The life of Erik Jan Hanussen could be the screenplay of a modern day feature film. Over the course of his life he became famous in a number of fields from mind reading to crime fighting and for being a well known psychic to adviser to Adolf Hitler himself. His story is strange and it is also rather tragic. This incredible mentalist started his life as Hermann Steinschneider in the beautiful city of Vienna in Austria. He was born to a couple of impoverished Jewish runaways and rose to walk the corridors of power during an incredible period of European history.
Hanussen was born in 1889 to parents that were described as being vagrants. He claims to have discovered his unnatural gifts during his childhood years and claims to have used them to manipulate both his parents to bend to his will. As a teenager he followed in the footsteps of his parents and ran away from home. He joined a circus where he learned many tricks of the travelling performers, some unorthodox and some barely legal.
With the break out of the First World Wart he left the circus and joined the Austrian Army where he would perform performances of his mind reading skill over his comrades. Unfortunately, despite the soldiers being amazed by his abilities they failed to realise that he had in fact been steaming open their letters from home to find out exactly what was happening in their ordinary lives. He left the army without permission in the middle of the war wanting to earn his living off his psychic abilities, this is when he changed his name to Erik Jan Hanussen. With the new name he also gave himself the background and lifestyle of a Danish noble. His performances went well and his theatre performances were regularly sold out.
Fame and Fortune
Fame came at a price for Hanussen and his act did not go down well in Czechoslovakia where he was accused of being a fraud. In the courtroom he proved his psychic abilities for all to see and the case of fraud against him was dismissed. He then moved on to Berlin when he published his own newspaper. His apartment was transformed into a ‘Palace of the Occult’ which attracted the wealthy and powerful of Berlin society, including many of the top rank of the Nazi party. Hanussen’s lust for power seemed to outweigh his Jewish heritage in his mind, which proved to be deadly. He grew close to the Nazi elite and is believed to have funded many of their gambling habits. His body was discovered in 1933 surrounded by Nazi IOU slips. His life story is intriguing to say the least, and whether you believe that his powers of mind reading and indeed mind control were genuine or tricks that he learned for his circus friends you have to admit that there must have been something about him that people found magnetic. Despite this being an incredible part of Jewish and Nazi history, very little was known about Hanussuen and his ‘work’ until the twenty first century.