Friday, January 10, 2014
Review of: THE NAZI AND THE PSYCHIATRIST BY JACK EL-HAI
By Peter Lewis
Viewers of the photographs of the Nazi leaders in the dock at Nuremberg War Crimes Trial in 1945 are often struck by the same thing. How ordinary they look! Not a pair of horns or a forked tail between them.
These balding men in sober suits could have stepped off any commuter train. Could they have run the most criminally murderous regime in modern Europe without some hint of the evil within being detectable on their faces?
There was one exception to the general air of mediocrity. In the end seat sat Reichsmarschall Herman Goering, Hitler’s Number Two, a giant of a man with obvious magnetism and an air of genial command.
Apart from Goering, this admittedly was the Second XI. The leading actors of the Nazi horror film - Himmler, Bormann and Goebbels - had already escaped the consequences by committing suicide like Hitler.
Nevertheless, the Americans were determined to discover the essence of the enemy’s make-up, the nature of ‘the Nazi mind’. Did evil on this scale have a formula, a recognisable pattern by which it could be spotted and prevented in the future?
This was the object of the inquiries of Major Douglas Kelley, the most senior American army psychiatrist assigned to study the 22 Nazis in the cells at Nuremberg.
His official task was to discover whether they were fit - ie. sane - enough to be tried. His personal quest was to analyse and interpret their behaviour by the magic of psychiatry, then held in the highest esteem as the new explanation of human behaviour.
He soon decided that none of them was mad - not even Rudolph Hess, the Deputy Fuhrer who had flown to Britain in 1941 and was now evading all questions by pretending he couldn’t remember anything. Kelley decided he was lying.
Goering by contrast was only too pleased to talk. He greeted Kelley in his cell with a smile and a handshake. He looked forward to interrogation as an opportunity for some civilised conversation.
So began a curious relationship and rapport which became far more personal than the usual interaction of doctor and patient.
Picked up by the Americans the day before Germany surrendered, he was a bloated caricature of the national hero he had once been. The WWI flying ace of the Richthofen Circus was vastly obese and half out of his mind on drugs.
When the Americans decided to move him, the light plane, a Piper, simply could not take off: he weighed too much. They found a larger plane: his seat belt could not be fastened.
He arrived at his first jail with a personal valet, a dozen monogrammed suitcases and a red hat box containing a collection of jewellery and medals - and cash worth the equivalent of a million dollars. When he sat down in his cell, the chair broke.
These farcical notes were reduced by prison routine. The doctors weaned him off the drug Paracodeine, which was making him nearly insensible. And the prison diet shaved more than four stone off him in five months. His trouser waistband was taken in by six inches.
The old Goering, once the most popular man in Germany after Hitler, reappeared - a highly intelligent, powerful, humorous personality who immediately assumed leadership of his fellow prisoners.
During exercise, he tried to cheer them up with a non-stop stream of jokes. These weren’t very funny, but humour was notably absent in Nazi circles. In his yellow-topped boots, he was first to be seated in the chapel and sang the hymns louder than anyone.
He wrote regularly to his wife, Emmy, but his letters did not reach her until Kelley volunteered to take one personally. Emmy wrote a reply on the spot. Both letters are couched in the most tender terms. Goering said he prayed every day for their reunion but they must be prepared for the worst, adding: ‘Why did it have to turn out this way?’ Their seven-year-old daughter, Edda, wrote: ‘My dear Daddy, come back to me soon. I am longing for you so much.’
Goering kept their photographs in his cell and asked Kelley to take care of Edda should both her parents die. He wrote to his wife that Kelley was ‘a gentleman you can trust completely’.
Kelley realised that Goering, the fond husband and father and friendly companion, was only one side of the man. At other times, Goering showed complete disregard for other people.
Of Auschwitz he commented: ‘Well, it was good propaganda.’ And Kelley asked him how he could have ordered the shooting of his close friend Ernst Roehm in the Nazi Party purge of 1934. He stared back uncomprehendingly: ‘But he was in my way.’
Goering was determined to justify Nazism at the trial. ‘You know I shall hang,’ he told Kelley, ‘I am ready - but in 50 or 60 years there will be Goering statues all over Germany.’
Douglas Kelley had in some ways a similar personality: ambitious, go-getting, workaholic, he had made his reputation by treating ‘battle fatigue’ - now called post-traumatic stress - and had risen high in the U.S. Army’s medical circles.
Psychiatry was a new wonder-weapon. Kelley, up with the latest developments, administered the Rorschach inkblot test to all his patients. It was solemnly believed that by interpreting a series of inkblots on cards, people gave away profound clues to their mental make-up.
Kelley believed the inkblot readings would reveal the common flaw in ‘the Nazi mind’. Unfortunately, he could not find one. The Nazis interpreted the blots they were shown as variously as anyone could. His fellow psychiatrist at Nuremberg, Gustave Gilbert, saw their interpretations quite differently from Kelley. It was hardly an exact science.
Halfway through the trial, Kelley left Nuremberg to go home, taking with him his interview notes and test results in order to write a book on the Nazis.
All the prisoners thanked him when he left. Goering wept. A few months later, Kelley was astonished to learn that Goering had crunched a cyanide capsule, which he had succeeded in concealing, the night before he was due to hang. He had thought hanging like a criminal was too degrading; he had asked to be shot, but had been denied his request.
Now came the extraordinary denouement to their odd relationship. Kelley brought out his book, 22 Cells In Nuremberg. It concluded that, though the Nazis had exhibited unbridled ambition, excessive patriotism and ethical deficiency, they were not monsters. Large numbers of ordinary people had the potential to act like them in certain circumstances. Hitler had supplied the megalomania that drove each of them.
What alarmed Kelley was the thought that similar characters could easily be recruited in the U.S., which was then in the grip of anti-Communist hysteria. He mounted a personal campaign to warn Americans by giving lectures, TV shows and interviews. Germany’s problem could become theirs, too, he told them. It was not a popular message.
Meanwhile, Gilbert, his fellow interrogator, published his own book saying that all of the Nazis had been psychopaths - then a new term in psychiatry, signifying a complete lack of empathy with other people’s feelings or suffering hidden beneath a normal exterior. This was much more what victorious Americans wanted to hear.
Kelley was a driven man. He took on a vast number of projects - university teaching, criminal psychology and police work. But his behaviour at home with his wife, Dukie, and their three young children became disturbed, with increasing outbursts of rage and noisy fights over trivialities with the wife who had waited throughout the war for his return.
His office at the top of their sprawling California villa was sacrosanct, closed to the family. Here he kept his records of Nuremberg, a private chemical laboratory, collections of specimens including human skulls - and some guns.
Once, he confronted Dukie on the landing below his study with a levelled gun. He pulled the trigger but deflected the bullet into the floor at her feet. His children lived in fear.
On the first day of 1958, during an extra-violent row in the kitchen, he dashed upstairs to his study and emerged on the landing with a capsule in his hand. He shouted: ‘I don’t have to take this any more. I’m going to take this cyanide and nobody will care!’
His wife, his father and their children were watching below. ‘Don’t do it!’ they screamed. But he did - and fell down the stairs, gasping and foaming at the mouth, into his wife’s hands.
In the Berkeley newspapers reporting his death, two questions dominated: ‘Why cyanide?’ and ‘Did Goering give him the capsule?’
Neither has ever been answered. Psychiatrists have continued to debate the question whether there was such a thing as ‘a Nazi mind’. The current majority opinion is that it was a myth.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
You should break up your bread roll with your fingers, rather than cutting into it with a knife. Why? Who knows? It's just a code, designed to make it easier to spot the social origins of those with whom you are sharing a table.
When eating soup, it is acceptable to tip the soup bowl away from you in order to retrieve the final spoonfuls. Just don't ever tip it the other way. Why? We can make up some explanation about not wanting to splash our shirt front, but again it's just a code. ''Ah, good, he's one of ours.''
Real etiquette, of course, is pretty much the opposite of all this. It's about making people feel more comfortable, not less. It's about holding the ladder up against the wall, and helping someone over, rather than pushing it away.
The BBC broadcaster Sandi Toksvig tells a great story about true etiquette in her native Denmark. The photographer (and British aristocrat) Patrick Lichfield had been invited to dinner with Denmark's King Frederick IX. At the time, a gentleman wore a shirt with no collar, on top of which was placed a separate stiff shirt front, with detachable collar and cuffs. Lichfield, short of funds, lacked a fresh shirt, so simply wore the shirt front assembly, all tucked beneath his formal jacket. With the jacket buttoned up, no one could tell the difference.
Alas, after dinner, the party shifted to the terrace and the king removed his jacket, causing all the other men to follow the royal lead. Mortified, Lichfield removed his own jacket, revealing both his nakedness and his lack of funds.
The king glanced up, said ''what a splendid idea'', and immediately removed his own shirt. Again everyone followed suit, and soon the whole party was happily bare-chested around the royal table.
The king's motivation was a desire that his guest not feel socially awkward - an example of true good manners, of which there are less examples every day. Sorry, I think I meant fewer. I hope you weren't about to correct me.