Tuesday, 20 November 2018
Traitors to the Human Race
"The love of money", said Phocylides, "is the mother of all evils" - a maxim which was to become proverbial in the ancient world, being changed to the "metropolis of all evils" by Democritus, and the "root of all evils" by St. Paul.
Greed for money and, as we shall see, for power can be a strong solvent of a person's morality. Thirty pieces of silver was enough to buy Judas Iscariot's treachery, and a long list could be made of those who turned traitor for the sake for pay. Greed can also dissolve the critical faculty. No-one would possibly fall for the Nigerian scam, for instance, if the prospect of enormous riches hadn't blinded him to the extreme improbability of the proposal. However, it takes a massive combination of baseness and stupidity to fall for a project which is both evil and utterly ridiculous, and one can must grant a certain grudging respect to a con artist who realised it would actually work.
Austrian Karl Mekis, born 1911, was the prime mover. Having served as an SS or Gestapo officer during the war, he had occupied the post-war years with such escapades as counterfeiting, smuggling, and illegal firearm possession, resulting in several sentences beginning in 1947. When his long suffering wife finally left him, he decided that was the last straw, and booked a one way passage to South America. When, in 1955, he encountered Franz Weber-Richter in Santiago, Chile he recognized a fellow spirit, and outlined to him his plans for the biggest con yet: Project Venus.
According to their account, they had been approached by inhabitants of the planet Venus (Venusians? Venereans?) who had been worried about the inhabitants of Earth since 1640, especially since it was now likely we would be disturbing them with our rockets. Their solution was radical: they were going to invade earth and conquer it. However, it was clear that the invasion would be rendered easier in the presence of local assistance. In other words, what they needed were quislings, collaborators: people who would be prepared to rule the planet on their behalf. Weber-Richter was taken up and given a special eighteen month training course before being designated as President of the Supreme World Republic. The lesser position of Security Commissioner of the Supreme Government was left to Mekis: all he got was a three-month emergency course in spacecraft.
Remember: at that time the interior of Venus was still a mystery. I still have a children's book published in 1959 outlining three theories: that the surface of Venus was one vast desert (correct, as it turned out), that it was one vast sea, and that it was more like a primeval earth, with both land and seas, and a tropical climate. The number of science fiction stories based on the last two themes were legion. Remember, too, that the flying saucer era had just started, including a "flap" of UFOs over Washington, DC in 1952. George Adamski had just made his running with his tales of meeting with Venusians in flying saucers. Thus, the background story didn't then sound quite so ridiculous as it does now. Nevertheless, one would think that prospective quislings would have requested some sort of evidence - some Venusian artifact, for example - because they were going to be asked to pay for the privilege of being traitors.
In any case, within a short time, our heroes began printing a vast quantity of "official" Venusian documents: passports, identity cards, certificates of appointment, and a huge 630-page tome entitled, The Constitution of the World Republic of Venus. In a way, this might be considered a Venusian counterpart to Karl's Marx's Capital: a public blueprint of how they were going to take over. You may remember that this was at the height of the Cold War, and it has been proved, beyond the slightest question of doubt, that the Soviet Union had infiltrated its agents into every nook and cranny of government, the media, the arts, and the counter-espionage services. But at least the Soviet Union never had the gall to advertise openly for traitors, and the fact that the Venusians were doing just that, and the governments of the world were taking no notice, might have given a few people food for thought.
"Seeking: financial adviser to the civilian government of the Venusian world". "Venusian World Republic. The applicant is called for work for a senior official from Venus after the invasion of earth". These were the sorts of ads which soon appeared throughout the German-speaking world, not only in the sci-fi and ufology magazines, but in the mainstream press. They received hundreds of replies.
Thus, for example, Helmuth Mille, a factory worker in Austria, paid the equivalent of $24 as a display of his bona fides for a future clerical position in the Republic of Venus Civil Service. For $100 Bavarian innkeeper, Herr Freschner, an ardent fan of science fiction and flying saucers, was appointed Adviser for Economic Affairs (Food and Consumer Goods) under the future Venusian overlords. Such sums were not to be sneezed at. At today's prices, they must be multiplied by a factor of 15 to equal their purchasing power at the time, and since the standard of living was lower then, by a factor of 30 to equal the working time required to earn them.
That was not all. Inspired, no doubt, by the Nazi Lebensborn project, the con men announced the formation of "love camps", where human women would interbreed with Venusian men to produce a hybrid master race. Lots of single females signed up, and paid up. They must have been really dissatisfied with the available males of their own species!
By 1960 the Chilean police were starting to snoop around Project Venus, so Mekis and Weber-Richter decided to move to Rome. But first they sent off telegrams to their clients: "The planned invasion of the world deferred. Inadequate financial support. Send all you can save." Without questioning why the Venusians would need earthly money, Herr Frechner telegraphed off approximately $650.
Mekis and Weber-Richter were now ensconced in the palazzo of Duchess Elena Caffarelli on the Via Condotti. A 22-year-old Salzburg girl, Annemarie Baumann was happy to work as their secretary for nothing but food, lodging, and a bit of pocket money, because they had related their encounters with the Venusians in such engaging detail, and she was promised a great Venusian leader as her future lover. All told, according to my information, then managed to milk their potential collaborators of $120,000. Again, feel free to multiply it by 15 or 30 in order to establish its modern value.
How, you may ask, could so many people - there must have been a couple of thousand - be so stupid? One is tempted to draw comparisons with crackpot religious movements - like the Order of the Solar Temple, which was responsible for a number of mass suicides in the 1990s. However, on closer examination, the similarities are not so strong. Most new religions are small, and soon die. Those which reach anything like a significant size are usually deviations from an older, more venerable religion, and piggy back on its prestige. They also tend to be promulgated by charismatic preachers on a one-to-one basis, rather than from a distance by means of ads, brochures, and telegrams. The Solar Temple appears to have been an exception, but it presented as a secret society, and thus appealed to those with a desire to belong to an inner circle blessed with esoteric knowledge and power. Also, all cults, even the Solar Temple, offer a meaning of life and supernatural benefits beyond just money and status. No, victims of the Project Venus scam appear to have been simply blinded by greed for power.
Nevertheless, one has to admire the dastardly duo for pulling off a stunt which nobody but they would have thought could succeed. One wonders how they would have turned out if they'd used their talents for honest work. However, the trouble with cons is that inevitably they fail to deliver. When was this wretched invasion fleet going to turn up? The designated date was set for 1st July 1960, the landing site the Tempelhof Airport at Berlin. Alas! At the last minute, President Urun, the leader of the fleet, was struck down by a Venusian illness, and his successor, Ase was forced to postpone the invasion - just as D-Day would have been postponed, I suppose, if Eisenhower had taken sick. Two of his earthly collaborators went to the police.
Think about it! Yiddish has a term, chutzpah for outrageous, bare-faced effrontery: the type that causes a man who kills his mother and father to beg for leniency on the grounds that he is an orphan. Likewise, although these despicable quislings were preparing to sell out their planet and species to invaders from outer space, now they were coming, cap in hand, pleading for human justice. "Please, your honour," you hear them say, "we paid good money so that we could lord it over the likes of you, but you're still in charge, and we're still nobodies, so will you kindly do something about it?"
Just then, for some unknown reason, Karl Mekis, travelling on a Chilean passport with a made-up name, decided to visit his native Austria. Bad mistake! The law was waiting. The wheels of justice also, regrettably, sometimes grind slowly, but in December 1962 the press and public gathered around for a grand comedy: the trial of the Security Commissioner of the Supreme World Republic of Venus. The judge (Europe does not have juries) could not suppress his laughter. Several of the subpoenaed witnesses gave evidence grudgingly, more embarrassed, I suspect, at being revealed as complete fools than as being traitors. Playing his role to the finish, Mekis warned the judge that the Venusians would avenge him when they finally arrived. But the judge decided to take the chance, and sentenced him to five years' hard labour. On appeal, it was reduced to four years, and with time already spent, he was out on 3 September 1964, and passed into obscurity.
As far as I am aware, Weber-Richter never faced justice. But then again, neither did his victims who, by all objective standards, were more reprehensible. He, after all, was a mere con man, but they were traitors to the human race. By all rights, they should have been put up against a wall and shot.