Thursday, December 8, 2011

Arthur J. Magida's "The Nazi Seance"

Arthur J. Magida is writer-in-residence at the University of Baltimore, a journalism professor at Georgetown University and recipient of multiple awards in journalism and the humanities, including the Simon Rockower Award from the American Jewish Press Association, the A.D. Emmart Award and the Smolar Award for Excellence in Jewish Journalism. His books include The Rabbi and The Hit Man, Prophet of Rage: A Life of Louis Farrakhan and His Nation, Opening the Doors of Wonder and How To Be a Perfect Stranger.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Nazi Séance: The Strange Story of the Jewish Psychic in Hitler's Circle, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Nazi Seance? There’s not much here: 16 words, barely enough for a decent fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant. There’s an announcement that you’ve reached “Part Two” of the book and that it’s titled “The Fuehrer, the Fire and the Actress.” Below that is a quotation of six words: “Great liars are also great magicians.” The man who spoke those words is Adolf Hitler.

Despite the paucity of words, Page 99 is the fulcrum of The Nazi Séance, the point where the protagonist – Erik Jan Hanussen, an immensely successful clairvoyant – went from being a mere showman to throwing in his lot with the Nazis who were then scheming and agitating in Berlin. The fact that Hanussen was Jewish makes this story even more compelling, and more disturbing.

On page 98, Hanussen had just been acquitted for fraud in a trial in Czechoslovakia. It was May 1930. The judge declared that Hanussen’s “metaphysical abilities are beyond doubt;” the trial drew so much international attention that New York Times headlined its story: “Clairvoyant Proves Power in Czech Court; Jan Hanussen, With Face Masked and Ears Stuffed, Demonstrates While Experts Wrangle.” Then on Page 100, Hanussen heads off to Berlin, a ravaged, yet magical city that had always enchanted him. Here, Hanussen was more successful than ever, but with less stability in Berlin every day, he needed security and safety. For that, he drew close to the top Storm Troopers, occasionally assured Hitler that the stars were aligned in his favor and turned his tabloid newspaper into pro-Nazi rags.

Page 99 is almost shorn of words, but pregnant with doom. This is the point where Hanussen began his foolish and fatal journey, hoping that if Hitler was the new God, he would be his favored prophet: the resident seer of the Third Reich. But Hitler was one step ahead of Hanussen. Hitler understood that “great liars are also great magicians.” He also understood that no one in Germany was a better liar than the king of the Nazis.
Learn more about the book and author at Arthur J. Magida's website.

--Marshal Zeringue