By Stéphane Allix
For a week, I have been living like a hermit. I live alone in a small hut built in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. I have embarked on a retreat after working intensely for years. I’ve been longing to take this time off, to escape from the day-to-day and get to know myself again. Now here I am—no phone, no email, no books, no distractions; a rare and precious moment that I intend to use to take stock of my life. The sun has been rising for several hours and is already high, and eagles circle above my head in the clear sky. I do my morning exercises before it gets too hot. I feel good, muscles relaxed, and energy flowing freely through my body. My mind is finally calm.
Intuitively I suddenly feel that I must settle down, be still, and listen to my feelings. I lie down on my little wooden bed and close my eyelids. I’m not sure why I’m doing this; I just daydream. My eyes are closed, and my mind starts to wander. The first thing I visualize is where I am: a tiny house built in the middle of the rainforest, located just above a shallow river in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes. I see the river as if I am flying high above it, as if I were a bird; an eagle. At this moment, I am fully aware that I am the one imagining this vision.
Then, something unexpected happens. An image that surprises me, that I did not put together, and which nevertheless stands out clearly: I am still flying over the river, but I suddenly observe men advancing. At this height, they are small black dots. So I get closer and, as I fly closer to the ground, the vegetation disappears, the river disappears and gives way to a uniform white landscape, as if covered with snow. I am at their level now; and I am shocked to see that these men are soldiers, and there are tanks too. Now I see that they are Germans, and this is war. And strangely, I am one of them—an SS officer. I am injured; shrapnel has torn through my neck, and cut my jugular vein. And now I see I am dying.
Captivated and amazed by the intensity of what is going on, I realize that I am at once lying on a bunk in Peru, and that I am catapulted into another time, another place, into another being. Suddenly I know what this officer is called. His name is Alexander Herrmann. I know this to be absolutely true and I am sure he is in the SS. “Obersturmführer” flashed in my mind—I who do not speak a word of German. Then comes the number 25, the meaning of which I do not understand. I can’t see the man’s face well, but I see him walking in a landscape of desolation and corpses. Everything is white, as if covered with plaster dust or snow. The silhouettes are black. Faces are screaming. My throat is dry.
He wears a long dark coat. He is tall, lean, but well-built and muscular. The scene of his death, my death, repeats. I experience several more visions — they are scenes from his life crashing before my eyes —scenes from his civilian life. Then I see him collapse again, blood pulsing from his throat, spilling over his collar, onto the floor. He holds his neck, his life slips away. His gaze fades. A white dust covers him. The earth around him is pulverized by explosions and covered with snow. There is fire, fury, and intense cold. He is dead.
The vision is over, and a half hour has passed unnoticed. The experience is totally unexpected. I don’t understand it, nor do I understand the astonishing force with which it came upon me. Did I imagine all of this? And if so, why? Who is Alexander? What just happened? In the days that followed, the images of this German failed to fade. The memory of him will not leave my mind. I see him everywhere, in the forest, and hear the sounds of war in the din of the insects at night. Who is this man who appeared from the depths of darkness, entered my reality, and remains there, in me? I see this sinister landscape again, death, violence, his gaze …
Alexander will not leave my consciousness, and when I return to France, I cannot forget him. I find myself haunted by him. And when I decide to find out more, I discover this man really existed, and that he died under the exact circumstances “seen” in my vision. And when I do further research and get my hands on the military file of SS-Obersturmführer, Alexander Herrmann, kept like that of tens of thousands of other SS officers, at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, I am astonished. This man is me.
Stéphane Allix is a journalist, former war correspondent, and founder of the Institute for Research on Extraordinary Experiences (INREES). He is the author of The Test: Incredible Proof of the Afterlife, and the writer and director of the French television series Extraordinary Investigations (Enquêtes extraordinaires). He lives in France. When I Was Someone Else is published by Park Street Press.