Sceptical Failure

Ken Anderson. Hitler and the Occult, Prometheus Books, 1995.

In the early nineteenth century the career of Napoleon was the subject of a number of legends of omens and the occults, one trace of which is the apocryphal but much re-printed Napoleon's Book of Fate. In the twentieth century the career of Hitler has been the subject of similar tales. (In each case the fondness of occult believers for these tales is curious since the fate of neither leader is an impressive advert for the value of occult powers.)

Ken Anderson's book examines several 'Occult Reich' type tales, especially those contained in Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny, and concludes that they have little factual basis. While some of this is interesting, the book is very seriously flawed. Although it is based almost entirely on secondary sources the author seems unaware of Nicholas Goodrich Clarke's Occult Roots of Nazism, the only serious historical study of this subject. He also seems to have found that the material he had on his theme was not long enough to make a book and so decided to pad it out with speculations on not really related areas of Hitler's career, such as whether his fondness for opera was a sign of homosexuality. [Anderson's own knowledge of music may be judged by his apparent belief in the existence of an opera called Die Lustiger Fledermaus, the previously unknown The Merry Bat, presumably based on Die Fledermaus and Die Lustige Witwe, and written by either Franz Strauss or Richard Lehar! J.R.]

Worse still, especially in a book purporting to expose incorrect claims by others, is the author's low level of historical accuracy. Factual errors litter its pages, such as the placing of Hamburg in Bavaria, and confusing the medieval Frederick Barbarossa with the eighteenth century Frederick the Great; so elementary that one might have expected any reasonably vigilant sub-editor to pick them out.

Two chapters stand out in this respect. One, on the legend of the Spear of Longinus, said to have wounded Christ during the Crucifixion, states that St John's is the earliest gospel, and contains an eye-witness account of the Crucifixion. These are ideas accepted by no serious Biblical scholar (although Enoch Powell has recently written a book supporting St John as the earliest gospel.

The chapter on Nostradamus and war propaganda describes him as a Christian convert to Judaism (he was the reverse), and refers to British Nostradamus commentator Erika Cheetham as an American. He also claims inaccurately that "Goebbels ordered the printing of forged Nostradamus prophecies" while ignoring interesting material such as the piece on Nostradamus in the German propaganda broadsheet designed to resemble a page of the Evening Standard dropped on London in 1940, and the book Nostradamus and the Present War from the same year. Although this was published in Stockholm, its pro-Nazi contents, the anonymity of its writer, and the dissemination of an English language version by pro-Nazi elements in the USA suggest the hand of the Reich Propaganda Ministry.

Prometheus Books specialises in sceptical works on controversial topics. Substandard stuff like this does scepticism no service, and merely demonstrates that believers have no monopoly on shoddiness and inaccuracy. -- Roger Sandell. From Magonia 54, November 1995

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