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Herbert Steinschneider


Phil Steinschneider

Erik Jan Hanussen
(Herman Steinschneider)

Hanussen: The Devil's Prophet
by Paul Tabori

LATE IN April, 1933, the farmworker Mathias Hummel had the unpleasant experience of finding a corpse in a small wood about fifteen miles from Berlin. The body, riddled with bullets, had been hastily buried in a shallow grave; but the spring rains had washed the topsoil away and a well-shod, large foot was sticking out of the mud.

Hummel ran to tell the police. Seven hours later Kriminalrat Mölders faced a slim, fair-haired young man in his office at police headquarters in the Alexanderplatz.

The young man's name was Dzino Ismet, a Bosnian of German origin.

"I need your help," Mölders told him. "It might be unpleasant... but I can't spare you the trouble. We've found a corpse. We have reason to think that it might be Hanussen."

Dzino, his face haggard, nodded silently. A few minutes later, in the basement morgue of the huge red-brick building, a uniformed policeman lifted a coarse sheet from the body. Dzino gave it a quick glance, then turned away.

"Give me a cigarette," he asked the Kriminalrat. "That's him."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. I recognize his teeth."

After the post mortem the corpse was released for burial. But it was not claimed. Erik Jan Hanussen, who less than three months before had packed the huge Scala, Berlin's leading variety theatre, every night, owned newspapers, cars, jewels, a fabulous villa and a yacht, ended in a cheap pine-wood coffin, in a pauper's grave. Not a word of his murder was published in the German newspapers. Mölders was told to close the case. The bullets extracted during the autopsy were not examined by ballistic experts. No witnesses were heard. These were the orders - given by Goebbels, the all - powerful head of Ministry of Propaganda of the Third Reich, then not quite six months old.