Germans take advantage of warm weather; they know it won’t last long. So with the sun high in the sky and the temperature settling into a comfortable zone, a private yacht sailed south from Berlin on the Spree River, … turned east onto the Dahm River and continued its slow, leisurely cruise toward a lake forty miles away. And there, not far from the spas and the cabins and the manor houses dotting the shore, the Ursel IV moored.. The yacht had luxurious staterooms, teak paneling, chandeliers, handmade furniture, chilled wine, delicious food… Some of the guests on the Ursel went skinny-dipping, which had become fairly common in Germany of the day: Nude sunbathers lined the riverbanks and lakeshores all over the country. By the early 1930s, Germany had become a nation of sun worshippers. If the Weimar Republic couldn’t save itself from the runaway inflation of the 1920s and the joblessness of the Depression, perhaps the rest of the universe—the sunny side—would. But as the late afternoon turned to dusk, some of the women on the Ursel began dancing nude on the deck. Local residents were scandalized, yet had a hard time putting down their binoculars while watching from the shore, especially as one of the men on the Ursel motioned to a beautiful blonde to stretch out on a deck chair. She closed her eyes as the man swept his hands just above her face. He appeared to be casting a spell over her…
The people who lived along the lake didn’t know that the man in white flannels was Erik Jan Hanussen, the most famous mentalist in Germany…. Hanussen’s success had brought him many prizes: the yacht; a few limousines; a large, sprawling apartment in Berlin…; and women, always women, for Hanussen loved women… He had come a long way from his origins as a poor Jew in Vienna—his real name was Hermann Steinschneider.
That day on the yacht, Hanussen was paying close attention to one particular guest, Count Wolf-Heinrich von Helldorf, the head of the storm troopers in Berlin—the brownshirted goons who dispensed terror and pogroms in the name of their fuehrer and messiah, Adolf Hitler.... Hanussen and Helldorf needed each other. Berlin was a dangerous city, with rampant crime and frequent, sometimes fatal, street brawls between Nazis and Communists. Helldorf made sure Hanussen was safe. In exchange, Hanussen bailed out Helldorf: The count was always in debt. Luckily, he could always count on a handout from Hanussen. All he had to do was sign an IOU, which Hanussen would add to the growing pile of chits he kept in a safe in his apartment.
That night, Hanussen and Helldorf sat quietly on the deck of the yacht, discussing human nature. Hanussen declared that ordinary people “need the threat of punishment. It does them good. Without fear, they wouldn’t know what to do.” Helldorf pursued this idea: “The master race has to reign. The Untermenschen [the subhumans] have to obey. With the storm troopers, we will strike hard and merciless against them. Above all things, we will not go easy on the Jews.”
Turning confidently toward Hanussen, Helldorf said, “As a member of the Danish gentry”—for Helldorf knew Hanussen only by his phony Danish name—“you appreciate the attitude of our Nordic race, don’t you?” “Of course,’” said Hanussen. “Of course.” Helldorf was pleased. With these foreigners, you never knew whether you had a comrade or a moralist on your hands. Then, suddenly, concerned about his host, he asked Hanussen, “Are you tired?” “Yes, I am,” Hanussen said. “I always get tired when hypnotizing people. It wears me out.” “Staying with you has been very nice,” Helldorf said as they walked toward their staterooms. “I hope we will remain friends.”