The Ghosts of Nazi Germany

We’ve all but forgotten the frenzy of witch trials and wonder doctors of the postwar period—but why?

Kommunalarchiv Herford/Stadtarchiv Herford
Kommunalarchiv Herford/Stadtarchiv Herford

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.

Go beyond the episode:

Bruno Gröning would roll little foil balls with bits of his fingernails and hair to give to supplicants (Kommunalarchiv Herford/Stadtarchiv Herford)

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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