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.
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