update deskJewish & Israeli Culture

‘Jews in Magic’: Reviving a 1933 history book by Guenther Dammann

Richard Hatch has translated the rare German-language title, which features brief biographies of Jewish magicians.

Magic (illustration). Credit: The Fairy Path/Pixabay.
Magic (illustration). Credit: The Fairy Path/Pixabay.

New York Times business reporter David Segal tells the story of Richard Hatch, a physicist-turned-magician who works to revive the writing of Guenther Dammann, author of 1933’s Jews in Magic, who died during the Holocaust in 1942.

At 23, Dammann self-published an estimated 500 copies of his 100-page book, which historians regard as the first effort to chronicle notable Jewish magicians, both living and dead at the time. Hatch has created a new translation with annotations and photographs, and notes that he is exploring options for publishing.

Hatch writes in the June 24 feature in the Times that when he first encountered the title in 1979 and noted its 1933 publication date in Germany, he suspected a work of antisemitism. However, decades later, Hatch said, “I realized that the book was about the great contributions that Jews have made to magic.”

The title includes short biographies of more than 50 Jewish magicians, including escape artist Harry Houdini and 19th-century illusionist Alexander Herrmann, who performed for President Abraham Lincoln. Dammann became interested in magic at 12 or 13 from Ernest Thorn, a family friend and retired magician who would appear in Jews in Magic. This led Dammann, at 21, to join the Magic Circle of Germany, which inspired his book.

“There’s a saying that we all die three times,” Hatch said, as reported in the Times. “The first death is the physical one, when your heart stops beating. The second is when your body is consigned to fire or the grave. And the third is the last time someone utters your name. Life was so cruel and unfair to him, I just thought, it’s a worthy cause to keep Dammann’s name alive for as long as I can.”

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