In the aftermath of World War II, a succession of mass supernatural events swept through a war-torn Germany. As millions were afflicted by a host of seemingly incurable maladies (including blindness and paralysis), waves of apocalyptic rumors crashed over the land. A messianic faith healer rose to extraordinary fame, prayer groups performed exorcisms, and enormous crowds traveled to witness apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Most strikingly, scores of people accused their neighbors of witchcraft and found themselves in turn hauled into court on charges of defamation, assault, and even murder. What linked these events, in the wake of an annihilationist war and the Holocaust, was a widespread preoccupation with evil.
While many histories emphasize Germany's rapid transition from genocidal dictatorship to liberal democracy, A Demon-Haunted Land: Witches, Wonder Doctors, and the Ghosts of the Past in Post–WWII Germany (Metropolitan, 2020), places in full view the toxic mistrust, profound bitterness, and spiritual malaise that unfolded alongside the economic miracle. Drawing from a set of previously unpublished archival materials, acclaimed historian Monica Black argues that the surge of supernatural obsessions stemmed from the unspoken guilt and shame of a nation remarkably silent about what was euphemistically called "the most recent past." This shadow history irrevocably changes our view of postwar Germany, revealing the country's fraught emotional life, deep moral disquiet, and the cost of trying to bury a horrific legacy.
Monica Black is a historian of modern Europe. Her research focuses on the cultural and social history of Germany, with an emphasis on the era of the World Wars and the decades immediately after 1945. Since 2010 she has been Associate Professor of History at the U of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her first book, published with Cambridge UP in 2010, was Death in Berlin: From Weimar to Divided Germany. She is the Editor since 2019 of the journal Central European History.
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