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...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.