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A Demon-Haunted Land

A Demon-Haunted Land

Witches, Wonder Doctors, and the Ghosts of the Past in Post–WWII Germany

Monica Black

Metropolitan Books

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A revelatory counterhistory of postwar Germany, not as a reborn democracy but as a nation convulsed by apocalyptic visions, witchcraft trials, and supernatural obsessions

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 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 Drawing from a set of previously unpublished archival materials, acclaimed historian Monica Black argues that the surge of supernatural obsessions stemmed from the unspoken guilt and shame of a nation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, r… More…

A revelatory counterhistory of postwar Germany, not as a reborn democracy but as a nation convulsed by apocalyptic visions, witchcraft trials, and supernatural obsessions

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 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.

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Praise for A Demon-Haunted Land

“By attending carefully to the voices of the sick in soul and body and to the stories told by ghosts, demons, and witches, Monica Black makes her way through the elisions, silences, and bad faith of post–World War II Germany into the anguished inner life of this time and place. A Demon-Haunted Land is a stunning, revelatory work of social and cultural history, of profound resonance for our own times. In it Black has enlarged the possibilities of historical knowledge itself.”
—Robert Orsi, author of History and Presence

“Monica Black has given us a fascinating alternative history of postwar Germany, one that feels more psychologically true than the usual upbeat stories of social capitalism and reconstruction. She tells instead of individual responses to trauma—of witches, demons, Marian apparitions, and faith healing—and the Germans’ desperate attempts to come to grips with the emotions produced by moral and physical collapse. A fine book that deserves a wide audience.”
—Ruth Harris, author of Lourdes

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