Triumph of the Will? – David Lewis


This is the true story of an eminent German doctor and a Jewish psychic who transformed a purposeless drifter into one of the 20th century’s most merciless tyrants.

Dr Edmund Robert Forster first met Hitler in October 1918 when he used hypnosis while treating him for hysterical blindness. Clairvoyant and media tycoon Erik Jan Hanussen, a Moravian Jew masquerading as a Danish aristocrat, used similar techniques to reinforce the dictator’s belief in his own divine destiny.

Between them, these two men inadvertently and intentionally helped the Nazis into power and so changed the world forever.



David Lewis is a psychopathologist, a branch of psychology that studies mental illness. In his case with an emphasis on the effects of chronic anxiety and stress on human behaviour and motivations.

For the past two decades, David has been interested in developing what he term ‘psychohistory’, that is the application of modern psychological knowledge and techniques to historical personalities and events.

He started out studying medicine, but after a spell working in Fleet Street as a science journalist, switched to psychology. David obtained a First-Class Honours degree (BSc Hons) from the University of Westminster. This was followed by a Doctorate, from the University of Sussex, where he subsequently lectured in clinical psychology and psychopathology. In addition to these qualifications, he has a diploma in psychometrics and in clinical hypnosis

Some fifteen years ago, David founded Mindlab International Ltd, located in the University of Sussex’s Science Park. He is now Chairman of the company, which specialises in studying unconscious motivations in everyday decision making.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, David is also an award-winning broadcaster and the author of more than twenty books on popular psychology.

Most recent books

Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It (Random House 2014)
The Brain Sell: When Science Meets Shopping (Nicholas Brealey 2015)
Fat Planet: The Obesity Trap & How to Escape It (With Dr Margaret Leitch, Random House 2015)
Triumph of the Will? How Two Men Hypnotised Hitler and Changed the World (MLI Press 2019)

“When I first started my researches for this book, in the late 70s, it meant working behind the Iron Curtain My colleague Rupert Binion, Professor of Modern History at Brandeis University and I were able to gather vital information from the 20’s and 30’s which would, otherwise, have been lost for ever.” – David Lewis


On admittance, Hitler was bathed, issued with a clean hospital uniform and allocated a narrow, iron-framed bed in one of the five small wards. The following day his eyes were examined by Dr Karl Kroner, a forty-year-old Jewish physician whose knowledge of the effects of gas poisoning was both professional and personal.

While serving as a doctor with the Third Husaren Cavalry Regiment, Kroner had seen action on the French front at Verdun and Sedan and had been promoted to Colonel General before being gassed and temporarily blinded in 1917 during an engagement for which he was later awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class. Invalided out of the army, he returned to Berlin and started work as a clinician specializing in internal medicine and nervous diseases while, like Edmund Forster, remaining on call as a consultant to a number of military sick bays including those at Pasewalk.

Kroner confirmed the original diagnosis that Hitler’s blindness was due not to physical damage caused by Mustard Gas by a result of what doctors termed ‘conversion hysteria’. In this intense anxiety is ‘converted’ into specific symptoms. Typically, these involve the loss of a physical function.

He recommended the patient be handed over to the clinic’s consultant neurologist Dr Edmund Forster. His examination had taken him only a few minutes, but the fact he knew the true reason for Hitler’s blindness was sufficient to place his life in jeopardy once the Nazis came to power.

Edmund Meets Hitler

Even before he met Hitler for the first time, it is likely that his opinion had been unfavourably shaped by other members of staff. The lance-corporal was, they told him, a restless and agitated troublemaker. Each evening a small group of patients would cluster around his bed as he voiced disgust for Austria, which he condemned as soft and rotten, while extolling the virtues of strong and virile Germany. He would ask rhetorically why Austria was so corrupt and effete. Then snarl out his answer: because der Jude had infected and poisoned the nation. Repeatedly, he returned to his theme that for the strong individual and the strong nation everything is possible and permissible, while one should never show even the slightest respect for a weak opponent. By what right, he once demanded, were crashed French pilots afforded the honour of a military funeral as if they had been German flyers? Far better, if their corpses were simply left to rot on the battlefield where they had fallen. While speaking to his superiors, however, Hitler’s tone was completely different and his manner utterly subservient in a clear desire to remain on excellent terms with them.

Edmund Forster, a man of democratic views with many Jewish friends, must have been in equal measure repelled by Hitler’s opinions and intrigued by the psychiatric challenge his case represented. The lance-corporal, he concluded, refused to see because he could not bear to witness the defeat of Germany. Whichever treatment was finally devised would have to take this fact into account.

But how should this be approached? With Germany now poised on the verge of defeat, its armies being routed in the west and its civilian population rioting at home, there was no way in which Forster could persuade Hitler victory was still possible. All the doctor could do was change his patient’s perception of the events now rapidly unfolding around them. He pondered on this interesting challenge until the first week in November, by which time a particular approach had crystallised in his mind. He would free Hitler of his hysterical blindness not with logical arguments but with a tremendous lie. He had come to the conclusion that, for Hitler, there was no absolute truth. Only the truth of his imagination, his striving, his urges, which suggested the best way of eliminating his symptoms was by using his ‘desire to be like a God.’

The success or failure of this approach, Edmund realised, would depend on whose will was the stronger, his own or Adolf Hitler’s. If he failed, the lance-corporal would probably never see again. If he succeeded, the return of vision should be almost instantaneous.

Hypnotising Hitler

On the evening of November 6th, Edmund ordered Hitler to his consulting room and guided him into an upright chair before a table on which stood two lit candles. After examining his patient’s eyes carefully, Forster replaced the instrument in its case and blew out the candles.

‘Your eyes have been terribly damaged,’ he told him regretfully, ‘I should never have assumed that you, a pure Aryan, a good soldier, a knight of the Iron Cross, First Class, would lie or deceive… Everyone has to accept their lot. The individual is powerless where fate is concerned. Miracles do not happen anymore.’ He paused before adding more optimistically, ‘But that goes only for the average person, miracles still happen frequently to chosen people. There have to be miracles and great people before whom nature bows, don’t you agree?’

‘As you say, Doctor,’ Hitler agreed meekly.

‘I am no charlatan, no performer of miracles,’ Edmund went on, ‘I am a simple doctor but maybe you yourself have the rare power that only occurs once every millennium to perform a miracle. Jesus did this, Mohammed, the saints…I could show you the method with which you can see again, despite the fact your eyes have been damaged by mustard gas. With your symptoms, an ordinary person would be blind for life. But for a person with exceptional strength of will-power and spiritual energy there are no limits, scientific assumptions do not apply to that person, the spirit removes any such barrier – in your case the thick white layer in your cornea. But maybe you do not possess this power to perform miracles.’

‘How can I tell?’

‘Do you trust yourself to my will-power?’ Forster demanded. Then, before Hitler could reply, ordered him to open his eyes wide, ‘I will light my candle with a match. Did you see the sparks?’

‘I don’t know,’ Hitler responded uncertainly, ‘not a light but a kind of white, round shimmer.’

‘You must have absolute faith in yourself then you will stop being blind,’ Forster told him. ‘You know that Germany now needs people who have energy and faith in themselves.’

‘I know that.’ Hitler stood up trembling and held on to the edge of the table.

‘Listen. I have two candles here, one on the left and one on the right. You must see! Do you see them?’

‘I am beginning to see,’ he said, ‘if only it was possible!’

‘For you anything is possible! God will help you, if you help yourself! In every human being is a part of God. That is the will, the energy! Gather all your strength. More, more, more! Good! Now it is enough! What do you see now?’

There was a long pause before Hitler answered hesitantly, ‘I see your face… your hand and the signet ring, your white coat, the newspaper on the table and the notes about me.’