- Revisiting the "Nazi Occult": Histories, Realities, Legacies ed. by Monica Black and Eric Kurlander
Monica Black and Eric Kurlander have edited an illuminating and well-conceived volume of the latest research on the occult in Nazi Germany, sure to stimulate new debates on the topic. The contributors explore the cultural and intellectual history of the occult, broadly defined to include esotericism, the paranormal, and border sciences in relation to Nazi Germany. Without exception, the essays insightfully trace the changes in meanings and uses of occult phenomena. Until now the best and most convincing work on German irrationalism, esotericism, and the occult, such as the work of George Mosse, Fritz Stern, and Nicholas Goodrick-Clark, has focused on the roots of National Socialism, and thus tended to emphasize the years leading up to 1933. While the collection includes essays on the occult origins of Nazi Germany, most address the Third Reich itself, the decades after World War II, and even the present day.
Indeed, the book is organized according to this tripartite periodization. The contributions cover a broad range of topics on the occult, including its relationship to modernity and science; the selective suppression and pragmatic uses of various occult figures and practices; and the legacies and continuities of the occult in Nazi Germany, including popular fascination expressed in mass media and video games.
This volume is exceptional in the special attention it gives to several fascinating figures in German esotericism and the occult that highlight the intersections of science and spirituality in the twentieth century. For example, John Ondrovcik examines the "supernatural" sightings of the terrorist Max Hoelz in the Vogtland after World War I to illustrate how Vogtlanders made sense of the political instability and perceived threats of the time. In another outstanding essay, Black investigates the impact of the immensely popular mystic and faith healer Bruno Gröning of the Federal Republic to reveal the meaning of this savior figure in the years immediately after Hitler's defeat.
A unifying theme of this collection is the insistence that many Germans from the 1890s throughout the twentieth century were open to various approaches to knowledge, including science, spirituality, and the arts and humanities. For example, Peter Staudenmaier insightfully argues that in the Wilhelmine era many Germans [End Page 671] turned to the occult or esotericism as an alternative to the Enlightenment emphasis on rationality, and as a means not only to plumb the mysteries of human existence and the cosmos, but also to challenge materialism in German culture and society.
The second major theme is that the Third Reich's attitude toward the occult and its practitioners was not, as the prevailing consensus would have it, uniformly hostile. For example, in "Hitler's Supernatural Sciences" Kurlander convincingly argues that the regime "selectively suppressed the occult and border sciences" while exploiting the occult for its own ends during the war—even going so far as to enlist the aid of astrologers and clairvoyants in intelligence gathering (132). Uwe Schellinger, Andreas Anton, and Michael Schetsche document the use of border science by the Kriegsmarine to help German submarines locate British vessels and the recruitment of psychics to determine the whereabouts of Benito Mussolini after he was arrested by the Italian opposition in 1943.
In addition to challenging the historiography on the Nazi regime and the occult, the volume also points to new and promising avenues for research. In one of the most intriguing such examples, Jeff Hayton examines video games that depict Nazis and the occult, proposing the thought-provoking thesis that virtually the only video game creators who actually acknowledge the historic evil of the Holocaust are those who celebrate it—neo-Nazis. Hayton analyzes a previously untapped source to understand how we confront the Nazi past and its relation to the occult.
While the contributors to this volume challenge the historiography of the occult in Nazi Germany and offer exciting new avenues for research, I would have liked to read more about the latest research on Hitler...