HE WAS A charismatic stage clairvoyant and mentalist who came to the attention of the Nazi Party during its rise to power in early 1930s Germany. Erik Jan Hanussen might have had genuine psychic gifts, but he used his fame and powers of persuasion to increase his own wealth and his standing in the corridors of political power. He might have even contributed directly to the early success of Nazi Germany. But in the end, one of his most startling prophecies would lead to his death.
Erik Jan Hanussen was his stage name. He was born Hermann Steinschneider on June 2, 1889, a Jew whose father was an actor and a caretaker of a synagogue. Hanussen abandoned his school education to join the circus, where he developed his showman skills as a knife thrower, fire eater, and the strong man.
It was during World War I as a soldier that Hanussen first began to demonstrate his psychic abilities. At one point, his company was cut off from its supply of water, and the troops were becoming desperate. Hanussen, without the use of a divining rod or any other apparatus, successfully dowsed water for his comrades. His entertainment background and charismatic personality eventually got him a transfer to perform for the troops.
When the war was over, Hanussen further developed his stage act as a clairvoyant and mentalist, performing at music halls across Germany and surrounding countries. One feat during one of his shows that brought him much attention was his revelation of details about a local murderer – details that only became known to the public when they were later published in a newspaper. It’s suspected now that Hanussen may have had a confederate at the newspaper or the police department that fed him the information, but at the time, many were impressed by this “prediction”.
Hanussen wasn’t without his troubles with the law, however. But it was one arrest and trial that he was able to turn completely to his favor and elevate him to the ranks of stardom. It took place in Leitmeritz, Czechoslovakia, where he was defending himself against charges of taking money under false pretenses; that is, claiming to be able to predict the future. Hanussen’s defense was that the pretenses were not false at all; that his abilities were genuine. He then set about to prove it by correctly telling the prosecutor exactly what he had in his pockets and accurately naming the contents of the judge’s briefcase.
Not persuaded, the judge dismissed the feat as merely one of Hanussen’s stage tricks. So Hanussen offered a more impressive demonstration. He told the court that at that very moment, a man who had just robbed the Commercial Bank could be apprehended on platform #2 at the Leitmeritz train station. The stolen money, he told them, could be found in the briefcase he was carrying. The police dashed off to the train station and found the thief and the money, just as Hanussen predicted. The court had no choice but to acquit Hanussen, and the incident made him famous.
It seems unlikely that Hanussen could have staged the event to prove his innocence. And there was another significant case that suggests that he might have had genuine psychic abilities. Hanussen was performing at La Scala in Berlin. Seemingly out of nowhere, he told a banker in the audience that a fire was about to break out in his secured safe room, due to a wiring defect, and that 360,000 marks was at risk of being burned up. He advised the banker to get the fire department there as soon as possible. Fire trucks were rushed to the bank, and the firefighters found the faulty wiring just as Hanussen saw it.
BUILDING HIS REPUTATION
In 1930, Hanussen further capitalized on his fame and reputation as a mystic by starting a monthly occult magazine, Hanussen Magazin, and a bi-weekly paper, Bunte Wochenschau, in which he made predictions regarding politics and national finances. In one stunning prediction, he said that one of Germany’s three largest joint-stock banks would suffer a collapse. The prediction was fulfilled three weeks later when Darmstadt & National was forced to close its doors.
In July, 1932 he published a prophecy in which he saw “a river of blood flowing near Hamburg.” Several days later, Nazi Storm Troopers fought violently with Communist “Red Front” fighters in Altona, Hamburg’s neighboring twin city. Known as the “bloody Sunday of Altona,” the five-hour confrontation resulted in the city’s gutters literally running red with blood.
Was Hanussen merely adept at reading the times, or did he have informants in high places? In any case, he was now sought after by the wealthy, business leaders, and celebrities for private consultations.
THE NAZI CONNECTION
All this brought Hanussen to the attention of the rising Nazi elite. Despite his Jewish heritage, he became friends with Karl Ernst, commander of Berlin’s Storm Troopers, Edmund Heines, the S.A. Gruppenführer, and Count von Helldorf, another leader of Berlin’s Brownshirts. Undoubtedly, it was his connections to these men – as well as the other German elite and prominent people with whom he mingled regularly – that provided Hanussen with much inside information for his predictions. To the general public, however, his prognostications continued to enhance his reputation as a remarkable psychic.
It is unclear how much influence Hanussen truly had on the success of the Nazi Party in Germany and on the rise of Adolf Hitler, but it might have been significant.
Some sources say that it was Hanussen who recommended that the Nazis adopt the swastika as their symbol. It was an “Indian luck symbol”, he told them, that promised them good fortune in their ambitions. In his paper’s astrological advice columns, he always “predicted” that Hitler would be the winner of upcoming elections since planetary conjunctions were in his favor. “Vote with the stars,” he told his readers – a tactic that could have brought about a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Most important was Hanussen’s direct influence on Hitler himself. Hanussen was introduced to the Führer by Hilter’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann. It has been claimed by several German journalists that Hanussen personally coached Hitler on his public speaking. With his formidable stage background and presence, he was able to teach Hitler how to gesture, how to emphasize phrases and dramatize his speech. They credit Hanussen – this mentalist and stage magician – with helping Hitler develop his phenomenal magnetic appeal and hypnotic rhetorical talent, which he used to lead his nation to war and delusional dreams of world dominance.
HANUSSEN’S ERROR... AND MURDER
Hanussen must have seen himself as virtually untouchable and leading a charmed existence. By 1933, Hitler was chancellor of Germany and Hanussen probably saw himself rising in stature and power along with his Nazi friends.
This confidence led to his own undoing, however. Using inside information from his Nazi friends, Hanussen made a “prediction” he shouldn’t have.
It happened during one of his many social gatherings at his villa in Charlottenburg. Always the showman, he feigned a trance-like state and began to speak: “I see a building, a great building, in our city ... it is burning ... flames are roaring high ... smoke is billowing ... ah, but out of the blaze there arises a bird ... a magnificent Phoenix ... bringing new light ... new hope ... from the ashes!”
Yes, the prediction certainly came true. On February 27, 1933, Germany’s parliament building – the Reichstag – was set afire. The Nazis blamed it on terrorist Communists, and the public was so outraged that it allowed Hitler to pass emergency laws that gave him virtually unlimited power. Of course, it is well known today that it was the Nazis themselves who burned the Reichstag in order to get Hitler in complete control.
Hanussen almost certainly knew this, which is how he was able to make his indiscreet “prediction”. Hanussen knew too much, and he had to pay the price.
As he was leaving a restaurant on the night of March 24, he was stopped in the doorway by two unidentified men and led out into the street. Hanussen was never seen alive again. His body was discovered thirteen days later in a wooded area outside Berlin. He had been shot in the head.
So ends the tale of the rise and fall of Erik Jan Hanussen, a showman who might have had genuine psychic powers, used his considerable abilities to gain wealth and power, might have had history-altering influence on Germany and Hitler, but whose compulsion to make startling “predictions” eventually brought about his death. His hubris, like that of Hitler and the Nazis, perhaps deserved only that inevitable outcome.
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