Letter: Astrology in the plot against Hitler

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The Independent Online
Sir: The date chosen by the German generals for the attempt on Hitler's life, 20 July 1944 ('Nazi heroes we should honour', 19 July) was said to have been based on an astrological prognostication by Kurt Josten (Obituary by Ian Lowe, 12 July, and remarks by James Buchan, 14 July). I lectured in the Old Ashmolean Museum for the History of Science, Oxford, from 1947 until 1953, with Josten succeeding Sherwood Taylor as curator in 1950.

Josten and Taylor were inclined to take astrology and alchemy seriously, and held meetings of adepts, which I attended when technical advice was sought. It was suggested that alchemists of yore used nuclear reactors to transmute lead into gold, and I was asked to arrange an experimental test of the conjecture at Harwell.

From the current understanding of nuclear reactions it was clear that, while it might be remotely feasible to transmute gold into lead by successive neutron-captures and beta-decays over a long period, the converse transformation of lead into gold in a nuclear reactor was wholly impracticable.

A member of this Rosicrucian group, Gerard Heym, told me that Josten had discovered in the Paris Bibliotheque Nationale, in a medieval astrological manuscript, a new method of casting horoscopes, from which he prognosticated a sticky end for Hitler on 20 July 1944 - and the date was adopted for the attempt on Hitler's life.

After the failure of the coup, Josten was on the run from not only the Nazi powers but also some enraged survivors of the plot.

Yours faithfully,

STEPHEN MASON

Cambridge

The writer is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, King's College, London.

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