by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor
My newest book, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (PublicAffairs Books), tells the story of a U.S. Army psychiatrist’s quest to make sense of the months he spent in the company of the imprisoned leaders of the Third Reich as they awaited trial in Nuremberg. For five months in 1945-46, Douglas M. Kelley enjoyed the plum assignment of examining and studying the top Nazis. He hoped to identify a “Nazi personality” or common mental disorder that the prisoners shared, but the project ultimately proved his ruin.
In his interviews with the Nazi captives, however, Kelley learned much about the psychiatric idiosyncrasies of the German leaders, and he recorded them in his medical notes and writings. Here’s a listing of a few:
9. Alfred Rosenberg, Nazi party philosopher and Reichsminister for the Eastern Occupied Territories, believed that the United States should maintain the superiority of the white race by deporting its black and Jewish citizens to the African island of Madagascar.
8. The brutal former governor of Nazi-occupied Poland, Hans Frank, returned to his Catholic faith during his incarceration and professed to welcome his prosecution and punishment. Kelley believed that Frank was playing the martyr, and the International Tribunal’s justices sentenced the Nazi to hang.
7. Karl Dönitz, an admiral and Hitler’s designated successor in the final days of the war, hoarded and hid in his cell such items as shoelaces, string, a screw, and a bobby pin. Prison authorities never determined how Dönitz intended to use them.
6. The group’s lowest IQ score, 107, went to Julius Streicher, editor of the notoriously antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer (The Storm Trooper) and a pornography collector considered so vulgar by his fellow defendants that few would sit at the same table with him.
5. Hjalmar Schacht, Reichsbank president and former minister of economics, had the highest IQ among the top Nazi defendants, scoring 143 on the intelligence test.
4. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop kept the messiest cell of all the Nazi captives. Kelley regarded the disarray as a sign of Ribbentrop’s distraught mind.
3. The fearsome Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of the German security police, felt such stress and anxiety as the Nuremberg Trial approached that his high blood pressure triggered a cerebral hemorrhage, and he had to miss the first weeks of the court sessions.
2. Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess believed that his jailers were trying to slip poison into his food, and he kept samples of chocolate, sugar, crackers, and other foods that he suspected were tainted.
1. Hermann Göring, Reichsmarschall, Luftwaffe chief, and a planner of the Holocaust, was a warm-hearted supporter of animal rights who designed German laws that reformed hunting regulations and sent violators of anti-vivisection legislation to concentration camps.
There’s much more about the psychological study of the top Nazis, their responses to Dr. Kelley’s assessment tests, and their contribution to the psychiatrist’s personal and professional downfall in The Nazi and the Psychiatrist.