Hitler’s Jewish Magician

August 17, 2012 2:07 pm 2 comments

A poster for a 1988 film on Erik Jan Hanussen, who cleverly exploited the desperate Nazi public’s fascination with the occult, rising to Berlin society’s top rank and even entering the inner circle of Hitler’s demonic advisors. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The curtain opens on a frightening scene: Post-World War I Germany. Punishing reparations, a war-scarred public and a fractured society have doomed Germany’s Weimar Republic, paving the way for Nazism.

Amidst the chaos, a clairvoyant Jew named Erik Jan Hanussen cleverly exploits a desperate public’s fascination with the occult, rising to Berlin society’s top rank, and even entering into the inner circle of Hitler’s demonic advisors. Was there something exceptional about Hanussen? Fellow hypnotists marveled at his unique powers and declared, “This man must be in league with the devil.” He was known as “Europe’s greatest oracle since Nostradamus.” Yet, paradoxically, he failed to predict his own downfall in the brutality of the rising Nazi regime.

Arthur Magida’s new biography, The Nazi Séance, explores Hanussen’s supernatural ability to wield magic and foretell the future. Masterfully weaving the history of the Third Reich’s rise to power and Hanussen’s strange eccentricities that catapulted him from obscurity to prominence, Magida explores the intricacies of magic, alternately as both skeptic and believer, and follows the life trajectory of a complicated man whose mind plumbed the depths of some of the world’s most notorious evildoers.

“I’ve always been interested in magic,” Magida tells audiences as a prelude to discussing The Nazi Séance. An exciting adventure, Magida’s search for Hanussen’s legacy brought him in contact with characters as unique as Hanussen’s long lost daughter, a 90-year-old woman living in Italy who claims to be in touch spiritually with her murdered father, as well as the modern magician, “Teller,” of the famed duo, Penn & Teller.

Teller’s remark that “mentalists are insufficiently confident to admit that what they do is a trick” undoubtedly helped Magida balance his own conflicting perceptions of Hanussen, enabling him to portray Hanussen on stage and interpret his performances. Through sharp rhetorical questions, readers engage in the scientific discourses of the era. When Hanussen dazzles crowds by successfully navigating the streets of Berlin blindfolded and miraculously discovers a hidden object in Potsdamer Platz, his critics argue that he was merely unusually adept at sensing the minute muscle twitches and nonverbal cues of his audience, subtle actions that revealed the location of the object.

Although Magida acknowledges arguments dismissing Hanussen’s powers as parlor tricks, he also gives credence to Hanussen’s remarkable abilities, detailing how the seer repeatedly stood trial and defeated claims that he was a fake. During trials in Czechoslovakia and Berlin, Hanussen managed to bring to light critical evidence resolving a prosecutor’s murder case, predict the untimely death circumstances of a friend’s brother, and even avoid trick questions asking him the significance of specific dates in European history. True clairvoyance is hard to fake.

“The Nazi Séance." Photo: Amazon.

Hanussen became an international sensation and his reputation in Europe was secure. His public performances made him a celebrity, the rock star of his time. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s Hanussen operated a spiritual consulting business out of his Berlin home, attracting many wealthy and famous clients. He also ran the newspaper, Erik Jan Hannussen’s Berliner Wochenschau, eerily predicting the events precipitating Hitler’s consolidation of power and nefariously merging his prophesies with the Fuhrer’s propaganda machine.

If there were a motive for Hanussen’s betrayal of his fellow Jews, and his “alliance with scoundrels,” Magida suggests that he likely was apathetic about the turbulent social, economic, and political drama that was taking shape in Germany, believing that he was above the fray, destined to be revered as a national spiritual icon. His unexplained return to Berlin, after a successful escape to Switzerland with his family, reveals Hanussen’s irresistible addiction to fame and his unquenchable need to remain in the spotlight to the end.

Clever, at times humorous, anecdotes describe the mad men and women who attended Hanussen’s séances and relied on his advice, making The Nazi Séance a fast-paced, enjoyable read. Packed with new analysis of the desperate cultural and political climate that enabled the Nazis, the book’s only fault may be that readers aren’t given an opportunity to cheer for Hanussen’s conversion to a better cause and or his ultimate survival. Audiences learn early in the book that the Nazis murdered Hanussen in April of 1933.

By the time the curtain closes, however, Magida’s well-crafted portrayal of Hanussen’s magical performances and the clairvoyant’s personal life establishes an enigmatic character of the interwar years whom audiences will sympathize with and ponder for years to come.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Sports US & Canada Israeli-American Group Congratulates Cavaliers’ Blatt on Reaching NBA Finals

    Israeli-American Group Congratulates Cavaliers’ Blatt on Reaching NBA Finals

    JNS.org – An organization whose work focuses on the estimated population of 500,000-800,000 Israeli Americans congratulated David Blatt, the Jewish head coach of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Cleveland Cavaliers and a longtime Israel-based coach, for clinching an appearance in the NBA Finals. The Israeli-American Council (IAC), whose stated mission is “to build an active and giving Israeli-American community throughout the United States in order to strengthen the State of Israel, our next generation, and to provide a bridge to [...]

    Read more →
  • Food US & Canada Bacon Flavor Ben & Jerry’s ‘Not Gonna Happen’ Because it Wouldn’t be Kosher

    Bacon Flavor Ben & Jerry’s ‘Not Gonna Happen’ Because it Wouldn’t be Kosher

    Famed ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s will not be introducing a Bacon flavored product to its offerings because the company intends to keep its entire line kosher, Marketing Director Alison Gilbert told AOL’s morning show Rise recently. “It’s kind of funny, a lot of people look for bacon in our ice cream, which is probably not gonna happen because all of our ice cream is kosher,” she said, referring to Jewish dietary restrictions that proscribe the consumption of pig [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Judo Team Faces Antisemitic Harassment in Morocco: ‘We Will Murder You’

    Israeli Judo Team Faces Antisemitic Harassment in Morocco: ‘We Will Murder You’

    Israeli athletes at a world Judo championship in Morocco reportedly faced antisemitic slurs during the competition, news site WorldNetDaily reported on Monday. “We will murder you,” and “you’re not wanted here, go home,” were among the vituperative attacks directed at the Israeli Judo Association team, which was in Morocco last week for the World Masters Judo Tournament. According to Haaretz, each Israeli teammate was met with boos and jeers upon entering a fight. Additionally, no Israeli flags were present at [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.