Monday, July 31, 2017

Eric Kurlander's "Hitler’s Monsters"

Eric Kurlander is professor of history at Stetson University. His books include The Price of Exclusion: Ethnicity, National Identity, and the Decline of German Liberalism, 1989–1933 and Living With Hitler: Liberal Democrats in the Third Reich, 1933-1945.

Here Kurlander dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Hitler's Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich:
In making Hitler’s Monsters into a movie, we would have to cast supporting roles for prominent Nazis central to the plot–– Hitler, Himmler, Hess, and Goebbels, among others. But I would reserve five of lead roles for important characters whose unique stories help define the supernatural history of the Third Reich.

First, I would cast Jason Isaacs, of Harry Potter fame, as the aging horror writer, Hanns Heinz Ewers. A renowned louche whose penchant for seedier side of Berlin night life was legendary, Ewers’ politics in the Weimar Republic ranged from progressive sex reformer to rightwing nationalist and Nazi. In November 1931, on the occasion of his 60th birthday, Ewers used his connections with Hitler’s Harvard-educated limousine driver, ‘Putzi’ Hanfstaengl, to organize a meeting with the Führer. After a lively discussion during which he impressed Hitler with his charm and commitment to the cause, the leader of the NSDAP commissioned the horror writer–– author of salacious, sex and violence filled books about vampires, homunculi, and Satanists–– to produce propaganda for the party, including a popular biography of the Nazi martyr, Horst Wessel (which Joseph Goebbels later optioned into a 1934 biopic).

For the role of Ewers’ friend, the pro-Nazi–– and secretly Jewish–– clairvoyant Erik Hanussen, I would cast Christian Bale. Born the same year as Hitler, to a family of Jewish artists in Vienna, Hanussen built an occult empire, replete with his own popular periodicals, The Other World and Hanussen’s Illustrated Weekly and a “Palace of Occultism” near Berlin’s fashionable Kudamm. Despite rumors of Hanussen’s Jewish background, Nazi party leaders were attracted to the popular and charismatic magician, who loaned the Berlin Stormtrooper Chief Graf von Helldorff 150,000 marks to pay off gambling debts and offered his Cadillac to other stormtroopers for use at Nazi rallies. In return for his public support of the NSDAP, Hanussen enjoyed unofficial SA protection. Hanussen even met with Goering and possibly Hitler, supposedly to provide advice on manipulating the public. But it is Hanussen’s well-documented role in “predicting” the infamous February 28th 1933 Reichstag Fire at a séance held at his Berlin “Palace for Occultism” that indicates the remarkable extent of the Jewish clairvoyant’s relationship with the Nazi Party. He paid for this intimacy with his life, however. Four weeks after the Reichstag Fire, he was shot dead by his erstwhile party colleagues.

The third figure, played by the award-winning British actress Emma Thompson, would be the former World War One Field Marshall Erich von Ludendorff’s second wife, Mathilde Ludendorff. A sometime Nazi fellow traveller, sometime Hitler critic, Ludendorff was a trained psychiatrist who considered herself the most prominent anti-occultist in the Third Reich. Ludendorff’s circle attacked everyone from Hanussen, to whom they referred as “Hitler’s Jewish prophet,” to respected “scientific occultists” who worked for Himmler, Hess, and Goebbels. Initially the Ludendorff circle held out hope that the Third Reich would embrace the struggle against the shadowy Jewish occultists and Tibetan priests who the believed were “prepared to use any methods in championing their claim to world domination–– including monstrous genocide” against pure Aryan Germans. Of course, Ludendorff’s “Enlightenment” efforts turned out to be just as dubious as her occult opponents. Her husband, the Field Marshall, was himself swindled by an alchemist and believed that a cabal of masons and Jews stood behind the Weimar Republic. Not surprisingly, the Gestapo, which closely surveilled members of the circle, found it impossible to determine whether the Ludendorff circle were occultist or anti-occultist in nature.

The fourth figure would be the dashing young archaeologist Otto Rahn, the Third Reich’s “real Indiana Jones.” Plucked from obscurity by Himmler after reading Rahn’s first book, Crusade for the Grail (1933), he was tasked with conducting additional research, from the Pyrenees to Iceland, on the Holy Grail and lost civilization of Atlantis (or “Thule” in Nazi parlance). Rahn’s second book, Lucifer’s Court (1937), written directly under Himmler’s auspices, speculated that the Grail lay at the center of a cult of Luciferians–– literally devil worshippers––who practiced an Ur-Aryan religion drawn from Tibet and Northern India, via Persia, in pre-modern times. Rahn fell out of favor in the late-1930s–– and eventually committed suicide–– due to persistent reports of alcoholism and homosexuality, which Himmler tried to counter by urging him to marry. Yet Rahn was rehabilitated by Himmler shortly after his death, while Lucifer’s Court was widely read. Indeed, in the wake of the D-Day landing, Himmler approved a print run of 5,000 new copies intended to improve the morale of units stationed at the western front.

The fifth and final leading role would be given to Michael Fassbender, who would be perfect to play the Nazi Special Operations hero and SS Captain, Otto Skorzeny. On 12 September 1943, Skorzeny conducted a daring raid on the Campo Imperatore Hotel in Italy’s Gran Sasso Mountains. His mission was to liberate Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, whom the Italian people had deposed and arrested in the wake of the Allied landings in Sicily. According to Skorzeny, his information on the dictator’s location was the result, not of top secret intelligence or code-breaking, but of Operation Mars, a bizarre SS-sponsored operation, masterminded by Himmler, which assembled an expert team of occultists in a fancy villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. A year later, with the Third Reich in its death throes, Skorzeny would be called upon again to salvage victory from the jaws of defeat–– this time to train the Nazi ‘Werewolf,’ a last gasp partisan effort to stave off Götterdämmerung. Needless to say, the project failed just as spectacularly, and with it, so did the Third Reich.
Learn more about Hitler's Monsters at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Eric Kurlander's Living with Hitler.

The Page 99 Test: Hitler's Monsters.

--Marshal Zeringue