Of Nazis as satanists, werewolves as saviors, and other supernatural curiosities of the Third Reich.
This isn’t a Morning of the Magicians–style treatise on Nazi occultism, with secret portals to hell in the Caucasus and professions of the theory of eternal ice, though such things figure at the margins. Instead, Kurlander (History/Stetson Univ.; Living with Hitler: Liberal Democrats in the Third Reich, 2009, etc.) delivers a serious consideration of the place of supernatural belief in the larger German society. The author writes of the influence of the so-called border sciences of parapsychology and their ilk on fascism, and vice versa, and of the identification of Jews and other “undesirables” with vampires, zombies, ghouls, and kindred monsters, joining modern racism to older cultural touchstones. Kurlander traces much of that to the Romantic era, when “folklore, mythology, and neo-paganism rushed to fill an important gap in the German spiritual landscape” left by a decline in belief in the Judeo-Christian God. Though rational-minded Germans shunned belief in such things as graphology and palm-reading, it was still strong enough that a corporate executive, at the time of the Nazi rise, was dismissed because his shareholders were convinced that his handwriting bode ill. The Nazis made use of existing mythology and added elements to proclaim Hitler “a ruler of souls” and a wizard possessed of powers no other earthly ruler held. Whether Hitler believed in such things himself is arguable, but clearly there was a kind of approved occultism that the regime tolerated even while rooting out “rival esoteric doctrines” that did not cohere with the state-sanctioned forms. In later years, the Nazis even tolerated a doctrine that held that they were agents of Lucifer battling an evil Jewish god, and though the promulgator of that theory committed suicide, his books remained in print until the end of the war.
A fascinating look at a little-understood aspect of fascism, with a nod to how “shadowy conspiracy theories” and supernatural thinking continue to play out in politics today.