Nine Nazi leaders and the secrets only their psychiatrist knew

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.

Psychiatrist Douglas M. Kelley a few years before he met the Nazis at Nuremberg

Psychiatrist Douglas M. Kelley a few years before he met the Nazis at Nuremberg

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.

Video trailer for The Nazi and the Psychiatrist

 

  • Loquetis_of_Gorb

    Socialism – nationalistic or otherwise – IS a mental disorder.

    • Mr.Pink

      Well at least I’ll have free health care to take care of it

      • notfoolinganyone

        free my A$$….

    • RufusChoate

      There is no denying it but these vile evil people could easily fit in our amoral political universe without even a raised eyebrow from the left.

      • Colton Johnson

        Don’t kid yourself. The Nazis were economically left, but socially right. Basically, they would piss off both sides.

        • mlebauer

          That’s far too simplistic. Nazis did not promote any religion, except their state ideology. They certainly cared little for “rights of the unborn”, or even the born. While nominally socialist, in practice they were closer to state directed crony-capitalists.

          • Colton Johnson

            And you forget to mention the elephant in the room; Blood Purity. To be fair, that extreme racism is so far right that Conservatives wouldn’t recognize it as a attribute of social conservatism. But alas, you’re going to throw this away and come up with some other, more convenient point. I’m not going to waste more time arguing against someone like you.

          • mlebauer

            There’s no monolithic “social conservative” ideology. While I’m a social liberal as it’s defined today, I see almost no similarities between what most US social conservatives believe and Nazism. The only modern social conservatives advocating statutory blood purity, like the Nazis, are fringe neo-Nazi/KKK types that are not welcome in our major political parties. At least you acknowledge as much.

            Except for statist dirigism, I don’t see that much in common between true socialism (no private property) and Nazi economic policy.

            Not sure what your agenda is, but Nazis are all too convenient straw men for demonizing one’s opposition. Reality is they bear little resemblance to either of our major political parties.

          • Jack El-Hai

            Kelley returned to the US from Nuremberg believing that one particular brand of conservatism at the time, that which existed in the Southern states and promoted segregation, was a close cousin of Nazism. Both ideologies cynically exploited racial fears and ignorance to propel their leaders to power. During the late 1940s Kelley frequently spoke out against powerful Southern white supremacists such as Senator Theodore Bilbo and Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi and Governor Eugene Talmadge of Georgia.

          • mlebauer

            Racial/ethnic purity was a common ideology of that time. Nazism took it to extremes. The demonstrated depths of its evil accelerated its demise. That’s why it is a fringe ideology today in Europe and North America. Versions persist elsewhere as a significant strain, especially in Muslim Arab nations.

            Socialism was another ugly modernist 19th C European idea that has taken longer to expunge and still has its advocates, despite the ugly examples of the Stalinist USSR and Maoist China. Early 19th C progressives shared many ideas with hard revolutionary communist/socialists, and they persist in their soft socialist ideas of nudging society towards a statist ideal of social equality.

          • Gandolfication

            It seems there is some overlap – at least enough in the minds of modern ‘neo-nazis’, KKK, skinheads and the like, that they even use the same verbage and historical rationales and in some cases, just attaching ‘neo’ on to the front of Nazi.

          • Colton Johnson

            Interesting, I think I had a wrong perception of you. I apologize for the snarky remarks. The key word that links the ambiguous social conservatism today is “traditional.” For example, the Nazis were on the extreme, some going so far as to denounce Lutheranism (ironically enough) for the old pagan religions in an attempt to become “Pure German.” As to crony-capitalism, the Nazis’ economic model was called Corporatism in which the state closely controlled the relationship between business and workers.

          • mlebauer

            Yes, Corporatism. That’s the only real parallel between Nazis and our present economic structure. Neither Republicans or Democrats formally promote that structure, but compromise between GOP Libertarian free market ideology combined with the Democrats’ Progressive social justice (along with plain old political patronage/cronyism) has created something not all that different from Nazi economics.

            In my opinion, while everyone bemoans it, our political “disfunction” is a blessing in disguise. It allows large pockets of economic activity to proceed unmolested by the Corporatist intervention and corrupt cronyism of the state. That was by design, the US founders set up a weak Federal structure with heavy checks and balances to allow just that.

          • RufusChoate

            The Soviet Union and the Progressive Movement in the United States embraced and formulated Scientific Racism as a state policy. You don’t understand history enough to argue the contrary. Try investigating the concept of the Progressive Age’s Eugenics and the Soviet Man for the clearest example of the standard racist philosophy of the Left.

        • http://www.theclassicalliberal.com The Classical Liberal

          What? What is socially right? Anti-gay? Oh. You mean like Che Guevara?

          • Colton Johnson

            Must be scratchy in that straw man.

          • http://www.theclassicalliberal.com The Classical Liberal

            No. Really. What is socially right? Is it being Christian? No. Is it being anti-gay? No. Is it being pro-life? No. What is socially right?

          • Colton Johnson

            See above.

        • RufusChoate

          Ah no.

    • elvischannel

      Then, I guess I can blame all my problems on having grown up with socialized medicine, dental care, housing, schooling, and the like. I grew up on military bases.

      • Gandolfication

        Oh snap! Got the tea partier above again.
        “Get your government hands off my medicare!”

        • Rebecca

          Tea party people don’t want Medicare, but unfortunately it is a NATIONAL law that all people over a certain age HAVE TO USE IT. IT IS THE ONLY CHOICE!!!!! So what do you suggest? It’s forced socialistic medicine.

      • http://www.theclassicalliberal.com The Classical Liberal

        How was that socialized medicine (at least as far as redistribution is concerned)? Your parents worked at a job and medical care was one of the benefits of employment. Same as mine. How is that “socialized” medicine.

        Now. I would get rid of the VA hospitals – why the govt needs to run a hospital system is beyond me. Does IBM run the hospital system that their employees use or do they focus on their core business?

        The problem with ObamaCare is many fold. As a lover of personal freedom I think that people should be able to eat what they want, exercise or not exercise as they choose, smoke weed (if they so please) but I don’t want to be responsible for their health problems do to bad decisions.

        • elvischannel

          You contradict yourself. My father’s employer was the government. You say that medical care was one of the benefits of his employment but you rail against the government for running a hospital system, which was one of the benefits of his employment. Huh?

        • miamisid

          I wonder what a system applying your “freedom” ideology would be like. Would it mean getting rid of police, fire departments, libraries, public hospitals? Would people be free to die in the streets? Would people be “free” to starve if there is not enough “free” people offering help? I suspect your “freedom” can be called by another name “the law of the jungle.”

          • http://www.theclassicalliberal.com The Classical Liberal

            I think you’re extrapolating too much from what I stated. Ending the VA hospital system does not equal not giving veterans health benefits – only that the hospital ought not be run by the government.

            I think one should be able to drink and smoke and eat only potatoes and twinkies all day. However I don’t think I should have to subsidize your poor lifestyle choices by paying for your health insurance.

            Re fire departments – where did I say government had no role?

            So, according to you – is there no difference between government running everything (a version of socialism), limited government and anarchy?

          • miamisid

            Ah so you have limits regarding what you consider reasonable to eliminate. You know, of course, there are many calling themselves “classical liberals” that advocate eliminating much of what I listed above. I see their postings from time to time. However, to my point, socialized government programs can mean [usually does mean] government funded and/or government regulated. I find it as reasonable for government to fund or control the health care system as it currently funds fire and police departments. And it is not, from my point of view, anywhere near “government running everything.”

          • http://www.theclassicalliberal.com The Classical Liberal

            I’m not an anarco-capitalist. I’m a classical liberal. There is a role for government. I think drugs should be legal but I don’t think the taxpayer should subsidize the users/abuser’s inevitable higher health care bill.

            I don’t think that we should mandate hospitals to care for (and pay 100s of thousands of dollars a year) to take care of indigent winos.

            Drug use should be legal – but you are responsible for your health care.

            Gov’t should not force you to wear seatbelts but then insurance companies can choose not to cover you for the injuries you incur (or charge a higher premium).

            Seatbelt laws, and motorcycle laws and laws restricting smoking while they may be reasonable are unwarranted excessive use of government power. If for instance, an individual has the right (hence sovereignty over their own body) to terminate a pregnancy, said individual has the right to chose whether or not to smoke, wear seat belts, and eat trans fats.

      • Jum1801

        Uh, you had, or rather your parent(s) had, health insurance associated with employment, and the fact the employer was the US government is absolutely irrelevant. It is that employer-provided health insurance which is explicitly intended to be destroyed by “universal healthcare”, whether it is called “government insurance” or “Obamacare”. And the plan to destroy the private health insurance industry is working beautifully, more’s the pity

        • elvischannel

          My parents did not have health insurance associated with employment; they had a government run health service. They had no choice of plans and no choice of doctors, which health insurance provides. They had a government run program with government employed doctors on salary. What you said is absolutely irrelevant.

  • DList

    I guess I won’t be telling my psychiatrist any secrets. Will end up on the internet

    • Jack El-Hai

      Part of Kelley’s difficulties in Nuremberg came from his confusion over whether he should be loyal to his patients (the Nazis), his employer (the US Army/US government), or the International Military Tribunal (the legal entity to whom he had some responsibilities). He ultimately decided that his employer and the tribunal deserved that loyalty, and he sometimes passed along confidences of the Nazis to the tribunal prosecutors.

  • RufusChoate

    Kelley appears to have been a lightweight intellectually these observations are so trite and banal as to be laughable.

    • Jack El-Hai

      As the book explains, Kelley had a formidable mind and was able at times to out maneuver Hermann Göring, a master manipulator. To a psychiatrist who spent hundreds of hours in the company of these prisoners, most of these observations offered important clues of the psyches of the Nazi leaders. Some of the described actions of the Nazis may appear banal, but they revealed much about the characters and personalities of the men Kelley was studying.

      • RufusChoate

        Again being told someone possess a “formidable mind” I would expect bit more as evidence. Many people are described as intelligent without any evidence. I stand by my opinion.

    • notfoolinganyone

      Kool wordz….

    • Rebecca

      Haven’t read the book, but his short observations above actually tell some important things. The paranoia and OCD (collecting things) are often tell tale signs of personality disorders. Paranoia is a main component of cluster B PDs, the ones who do such atrocities as these: sociopaths and narcissists. Don’t know if those diagnoses had been ‘invented’ then.

  • Colton Johnson

    It fascinates me as to how people can take a sort-of light humored historical article and turn it into an attack upon current political establishments. Godwin’s law I guess…

  • jschmidt2

    not sure the article gives the full impact of the book. from the Amazon write-up:

    When I was first offered an advanced copy of this book I envisioned
    Hermann Goring sitting opposite an American Doctor in a wooden chair
    that squeaked under his weight as he explained the horrors and
    atrocities he committed over the span of the second world war. I also
    envisioned a dramatic, bite-your-nails suspense story as the two men
    jousted back and forth for the truth. After reading the book and not
    finding this kind of presentation I should be a little disappointed, but
    I’m not, in any way. For me this book was not a dual of sorts, but
    rather a fly on the wall look at historical events as they happened.

    • Jack El-Hai

      It’s true that I wrote the book not to chronicle the Nazis’ private confessions and admissions of guilt while in prison, but to tell the story of an American psychiatrist who hoped to discover among them a common thread of mental disease, could not do so, and was greatly affected as a result. The book focuses on Kelley’s study of Göring and the bond — though certainly not friendship — that grew between them. It’s about the intersection of two lives.