Take­aways from Hitler’s Mon­sters: A Su­per­nat­u­ral His­tory of the Third Re­ich

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Hitler’s Mon­sters: A Su­per­nat­u­ral His­tory of the Third Re­ich By Eric Kur­lan­der Yale Uni­ver­sity Press 448 pp; $45.50

Though Ger­mans are known for their in­dus­trial ef­fi­ciency, oth­er­wise im­pres­sive skill ap­plied hor­rif­i­cally dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, the Third Re­ich also turned to su­per­nat­u­ral forces to bol­ster their at­tempt at re­struc­tur­ing Europe en masse. Eric Kur­lan­der ex­plores the roots of Ger­man oc­cultism in Hitler’s Mon­sters, his third book about the Nazi Era, a fright­en­ing glimpse at the pseudo-science na­tional so­cial­ists ac­cepted to jus­tify their abom­i­na­tions abroad. Here’s what we learned (and maybe wish we hadn’t) about how far Nazi Ger­mans went:

1

Fright­en­ing for­tune.

The Nazi Party demon­strated an af­fec­tion for the su­per­nat­u­ral early in its rise to power, with Nazi stormtroop­ers host­ing pop­u­lar clair­voy­ant Erik Hanussen at sev­eral for­mal events held as the party took shape. It was at a storm trooper sanc­tioned séance on Fe­bru­ary 26th, 1933 that Hanussen was said to have pre­dicted the Re­ich­stag fire that would burn Ger­many’s par­lia­ment to ashes the very next day – and Nazi lead­ers used this su­per­nat­u­ral prophecy to jus­tify their first im­po­si­tion of martial law in Ger­many.

2

Charis-magic.

While many have de­scribed Adolf Hitler’s speak­ing style as en­chant­ing, charis­matic and sin­gu­lar in its abil­ity to per­suade, ac­cord­ing to Kur­lan­der, it was Hitler’s sub­scrip­tion to mys­tic word­smithing that drove the leader’s unique style. The Fuhrer drew heav­ily from the mys­tic mus­ings of Ger­man au­thor Ernst Scher­tel, whose 1923 book Magic: His­tory, The­ory and Prac­tice had a spe­cial place on Hitler’s shelf for quick ref­er­ence. He be­lieved that words, cho­sen care­fully and rhymed in the right ca­dence, could them­selves op­er­ate mag­i­cally. Anti-Semitic au­thor Ernst Hiemer once de­scribed Hitler’s speeches as “the great­est ex­am­ple of mass sor­cery that the world has heard in mod­ern times.”

3

World Ice The­ory.

There is no greater ev­i­dence of the Third Re­ich’s be­lief in “bor­der science” – largely un­founded the­o­ries stray­ing far from com­mon fact – than its en­dorse­ment of Austrian in­ven­tor Hanns Hor­biger’s World Ice The­ory. In brief, Hor­biger’s the­ory posits that ice forms the ba­sic sub­stance of all cos­mic en­ti­ties and de­ter­mines the de­vel­op­ment of our uni­verse ac­cord­ing to lin­ger­ing blocks of ice still float­ing in space. Hitler was an en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter – likely be­cause Hor­biger’s be­liefs coun­tered the­o­ries of rel­a­tiv­ity that Hitler deemed a prod­uct of naive Jewish think­ing, and be­cause Hitler tied the World Ice The­ory to his own vi­sion of the Aryan Nordic Man. Ac­cep­tance of the the­ory de­clined sharply post-War, mostly due to the ir­refutable science as­so­ci­ated with Ein­stein’s the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity, though Hor­biger de­fends his be­lief ar­dently, say­ing that sci­en­tific proof and cal­cu­la­tion “can only lead you astray.”

4

Prophecy and pol­i­tics.

In 1939, Pro­pa­ganda Min­is­ter Joseph Goebbels sought to use prophecy in ser­vice of the Nazi regime. While lead­ing of­fi­cials in the Third Re­ich wa­vered on their com­mit­ment to as­trol­ogy and the su­per­nat­u­ral – al­ter­nately con­demn­ing and en­dors­ing bor­der science – Goebbels was staunch: he took se­ri­ously Nostradamus’s pre­dic­tions for a re-imag­ined Europe, es­pe­cially given that the plan at hand would in­clude his Nazi Party’s im­me­di­ate rise to power. As the Sec­ond World War be­gan, Goebbels re­fash­ioned Nostradamus to suit his de­sired out­come and be­gan dis­tribut­ing these re­vamped prophe­cies in pam­phlets across Ger­many, pre­dict­ing both a Ger­man vic­tory and bru­tal demise of the Re­ich’s Western en­e­mies.

5

Out of their depth.

By 1942, Bri­tish Navy ves­sels had be­gun to shift the tide in the At­lantic bat­tle­front, sink­ing more Ger­man U-boats than Hitler’s army could Al­lied sub­marines. Sci­en­tific progress proved a ma­jor fac­tor in Al­lied dom­i­nance, with the de­vel­op­ment of Radar and Sonar tech­nol­ogy sig­nif­i­cantly up­ping the odds of lo­cat­ing Ger­man ves­sels in deep wa­ter. But Ger­many Navy of­fi­cials had a dif­fer­ent strat­egy in mind: U-boat cap­tain Hans Roeder con­vinced col­leagues in arms the Bri­tish were us­ing pen­du­lums to pre­dict their boats’ lo­ca­tion un­der­wa­ter. As an am­a­teur pen­du­lum dowser him­self, the en­ter­pris­ing cap­tain es­tab­lished the Pen­du­lum In­sti­tute to pin­point Bri­tish ships, en­list­ing pen­du­lum dowsers and oc­cultists from across the coun­try and task­ing them with ap­ply­ing their clair­voy­ant pow­ers to search for Bri­tish ves­sels. Re­sults were, un­sur­pris­ingly, not al­to­gether suc­cess­ful.

6

Nazi were­wolves and Ger­man ly­can­thropy.

Wide­spread be­lief in ly­can­thropy – the mag­i­cal meta­mor­pho­sis of man into wolf – dates back to Ger­many’s an­cient and me­dieval ages, when men would don the wood­land an­i­mal’s pelts and take to the for­est to trans­form fully. Wan­ing in in­ter­ven­ing cen­turies, Ger­many’s ly­can­thropic predilec­tions rose to new pop­u­lar­ity un­der Hitler’s Nazi regime, with Third Re­ich of­fi­cials re­call­ing im­ages of the Ger­manic wolf in pro­pa­ganda and com­monly as­so­ci­at­ing the term with their lead­ing para­mil­i­tary groups, in­clud­ing the famed Or­gan­i­sa­tion Were­wolf. Hitler’s name is it­self a deriva­tion of the an­i­mal, mean­ing “fa­ther wolf” – a mam­malian ti­tle he wore proudly, cit­ing him­self as a wolf on many pub­lic oc­ca­sions through­out the war.

7

The en­emy vam­pire.

While mem­bers of the Third Re­ich drew on folk­lore to pro­mote them­selves dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, they used sim­i­larly mythic terms to alien­ate en­e­mies at home. The his­tor­i­cal evil coun­ter­part to wolves’ good na­ture in Ger­manic folk­lore, the “vam­pire” be­came the pre­ferred ap­pel­la­tion for Jewish and Slavic peo­ple un­der the Third Re­ich. Al­fred Karasek, a prom­i­nent SS folk­lorist, gained in­famy for his “documentation” of vam­piric be­hav­iour, par­tic­u­larly among Danube Swabi­ans – Ger­mans oc­cu­py­ing the con­tested south­east­ern re­gion of Banat. Eye­wit­ness re­ports al­leged a slew of atroc­i­ties un­der anti-Ger­man Yu­gosla­vian leader Josip Tito, re­count­ing ob­ser­va­tions of tor­ture in which they “cut off their ears or nose, poked out their eyes, ripped off their faces.” This myth­i­cal matchup lingers in Ger­manic folk­lore to­day, with spooky sto­ries fea­tur­ing wood­land crea­tures cast to char­ac­ter­ize both vic­tor and vic­tim in mod­ern fairy­tales.

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