The Nazi Seance by Arthur J. Magida

nazi seance I picked this odd little book up at Moe’s in Berkeley last Thursday, thinking it would be a fun way to start Non-fiction November.  It was.

It’s a very strange story.

Clairvoyent huckster Erik Jan Hanussen rises to considerable fame between the World Wars in Berlin.  He rises, falls, rises again to the point where he is earning over 40,000 dollars a day in private consultations and ticket sales for his very popular shows.  He is often in trouble in court, accused of fraud, but his popularity only grows to the point where he can afford a very lavish lifestyle including a luxury yacht and a small fleet of limousines.

To protect himself from what he sees as a rising force in Germany, he becomes an early funder of the Nazi Party.  He gives them so much money in the form of loans that he becomes acquainted with the party’s more powerful members including Adolf Hitler.

He is also secretly Jewish.

Eventually, he is found out, but by that time Hanussan has collected  a sizable stack of I.O.U.’s from  powerful party members, which he hopes to use as blackmail to keep himself out of trouble and rolling in the success he is used to. Unfortunately, Hanussan takes things to far when he appears to make a claim for predicting the Reichstag fire, something the Nazi’s cannot tolerate.

Hanussan’s story ends the way most readers will have expected.

It’s an entertaining, quick read, that touches on a few deeper questions here and there but never becomes a weighty piece of history.  Hanussan was not the only Jewish supporter of the Nazi Party in its early days.  That he supported it long after it should have been clear just how antisemitic the party was is shocking, but by that point in the story it’s also clear that Hanussan was not the brightest bulb in the box.  Very good at his clairvoyant act, but also very foolish, very ambitious, very naive.

Mr. Magida does a good job with the story.  He is perhaps a bit too sympathetic towards Hanussen here and there, maybe a bit too willing to accept psychic abilities as truly possible for my taste, but neither of these slight faults bothered me all that much.  The Nazi Seance turned out to be a good way to start Non-fiction November–entertaining, quick, and educational enough.

I enjoyed it.

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