Between 1947 and 1956, at least 77 recorded witchcraft trials took place in West Germany. Wonder doctors and faith healers walked the land, offering salvation to the tens of thousands of sick and spiritually ill wartime survivors who flocked to them. People hired exorcists and made pilgrimages to holy sites in search of redemption. The Virgin Mary appeared to these believers thousands of times. Monica Black, a historian at the University of Tennessee, found these stories and many others in newspaper clippings, court records, and other archives of the period that testify to West Germany’s supernatural obsession with ridding itself of evil—and complicate the conventional story of its swift rise from genocidal dictatorship to liberal, consumerist paradise. Black joins us on the podcast to describe the spiritual malaise lurking in the shadows: the unspoken guilt and shame of a country where Nazis still walked free. This episode originally aired in 2020.
Go beyond the episode:
- Monica Black’s A Demon-Haunted Land
- There’s a three-part, five-hour documentary about the German mystic and faith healer Bruno Gröning on YouTube, presented by the Bruno Gröning Circle of Friends, which is probably not the most unbiased source
- National Geographic has compiled an extensive map of sightings of the Virgin Mary (note the big upswing in 1950s Germany)
- East Germans also fell prey to the influence of West German faith healers: the preacher Paul Schaefer promised people salvation if they followed him to South America. Read Scholar senior editor Bruce Falconer’s 2008 essay, “The Torture Colony,” on the troubled (and Nazi-ridden) Colonia Dignidad
Bruno Gröning would roll little foil balls with bits of his fingernails and hair to give to supplicants (Kommunalarchiv Herford/Stadtarchiv Herford)
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