in favour of the presented theory. In Timothy W. Ryback's analysis of Hitler's private library, in which he analysed which books Hitler read and what Hitler's pencil marks in the books tell us, there is no talk of Edmund Kiss (but also not of Hanns Hörbiger). Anyway, only one year before, Hitler mocked Atlantis believers in a public speech.
When searching in Bettina Arnold's scholarly publications for a similar statement as voiced in this documentary, we find a statement in Arnold (2002) p. 105, i.e. in an article published shortly after the documentary. There, Arnold writes: "Kiß's novels were avidly read and praised by top Nazi officials, including Hitler (Hermand 1992: 193)." When looking up her source we find only the following statement on the page given (here the German original p. 237, corresponding to p. 193 in the English edition): "... Welteislehre, die bei vielen älteren Völkischen wie auch manchen Nationalsozialisten, darunter Hitler, in hohem Ansehen stand." This translates to: "... the World Ice theory, which was held in high esteem by many older 'Völkisch' as well as some National Socialists, among them Hitler."
As can be seen, this statement is about Hörbiger's World Ice theory, not about Edmund Kiss. And it is not about "top Nazi officials", but about "many older 'Völkisch'". And that Hitler "avidly read and praised" Hörbiger's World Ice theory or "held it in high esteem" is at least a great exaggeration. As we already said, only in his last years, there is a statement by Hitler in which he cautiously said that Hörbiger's World Ice theory could be true. (And the World Ice theory does not automatically include Atlantis.) Arnold's source says itself at the beginning of the same chapter, only a few pages earlier (p. 228 (germ.) 183 ff. (engl.) ), that Hitler disliked Himmler's crazy ideas.
Statement No. 2:
Narrator: "... The lost racially pure homeland of Atlantis became the model for the new Nazi Germany."
Arnold: "That meant removing elements that were not nordic from the population, from the reading population and from the culture, and genocide then becomes an option. So, I think the Atlantis myth plays a role there, quite definitively."
It is true that Atlantis story played a certain role for Himmler, though it was only one crazy idea among others, but it certainly played no role for Hitler and also not for "the Nazis" as such. That Atlantis was the model for Hitler's Germany is pure nonsense. Quite definitively.
Statement No. 3:
Narrator: "... The myth of Atlantis had come full circle. Transformed from the story of an earthly paradise into the ideology behind a genocidal nightmare. Most of the Ahnenerbe escaped punishment for their role in the atrocities."
Arnold: "Archaeologists who survived the war seem to have done a pretty effective clean-up job in the archives."
Narrator: "Atlantis's connection with the Third Reich was forgotten, almost immediately. ..."
It is definitely nonsense that there was an Atlantis belief of "the Nazis" in full bloom, which was then covered up by a purge of the archives. The "traces" of National Socialists who spoke out against (!) the existence of Atlantis and mocked Atlantis believers, among them Nazi careerist scientists and even Adolf Hitler himself, are abundantly clear. "The Nazis" did not believe in Atlantis. Only Himmler and a few others did so, silently and privately. In the same way we would not call "the Communists" Atlantis believers, if we found out that Trotsky silently believed in Atlantis, but Lenin and Stalin did not.
Please note again: It is not clear whether the wrong messages conveyed by these statements and their context are due to Bettina Arnold's intentions, or due to a questionable cut of the film.
The Search for Atlantis: The True Story, 2000. Long version: Approx. 96 min.
The Search for Atlantis: The True Story. Short version: Approx. 48 min.
Arnold (2002): Bettina Arnold, Justifying Genocide – The Supporting Role of Archaeology In 'Ethnic Cleansing', in: Alexander L. Hinton (ed.), Annihilating Difference – The anthropology of genocide, University of California Press, Berkeley / Los Angeles / London 2002; pp. 95-116.
Franke (2016/2021): Thorwald C. Franke, Kritische Geschichte der Meinungen und Hypothesen zu Platons Atlantis – von der Antike über das Mittelalter bis zur Moderne, 2nd edition in two volumes, published by Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2021. First edition was 2016 in one volume. There is no English translation yet.
Hermand (1988): Jost Hermand, Der alte Traum vom neuen Reich – Völkische Utopien und Nationalsozialismus, published by Athenäum, Frankfurt am Main 1988. English translation: Old Dreams of a New Reich – Volkish Utopias and National Socialism, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1992.
Pringle (2006): Heather Pringle, The Master Plan – Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust, published by Hyperion, New York 2006.
Smith (2003): Rupert Smith, Fantasy island, in: The Guardian 20 August 2003.