Moments in Time
MI5, Hitler and the Stargazer
How a Bogus Astrologer Duped MI5
There are hundreds of books recounting Hitler's apparent belief in astrology, the supernatural and other bizarre subjects. Researchers, and even some of Hitler's closest associates believe he was so obsessed with astrology in particular, that before making strategic and national decisions, he would consult his horoscope.
That Hitler had an interest in such matters is not in dispute, but one WWII UK Government advisor managed to persuade MI5 that he could foretell what Hitler was planning and thinking - by reading and analysing the Nazi leader's stars.
A little over a decade ago, a batch of wartime MI5 documents was opened by the National Archives that shows Louis de Wohl, a fraudulent Hungarian 'nobleman', who also advised Britain's shadowy Political Warfare Executive (PWE), could help the Allies defeat Germany. De Wohl, who came to Britain in 1935, could also boast that his research paper on German psychology had previously been sent to the Vice-Chief of the General Staff. With this in mind, and his self declaration of being the 'modern Nostradamus', to ignore his advice would be foolish, so MI5 listened, especially when he claimed he could foretell how Hitler would fall from grace.
However, not everyone in MI5 was convinced, and one file describes de Wohl as a 'confidence trickster' and another notes his 'effeminate inclinations'. But with de Wohl's assurance that Hitler consistently turned to his personal Swiss astrologist Karl Ernest Krafft to examine 'Taurus with Libra Rising', and his claim that he could replicate Krafft's horoscope, MI5 officers took notes and guidance.
It wasn't just MI5 who were hoodwinked. De Wohl impressed Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE), who were always intent on the unusual. In 1941 they sent him to the United States to convince Washington's hierarchy that Hitler's star sign made him vulnerable. As an ambassador of the PWE, de Wohl chose to use the New York Sun newspaper, which British Intelligence* had already penetrated, to run a feature saying 'Hitler's Reich would collapse and be done away with within a year'.
It wasn't just the New York Sun de Wohl targeted. As part of the PWE and Britain's undercover operation to get America involved in the war, de Wohl gave a series of lectures and interviews across the country. In the end it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that paved the way for America's entry, but de Wohl continued to protest he could help.
Back in London, intelligence chief Dick White, who would head both MI5 and MI6 was asked to comment on an article that de Wohl had been appointed as the War Office's 'official astrologer'. White said: "I don't like having decisions made by reference to the stars rather than MI5."
Despite this de Wohl did have some fairly senior supporters, including Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence. One file also notes that Sir Charles Hambro of SOE found de Wohl to be a 'splendid chap' and defended much of his work. Of equal interest, even the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) listened intently to some of his more sweeping statements.
At the time of the MI5 documents' release, British intelligence researcher and writer Christopher Andrew, author of the official 100 year history of MI5, was not convinced about Hitler's interest in astrology. He told The London Times: "Actually, Hitler regarded astrology as complete nonsense, but the belief that he paid attention to horoscopes entered the corporate mind of the JIC."
There were also security considerations about de Wohl, and MI5 even considered locking him up for the duration of the war. One file dated February 1942 is typical of the concerns de Wohl's research raised: "De Wohl is somewhat of a thorn... a complete charlatan with a mysterious, if not murky past... who struts about in the uniform of a British Army Captain and gives every reason for believing that he is in some secret employment... he is likely to be guided solely by his vanity... there is no case for interning him". However, the writer adds a caveat: "If he is allowed to keep his freedom and left at large it is essential that we should keep a close tag on him".
*See British Security Coordination
"I don't like having decisions made by reference to the stars rather than MI5" - Dick White former head of MI5 and MI6
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