Sunday, April 30, 2017

Louis de Wohl (1903-1961)

It is always surprising to me that as I get older I start to think of and remember what happened and what I learned at a very young age.  My parents spoke German at home between themselves, but never with me, yet I think I know more German now than I did then.  Obviously, we learn subliminally so why didn’t it work when I slept on my history book before a test?!

I had a wild friend at school (happily nothing illegal beyond speeding tickets) and my mother compared him to her best girl friend from Frankfurt, Ruth Lorch.  Although she later became a Lady Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (a Roman Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the Holy See), she was still pretty crazy when I met her in the 1950’s.  She lived in England and I remember she always smoked cigarillos.  When she was told by U.S. customs that they were banned in the U.S. she said she would stop importing them when they produced them in this country, and they let her take them in … the good old days .

Her husband, Louis de Wohl, born Ludwig von Wohl, was a German Roman Catholic. He smoked large cigars and carried a stick sword, getting both into the country without problem.  I guess being before metal detectors, no one thought anything of the normal looking cane carried by this extremely large man, which came apart to reveal a very lethal long blade!

De Wohl’s parents were of Jewish ancestry so he left Germany when Hitler came to power and moved to England.   He was a prolific writer of novels in German and later on in English. Turned on to astrology at an early age, he developed a reputation as a skilled fortuneteller. 

There is still debate today whether Hitler believed in astrology or not but clearly it had an influence on his high command.  For this reason British Intelligence, MI5 Special Operations,  recruited de Wohl.  His predictions were used as a cover for the deciphering of Nazi orders after their Enigma code was cracked.  In 1941 De Wohl was sent to the U.S. to lecture to astrological societies and managed to get a great deal of publicity.  The FCC lifted a ban on astrology to air an exclusive interview of the man heralded as “The Modern Nostradamus”.  A Pathé newsreel report on his prophecies was claimed to have a viewership of 39 million.  He also had a newspaper column where he predicted Hitler’s moves.  What no one knew on our side of the pond was that many of his predictions were crafted by MI5.  They wanted to convince the Americans to join the war effort and de Wohl was a major propaganda weapon in that regard.

According to what de Wohl told my family after the war, he had advised Churchill personally as to what Hitler was going to do based on the astrological signs.  This was indirectly true since he told MI5 what he believed Hitler was being told by his astrologers.  What seems to be missing from his Wikipedia bio is that he became rather difficult to handle due to his bombastic style and desire to impress people, so he was slowly sidelined and watched by the intelligence service until 1945.

He became more religious after the war, and like his wife, whom he had married in 1953, was a Knight Commander of the order of the Holy Sepuchre.  According to Wikipedia, “In an audience with Pope Pius XII he was told to ‘write about the history and mission of the Church in the World.’  The Cardinal of Milan, Ildefonso Schuster, came to de Wohl after reading some of his writings telling him ‘Let your writings be good. For your writings you will one day be judged."   He started writing about the Saints and shortly after it was published he gave me his book on St. Joan, which I remember enjoying as a teenager, though I hadn’t expected to.   His best known work was “The Spear: A novel of the Crucifixion” which I remember my father reading.

A final remembrance, De Wohl knew how to entertain a child.  The first time he came to our house he asked my father for a pad.  Dad produced a letter size yellow pad.  I was told to put 5 dots anywhere on the page and Louis would make a picture out of them using 2 dots for the arms, 2 for the legs and one for the head.  Well, I knew how to trick him; I place 5 dots a centimeter apart.  He looked for a moment and made a tiny stick figure, which stood on a stage with an audience in front.  I know I kept it somewhere, unless of course, my mother way back when, tossed it with the newspaper I found in an abandoned Vermont house from the day after Lincoln was shot!