The contradictory clairvoyant

Erik Jan Hanussen’s clairvoyant powers and his support for the Nazis didn’t help him foresee that they would murder him in 1933.

Circus Busch in Berlin 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Palgrave MacMillan)
Circus Busch in Berlin 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Palgrave MacMillan)
‘Writing forces me to confront my world and myself,’ Arthur Magida informs us with deep sincerity, and then he takes the next step, vitally present in all of his books. “By sinking at length into characters and personalities, into certain modes of thinking, truths emerge or evasions from truths emerge with sometimes sad – sometimes tragic resolutions.”
In his books about a homicidal rabbi in New Jersey, The Rabbi and the Hit Man; about an angry black man in Chicago, Prophet of Rage; and now The Nazi Séance about a Jewish clairvoyant connected to high-ranking leaders in the early years of the Nazi regime, Magida illuminates the chaos at the center of life, a key theme for him.
In this excellent biography of Erik Jan Hanussen, we follow this until recently lesser-known figure, and witness how he convinced large numbers of individuals in Germany and other parts of Central Europe during the ’20s and early ’30s that he could read minds, foretell the future and perform all sorts of other marvels.
Moreover, even though Jewish, he became an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazis. The “chaos” Hanussen had to face, which the author builds to a striking climax, is that this “seer of the future” could not recognize what would happen to him. The Nazis killed him in April 1933, only three months after coming to power.
In this well-researched book, we feel the excitement of a fellow Jew as crowds in Berlin flocked to observe him as he performed in public. Moreover, they were so impressed that there were many Germans who paid him for private readings and audiences. Because of the acclaim he received, Hanussen was able to connect with Wolf Heinrich Count von Helldorf, a figure who rose significantly in the ranks of the Nazi movement.
Magida provides his readers with good insight into character of the clairvoyant as he rises higher and higher in the circles of the group soon to take over Germany completely.
Hanussen was in the higher and lower circles of the Nazi pantheon in the early ’30s and may have even had contact with Hitler himself.
This fascinating figure justified his powers by writing an autobiography, which Magida shows contains many distortions. But in those distortions we learn even more about what motivated Hanussen. The author was able to speak to a daughter who is still alive. He helps the readers understand this clairvoyant even more by utilizing much of the information she shared with him.
Rather than revealing, in this review, all the significant details of Hanussen’s life, the reader is urged to discover them for himself while reading the book.
The Reichstag fire in 1933 was his undoing. He revealed what the Nazis felt was too much information. Soon after he was jailed and then murdered. Magida focuses on his subject in a way that will enlighten us all. We will also ask how this Jew could find a home in the Nazi ranks.
The Nazi Séance
By Arthur J. Magida
Palgrave Macmillan
288 pages; $26