Kalanag, Time-Bent

History has her own ways of creating, reshuffling, and reevaluating facts. In January 1964, Helmut Schreiber/Kalanag, who had passed on December 24th, 1963, was mourned, hailed, and fondly remembered on the cover of Genii magazine and within its pages (and rightfully so).

Fast forward 57 years: The latest issue of Genii reprints the same cover photo, but this time Kalanag is stamped with a blood-red Nazi swastika across his face. A 37-page story presents selected chapters and unmasking photographs in Nazi company from Malte Herwig‘s detailed Kalanag biography, which was published in German a few weeks ago.

Genii covers from 1964 and 2021

The cover’s subline, “Hitler’s Magician,” feels somewhat ambiguous to me, though. On the one hand, it clearly describes what Kalanag strived for and how he wanted to be perceived at the time: as the Third Reich’s leading and undisputed magician and magic officer, who was on friendly, powerful terms with the Führer and his henchmen. On the other hand, it falsely suggests permanent, personal ties of Schreiber and Hitler, maybe even the status of a court jester or a gray eminence. Among others, the Führer had his deputy, his spokesperson, and his architect; he certainly never had ‘his” magician.

I feel that neither an “all black” nor an “all white” approach will do justice to the man who was both a great showman and a great egotist and opportunist in times of greatest turmoil. Malte Herwig, an Oxford-trained historian, appropriately avoided this ideological trap in his mostly descriptive, balanced, and heavily footnoted biography. Thus, a red swastika pin on Kalanag’s lapel may have been a better and more subtle cover choice.

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For more facts on the book and Kalanag’s remarkable life, read my recent interview with Malte Herwig here.

You may also want to check out Richard Hatch‘s four-page, in-depth review of Malte’s book in the latest issue of Marco Pusterla‘s fine little history journal, Ye Olde Magic Mag.

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