19 December 2018


Eric Kurlander. Hitler's Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich. Yale, 2017.

If you think that the world is descending into madness, you will find plenty more here, the madness being not that of an erudite author but that of his subject matter, namely the irrational belief system that underpinned National Socialism. It seems scarcely credible today that a modern state should descend to the depths that Nazism reached between 1933 and 1945, and ever since historians, not to say mankind itself, has been struggling to comprehend the motivations of those who perpetrated depravities, one of which, the Holocaust, Churchill famously described as "the greatest crime in the whole of human history".

There were events such as the First World War, which of course, played their part in causing the Second World War, but those events, in themselves are not capable of explaining the depths to which National Socialism sank. In examining the supernatural belief system of the Nazi state, the author, at least begins to provide an answer.

The scope of the book is immense, and appears to aim at becoming the definitive work on the subject, since every aspect, however apparently trivial, has been included. The general reader may find for this reason the book to be a challenging read, but such effort will undoubtedly reap dividends. The author covers the entire period of National Socialism's existence as well as its origins. Supernaturally, those origins were located in the Thule Society, which "focused on occult and border scientific thinking", and which "wanted a Greater Germany devoid of Jews, Freemasons and Communists" and influenced several top Nazis, including Hitler, albeit that he later tried to sever the Party's links to it. Also inspiration was drawn for their "supernatural musings on race and space in the interwar Artamanen movement", founded in 1924 by an ethnic German emigré from Transylvania, and which also propagated ariosophic and theosophic ideas.

Its most prominent recruit was Himmler, who once in power founded the Ahnenerbe, a kind of supernatural think tank, and the book recounts a long litany of extremely daft ideas which were tried out under his auspices, but which often emanated from the Ahnenerbe and its acolytes. One can recount just a few here and you will get the idea: using divining rods to locate enemy ships in the war of the Atlantic; promoting the development of a ray that would locate oil fields, and even the building of an anti-gravity machine (Schauber's Repulsine). But once into the war, it was no holds barred for experimentation on human beings in the interest of researching border science.

One of Kurlander's accounts I found particularly chilling when he describes how one researcher Bruno Beger got approval from Adolf Eichmann to visit Auschwitz to select his own subjects for experimentation for his work on racial types, for which he needed human skeletons. On arrival, he selected seventuy-nine male Jews, two Poles, four Central Asians and thirty female Jews, and they were shipped to a concentration camp near to his base at Strasbourg University; a makeshift gas chamber was built and the prisoners murdered.

As for Hitler himself, in public he appeared to shy away from the direct association with occult groups, no doubt because he did not wish to be mocked for his beliefs, which included the effectiveness of dowsing and World Ice Theory. More has previously been written by historians about the nature of his anti-Semitism, some even speculating that it was opportunistic. Kurlander does not doubt the genuineness of it, albeit that he refers to Hitler's expertise as a crowd manipulator, and noting that Hitler had read Le Bon's Psychology of Crowds. I found his examination of the subject of Hitler's inner self expertly done, especially his judicious use of Jung's analysis that Hitler mirrored Germany's collective unconscious, as well as his citing of the journalist Rudolph Olden who in 1932 did not see Hitler as a conviction politician/statesman but rather as a "prophet regularly in a state of narcissistic conviction".

I was completely unaware of the fact that there was a significant difference between Germany and her enemies in a small but possibly crucial respect, namely the extent to which large numbers of Germans were in thrall to occult ideas; to back this up Kurlander recounts the fact that there were 3,000 tarot readers in Berlin alone during the war. The Nazi leadership was ambivalent towards this characteristic, since, although they themselves cultivated the esoteric, they were anxious about what the public chose to believe since it was outside their control. As a result the activities of many occult practitioners were strictly curtailed with some being arrested, during what was known as the Hess Action during the late 1930's, only later for a number to be re-rehabilitated.

In an excellent, albeit too short, section on the Holocaust, Kurlander describes the demonization of Jews, a favourite Nazi motif being that of the Jew as a blood-sucking vampire. One really gets the feeling from his descriptions of this process, that one is getting a little bit closer to understanding how many Germans, and especially Hitler, thought about Jews: as a sort of germ to be eradicated to preserve the purity of German blood. Kurlander comments: "If the process of genocide was conducted in a highly technocratic fashion, its foundations lay in a conception of the Jews as supernatural monsters".

In his epilogue Kurlander again cites Jung who warns that other nations "will become victims of possession if, in their horror at the German guilt, they forget [that] they can just as suddenly become a victim of the demonic powers". These words appear peculiarly apposite for the times we are now living through. – Robin Carlile

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