How Nostradamus' Prophecies Were Used As Conflicting WWII Propaganda

Nostradamus, or Michel de Notsredame to his friends, was a 16th century French plague physician turned soothsayer who wrote hundreds of prophecies, and one delightful cookbook, over the course of his life. According to some, his prophecies appear to have foreseen everything from the Great Fire of London, the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, the rise of Hitler, the nuclear bombings of Japan, the assassination of JFK, 9/11, global warming, and perhaps most bizarrely of all, cryptocurrency (via Britannica).

You might be wondering how a self-proclaimed seer born in the Middle Ages could anticipate world events that would shake societies to theirs cores centuries later. While some claim that Nostradamus was a keen historian, truly believing in the cliché that history is forever condemned to repeat itself, many others feel that he simply composed his poetic prophesies as obscurely as possible in order for them to be reinterpreted long after his death (via Biography).

Given their ambiguity, it was only a matter of time before Nostradamus' prophecies were exploited for propagandist purposes. Throughout World War II, both the Allies and the Axis manipulated the late oracle's writings to undermine and rebuild morale (via History). This fascinating and frequently forgotten part of history serves as a great parable of exactly how Nostradamus' writings can be manipulated and repackaged to fit the agenda of pretty much anyone.

Stop! Wait a minute, Mister Postman!

Inspiration may strike in the most unexpected places. While it is well known that the Nazis were enthralled with the the occult, the revelation regarding Nostradamus' potential as a propaganda piece came from the most unlikely of sources: a postal worker. According to Richard Smoley's ”The Essential Nostradamus,” Nostradamus' potential was revealed to Third Reich Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels in 1939 after his wife, Magda (pictured together, above) presented him with a specific Nostradamus claim written in a book, "Die Weissagungen des Nostradamus" ("The Prophecies of Nostradamus") by a Berlin postal worker named C. Loog.

Although Goebbels had privately disparaged fortune-telling and predictions as ”silly rubbish (”Nostradamus” by Stéphane Gerson), Loog's apparent claim that Nostradamus had foreseen the fall of Poland in 1939 captivated him. Never one to pass up an opportunity, Goebbels recognized the potential of distorting Nostradamus' writings as a propaganda tool and set out to transpose Nostradamus' writings to the Nazi propaganda machine (via Gerson, "Nostradamus”).

Goebbels promoted the distribution of leaflets with contrived Nostradamus verses throughout Nazi Germany and its occupied territories. In fact, when Germany attacked in May 1940, the Nazis went so far as to airdrop tens of thousands of these booklets over France and Belgium (via "The Essential Nostradamus"). Goebbels sought to instill terror and panic in the Nazi regime's critics by using Nostradamus' writings, so that it appeared as if their triumphs were cosmically ordained and all but inevitable (per "Nostradamus" by Gerson).

Lights! Camera! Action!

You may be asking: How could anyone possible fall for such a ruse? The astonishing truth is that the Axis' propaganda campaign was so successful that the Allied Forces grasped its potential and quickly imitated it. Fortunately for Winston Churchill, the British had plenty of source material to comb through when they decided to take a leaf out of Goebbel's book. Instead, in 1941, British counter-intelligence agents smuggled their own Nostradamus-themed periodicals into Germany to sway public opinion. Their favorite passages asserted that the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy were ruled by fools, which would usher in their eventual demise (per "Nostradamus” by Stéphane Gerson).

The Americans, on the other hand, opted to harness the burgeoning power of cinema to solve the problem. MGM, an American film production company, began creating multiple propaganda films, including 1940's short ”More About Nostradamus” (posted on YouTube). Aside from containing terrible fake beards and massive quills, the plots of these films generally revolve around the premise that the great seer not only predicted the demise of the Third Reich, but that America would become the torchbearers for unity and justice (via ”'More About Nostradamus").

Keep in mind that America as we know it didn't even exist when Nostradamus was alive. Thus, Nostradamus was being used to bolster morale and persuade a nation wary of joining a European conflict (via ”The Nostradamus Encyclopedia''). Not only did this idea of merging Nostradamus and entertainment influence public perception, but the American obsession with Nostradamus persists well into the present day.