Episode #1: Hitler's Monsters
Updated: Oct 28, 2018
We've all seen the Indiana Jones movies. Admit it, you feel a warm and fuzzy feeling every time Harrison Ford punches some Nazi occultist in the face. Even though Hollywood has embellished the Nazi-Paranormal connection, there is a substantial kernel of historical truth behind the entertainment.
My guest today is Dr. Eric Kurlander, the author of Hitler's Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich. Eric is a professor of history at Stetson University and holds a Bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College as well as a Master's degree and Doctorate from Harvard University. An expert on modern Germany, he has published extensively on the Third Reich, including The Price of Exclusion: Ethnicity, National Identity, and the Decline of German Liberalism, 1898-1933 and Living with Hitler: Liberal Democrats in the Third Reich. Eric joined me today to talk about the prevalence of supernatural beliefs and occultist practices in Central Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and how these concepts were adopted by the Nazi regime.
Key Points in Today's Podcast
Some of the major topics Dr. Kurlander and I discuss in this episode are:
the long history of superstition and occultism that existed in Germany well before the Nazis came to power
the extent to which the Nazi Party exploited and manipulated supernatural beliefs that were already quite popular for their own ends
the occult practices that many key Nazi officials participated in
how supernaturalism influenced Nazi beliefs on race
After reading Hitler's Monsters and talking with Professor Kurlander, I was struck by how much early 20th century Germans saw as legitimate what today would be regarded as fringe science or spiritualism. Professor Kurlander makes a strong case that the Nazi Party used these occult practices in Germanic culture to further their political aims. It's clear that while many German citizens and high-level Nazis were enthusiastic believers in things like astrology, the more casual supernatural believers in the NSDAP saw those practices as an opportunity for exploitation. It would be easy to dismiss the supernaturalism in Central Europe as a backwards relic of a century ago, but it is worth pondering if beliefs and customs in our own time could be vulnerable to demagoguery? After learning about the baseless ideas that were widely accepted and even endorsed by some members of the scientific community (the preposterous World Ice Theory is a prime example), one thing I took away from this discussion was a renewed sense of importance in having an educated and scientifically literate public that can apply reason and discern truth.
For the Ever Curious
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, consider checking out these resources:
Hitler: A Biography by Ian Kershaw
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William Shirer