Death Camp Magicians

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Death Camp Magicians

Postby H&Egalleries » October 12th, 2015, 4:50 pm

A new memoir, “The Death Camp Magicians,” by William V. Rauscher tells the true story of Holocaust survivors Werner Reich and Herbert Nivelli. The book transports readers back to the days of the Third Reich and portrays the strength of will two men had to survive in the midst of cruelty that passes all understanding. Central to the story are The Great Nivelli, a professional magician, who performed card tricks for the Auschwitz guards to stay alive and Werner Reich, his starving young bunkmate who not only learned card tricks but also how to endure.

Reich's memoir tells how, as a 15-year-old boy, he experienced the hell of four concentration camps and survived to tell others what it was like to be under the control of Adolf Hitler and the S.S. along with millions of others. When Reich was liberated at age 17, he weighed only 60 pounds. His memoir is preceded with an overview of the rise of the Third Reich written by Rauscher, his longtime friend, magician and author.

In 1933, while living in Berlin, Reich's father lost his job because he was Jewish. The family fled to Yugoslavia but when Hitler’s troops invaded that country in 1941, Reich was forced into hiding with other families until 1943, when he was arrested and beaten by the Gestapo. After being imprisoned he was transferred to Terezin concentration camp where 30,000 people died from starvation, and out of 141,000 people only 17,000 survived. Reich recalled that when he was in the camp, the guards had competitions on who could cut the most throats—one guard won by cutting 1,630 throats in one day.

“Readers of this book must prepare themselves for a journey to the dark side of human behavior,” says co-author Rauscher. “Through these pages the reader will be transported back to the Nazi world during the years when the Third Reich truly believed their leaders would rule the world. They even chose a name for this `new world.’ They called it `Germania.’ It is an incredible story of survival and even more remarkable is that despite experiencing all these atrocities, Reich is a disciple of civility.”

Herbert Levin, one of the two men featured in the memoir, was known as The Great Nivelli. Prior to Nazi control, Levin was a prominent performer in Berlin, and the youngest member of the Berlin Stock Exchange. In an effort to escape, Levin moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia until the Nazi regime once again gained control. He and his family were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. But he survived, and came to the United States to once again become a prominent performer. Rauscher saw him perform, became acquainted with him, and periodically corresponded with him and his wife Lotte until Levin's death in 1977.

Reich’s interest in magic continued after his liberation and eventual emigration to the United States. He carried the lessons Nivelli had taught him but only knew him in the camp by the number tattooed onto his forearm. Later, as a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Reich discovered Levin’s name in an article Rauscher had written on Nivelli for a magician’s magazine.

Reich talks of his experiences to young people at schools and synagogues throughout the east coast delivering a message that resonates with today’s young people. “If you see bullying and intolerance you should not be a bystander,” he says, “You should be one of the `J.U.S.T.’ people and stand up and say something.”

He coined the term "J.U.S.T." which is an acronym for Judge the Situation, Understand the Problem, Solve it and Take Action. Reich believes his message is important and volunteers his time to give over 100 talks a year.

And a final warning - this book echoes the words of the philosopher George Santayana, who said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Copies of the book may be ordered directly at

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Richard Hatch
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Re: Death Camp Magicians

Postby Richard Hatch » October 12th, 2015, 5:30 pm

An illustrated children's version of this story was published in 2014 and is available here: ... 1927583462
I haven't yet seen the Rauscher version (hope to see it soon!), but I don't believe the above description of Nivelli as a "prominent performer in Berlin" before the war is accurate (the same claim is made in the Kacer book, so perhaps it comes from Werner Reich). My understanding is that when he lost his position on the Berlin Stock Exchange, due to the Nazi racial laws, Herbert Levin (later "Nivelli") emigrated to Czechoslovakia where he turned his hobby of magic into his profession by opening a magic shop in Prague. It was so successful that he opened several others, until the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia and sent him, his wife and young son Peter to concentration camps, where his wife and son perished. Only after the war did he begin his professional performing career.

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: Death Camp Magicians

Postby Richard Kaufman » October 12th, 2015, 11:53 pm

I knew Nivelli and saw them perform in New York City when I was quite young. Probably at some local IBM function.

He had a lovely old-world style about him, a continental charm, and he did both "Shooting Through a Woman" (his wife!), and "Orange, Egg, and Walnut" with a bird climax.
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Zig Zagger
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Re: Death Camp Magicians

Postby Zig Zagger » October 13th, 2015, 4:02 pm

This is a wonderful story of hope and humanity from the darkest of times.
It has apparently gained a lot of traction over recent years.

You can read more about it on William V. Rauscher's website (this text pretty much covers his two articles from The Linking Ring)

or over at Dean Carnegie's Magic Detective Blog: ... jurer.html

In 2013, the Huffington Post also ran a story on Nivelli and Reich and interviewed Mr. Reich: ... 37452.html

Besides the children's book by Kathy Kacer from 2014 mentioned above (more about it here: ... kathy.html), there is also a play inspired by the story, "Nivelli's War" (2013) by Charles Way:

A German publication on Nivelli is also coming up.

One more thing: As Mr. Rauscher states in his website text, "Herbert Nivelli never billed himself as anything but 'Nivelli,' but he is one magician who deserves the title, THE GREAT NIVELLI."
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Ron Giesecke
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Re: Death Camp Magicians

Postby Ron Giesecke » October 13th, 2015, 4:42 pm

Interesting . . .

Having read Auschwitz, a New History (Laurence Rees), The Hiding Place (Corrie Ten Boom), and Night (Eli Weisel)--all this year, I think this would be a great way to round out the subject for me this season.


Bill Mullins
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Re: Death Camp Magicians

Postby Bill Mullins » May 23rd, 2019, 12:01 pm

Zig Zagger wrote:Besides the children's book by Kathy Kacer from 2014 mentioned above (more about it here: ... kathy.html), there is also a play inspired by the story, "Nivelli's War" (2013) by Charles Way:

Nivelli's War premiered off-Broadway two years ago.

Bob Coyne
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Re: Death Camp Magicians

Postby Bob Coyne » July 24th, 2022, 7:23 pm

The story of Reich and Nivelli appeared in Reich's NY Times obituary a couple days ago...

Werner Reich, Who Learned Magic in Auschwitz, Dies at 94
He was 16 when a fellow inmate, a magician, taught him a card trick in the barracks of the extermination camp. He called it a “miracle.”
In the Auschwitz barracks where starving, emaciated, dying men were crammed six to a bed, Werner Reich’s closest neighbor was a gentlemanly German Jewish man in his 30s named Herbert Levin, who had been known before World War II as Nivelli the magician...

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Re: Death Camp Magicians

Postby Tarotist » July 24th, 2022, 10:37 pm

Murray the famed escapologist once told me how Goering and Hitler came backstage to visit him when he performed in Germany. In the end he had to scarper out of Germany on a bicycle when war broke out and had to leave his show behind. He told me, "Hitler and Goering were standing as near to me as you are now"

I asked him why he had stayed in Germany up to the last minute before war broke out instead of going while the going was good. He replied, "I thought sanity would prevail-----but it didn't!"

Brad Henderson
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Re: Death Camp Magicians

Postby Brad Henderson » July 25th, 2022, 12:17 am

In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen is a great book on just that type of thinking.

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