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Hitler’s Monsters

Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich by Eric Kurlander

I’m struggling as I write this to figure out how to begin:

– A quiz on your definition of “Right” vs. “Left” vis a vis “empiricism” versus “intuition.”

– You’ve heard of “Godwin’s Law,” right?

– A brief history of the cycling of interest in matters occult.

I’m really, in spite of last month’s review of Death Cult Leaders, not really theme reading.

– Radon, anybody?

Oh, and one more: I checked out Mr. Kurlander’s Twitter feed, and though he’s not much for the platform (2 since signing up in 2012), his second Tweet in October, 2016: “Early Voting in Florida and the first candidate listed in every box was the REPUBLICAN candidate #riggedforTrump.” I’ll explain that last one as we move through this odd, interesting, and extraordinarily deep material.

Let me start with Godwin’s Law. If you’re not familiar with it, it was author and attorney Mike Godwin’s speculation that asserts that ‘As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1’.” (Wikipedia) Which is to say, probably nobody reading this article has escaped an Internet “discussion” without either being called, or calling someone, either Hitler or a Nazi. Hitler, it seems, is the Satan, the Caligula, the Boogeyman, the Monster Under the The Bed of our era. And, as the title suggests, this book deals in agonizing detail with Hitler, the Third Reich, and Nazism. And monsters.

Now, to the cycling of social interests —specifically, the Occult— in history. I recall as a High School student reading some Romantic poetry and, learning more about Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Balzac – realizing that they were the “hippies” of their age. The drug-taking, free-love advocating, emotionally-driven artists who “placed great emphasis on the workings of the unconscious mind, on dreams and reveries, on the supernatural, and on the childlike or primitive view of the world, this last being regarded as valuable because its clarity and intensity had not been overlaid by the restrictions of civilized ‘reason.’” (https://www.britannica.com/art/English-literature/The-Romantic-period) The period encompassed roughly 1780 – 1840.

It occurred to me that this period followed hard on the heels of the Enlightenment, an era of science, essay writing, literalism; “The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was a philosophical movement that took place primarily in Europe and, later, in North America, during the late 17th century. Its participants thought they were illuminating human intellect and culture after the “dark” Middle Ages. Characteristics of the Enlightenment include the rise of concepts such as reason, liberty and the scientific method.” (Live Science.com)

The ascension of Victoria to the British Throne in 1837 spelled the end of that Romantic era referenced early – and an overly-long swing back to a controlled, family-and-faith centered era of technology, Darwin, and strict overt morality.

Finally —as this book’s subject begins— the world entered upon the famous (or infamous) “Fin de Siecle.” “To describe something a fin de siecle phenomenon invokes a sense of the old order ending and new, radical departures. The adoption of the French term, rather than the use of the English ‘end of the century,’ helps to trace this particular critical content: it was, and continues to be, associated with those writers and artists whose work displayed a debt to French decadent, symbolist, or naturalist writers and artists.” (Oxford Bibliographies)

Why, you’re wondering, have I spent all these words on a history lesson? Largely because —for all that this book is as dense and almost awesomely researched a piece as I have ever read— yet the writer completely ignores the natural ebb and flow of Western civilization: from romantic and hedonistic to structured and scientific, then back again. His contention, however, is that the Third Reich was both spawned by, and contemptuous of, superstition and the Occult – without lining it up in its natural place in this unforced tick-tock of history.

Without giving it too short a shrift, WWI interrupted but did not end the social movement back from Victorianism to the fin de siecle art-house, free-thinking, “romantic,” age, and after the Central Powers’ humiliating and debilitating defeat, continued on with the Jazz Age, the notorious cabaret society, German expressionism, and a fascination with all things dark, mysterious, and forbidden. Hitler came of age during this period.

Kurlander delves deeply into the roots of the Reich, sometimes overwhelming the reader with extraordinary detail, names, dates – and it is here I’ll stop and say (as I did in my notes): “Radon.”

Germans, claims Kurlander, possessed a uniquely dark and determined interest in the occult – leading them to explore such things as theosophy, radiaesthesis (illness caused by “rays”), dowsing, pendulums, communing the with the dead; at least at the time a spiritual connection with the roots they believed they had in Eastern metaphysics and the “god in all things;” and a militant belief in their own destiny as masters of the planet. In the late 1800s and into the
inter-war years, Germany fostered a number of “bourgeois” societies for the exploration of these occult and “border science” interests, notably The Thule Society; and developed a number of crackpot theories about the origin of the world (World Ice Theory) which they aimed to support with research. It was at this point I noted, “Radon.” You see, Radon was, in fact, the scientific basis of “radiaesthesis,” and discovered and named by a German scientist in 1900. That is to say, it IS a “ray” that occurs naturally and that can make you terribly ill. Border science, or real? And could the writer, I wondered, honestly suggest that the Germans —even during the Nazi era— weren’t interested in real science and engineering?

Moreover, the interest in a variety of occult practices wasn’t confined to Germany – as a natural swing away from the limiting world of the Victorians, young people everywhere were holding seances, learning “magic,” looking for miracle cures and rejecting the world of their parents.

It is at this point that the political viewpoint of the writer becomes, dare I say it, intrusive. And my head began to swim with the question of what precisely his point was about Hitler, the Occult, Socialism, Communism, Right-Wing, Leftist, and who was on First. I mention this because the writer repeatedly referred to where a particular German social or political phenomenon sat on the Left-Right spectrum – enough so that it drew attention to the terms. Is interest in things like clean food, vegetarianism, Eastern mysticism and Romanticism a LEFT or RIGHT constellation? To which end of the spectrum does science belong? Engineering? Paranormal studies? Secret societies? More importantly, is the Left-Right dichotomy valuable to a book exploring the Occult interests of Germany, Hitler, and the proto-Nazis?

In recent years, Hitler has been portrayed as a superstitious madman (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) – and perhaps he was. But as this book conveys it, I began to wonder if he wasn’t more a supremely opportunistic madman. Reeling under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, and caught up in the decadence and headiness of the latest “romantic” period, the world plunged into The Great Depression – while the Soviet Union’s adoption of Communism awoke an existential terror in hard-pressed Europe. Hitler, a student of “mesmerism,” salesmanship, speechifying and symbolism, appears to have hit upon a wonderful formula for a swift and certain mastery of the minds of these troubled people: straddle the Great Pile of the Occult. Use people’s demoralization and desperation by characterizing a horrible, Nosferatu-like “Other” as the evil enemy; control the use (and abuse) of pseudo and border sciences, declaring yourself the arbiter of which have merit and which do not; and shun, belittle, and sideline (while secretly dancing with) religious, miraculous, or ceremonial organizations, such as Freemasonry and the Catholic Church. Confused yet?

Here in the book I began to see both the writer’s genius, and his determination to define and conflate the impulses of Left and Right thinking so that “goodthink” is heaped on one side, and “badthink” on the other. I refrained from looking up anything about the writer until I had completed the book, as I didn’t want my intuition either confirmed or denied.

Which wraps me around to the Tweet quoted above. I leave it to you, the reader, to determine, or intuit, as you will.

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.