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Book Review: ‘The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII’ by Jack El-Hai

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The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII by Jack El-Hai is an account of the life of the doctor and his interaction with the war criminals.

Book Review The Nazi and the Psychiatrist Hermann Goring Dr Douglas M Kelley and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII by Jack El-HaiI have to say right off the bat that this is not the book I thought it would be. In my head I was imagining Göring on the proverbial couch, or sitting across from Dr. Kelley engaging in a war of minds. What I got was a study by Dr. Kelley of what is considered evil using the Nuremberg trials as a laboratory.

Dr. Kelley jumped on the opportunity to diagnose the Nazi mindset, to find out what made these people tick, how could they murder millions (including their own people), what was their defense mechanisms and justifications that allowed them to live without guilt or remorse? Interesting questions indeed!

Göring, the highest-ranking Nazi being tried, was convinced that he will be set free, arriving to his incarnation with 16 suitcases, one filled with valuables. As a former head of state he figured that the trial was just victors’ propaganda. When confronted with evidence of concentration camps and Nazi murders he claimed that he didn’t know what was happening.

Dr. Kelley admitted that Göring was a charismatic personality and the two got along very well. Along with Göring, the book also talks a lot about Hess, who is presented as an unstable person who might, or might not, be able to stand trial.

The book also talks a great deal about the Rorschach tests and Dr. Kelley’s interpretation of the prisoners’ answers and extrapolated their meanings. Since Dr. Kelley worked through an interpreter, the results of the tests were still being evaluated half a century later.

Upon his return to the US Dr. Kelley settled into a family life and became a noted psychiatrist specializing in forensics. Dr. Kelley taught at top schools, researched and worked with police all over the country. Sadly, Dr. Kelley finally committed suicide the same way Göring did before him.

The conclusions Dr. Kelly made are frightening and still relevant to this day. In his writings, Dr. Kelley stated that there was nothing “special” about these top Nazis and their personalities. What happened during Germany’s Third Reich could happen in any country.

While I found the premise of the book to be fascinating, I didn’t feel the narrative came together once the Nuremberg trials were over. This book could is actually more of a biography of Dr. Kelley than an account of his interaction with his infamous clients.

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  • bliffle

    Hitler, Hess, Goering, etc., are not at all interesting, any more than any other monster. They should simply be incapacitated, or killed, as necessary. Granting them leeway and listening to their exculpations will only result in disappointment.

  • Carole Di Tosti

    Yes, it is what Hannah Arnendt called “the banality of evil.” Ordinary men given extraordinary power to destroy because they have no inner ethics, being or sense of self beyond “the fascist state.” They, themselves are non beings who reduce life, their life to its sensate elements and have no ability to self-actualize beyond “rules” to think, act with autonomy or individuality to help save and love others, regardless of race, etc. Above all, it is a rejection of the deepest humanity and a kind of self genocide lifting up in this instance fascism and the tenets of the Nazi party WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THE FULLNESS OF WHAT IT MEANT, rendering them absent of all meaningful life and goodness. Reminds me of the fascist corporate global governments today that poison, kill and destroy. Why? For power and profit, but if you incriminated them in their own deeds, they would look at you askance as if to say, are you mental? Nothing is wrong here. That above all is frightening. If the monsters had horns and red faces and looked hideous then we would be able to watch out for them and recognize them. These fascists and those like Eichmann were truly banal and in that they were monsters.