Sounds like a bit of light-reading doesn’t it?  Actually the full title of this delightful book is, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Goring, Dr Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of the Minds at the End of WW2.

If you think it sounds grim, it is.  And even if I didn’t think it sounded grim, reading it on vacation certainly cemented it for me.  Because apparently in Hawaii, every second person enjoys starting a conversation with someone they’ve never met, and asking about their opinions on the Nazi regime.  Truly, it was my own fault.

Written by Jack El-Hai who is a well-known journalist in the United States, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist follows the true events following the end of WW2.  After Germany had surrendered, the US essentially gathered up all the big wigs in the Nazi party who were still alive, and put them on trial.  Where they would be most probably all be hanged for their crimes; which ranged from Nazi propaganda, to organising and leading the concentration and death camps.

However, before they were put on trial army psychiatrist, Dr Douglas M. Kelley, was brought in to individually assess each man to determine if he were criminally sane and able to stand trial.  However, Dr Kelley also had plans of his own; to determine if each man shared a ‘Nazi gene’ or some personality flaw that explained why they were able to do such terrible deeds.  Most importantly, Dr Kelley was interested in evaluating Hermann Goring; the originally successor to Hitler, the former mayor of Prussia and the highest-ranked man standing after the ‘big three’ had suicided (Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels).

Of course, especially in psychiatry, nothing is ever as clear as it seems.  Not only does Dr Kelley fail to find the ‘Nazi gene’ but he finds a friend in Goring and despite the terrible deeds that he has committed, begins to understand how the Nazi thinks and acts.  Uh-oh.

I love reading about Nazi Germany.  I don’t know what that says about me, but honestly, the more I read, the more interested I become.  Fiction, non-fiction, creepy psychology books that get a little too close to comfort, they all seem to fascinate me in a way that other books on history do not.  And particularly since I visited Germany last year and was able to visit a concentration camp personally, I feel that not only is it interesting to read about WW2, but it’s also necessary: not only do the victims deserve to be recognised, but we can begin to understand why and how they occurred.  As a result, that’s what led me to picking up this book.

While at times The Nazi and the Psychiatrist was a bit slow, for a non-fiction novel, it was surprisingly succinct, personable and easy-to-read.  Furthermore, El-Hai set out the series of events in such a way that, at times, it almost read like a thriller; what happens to Dr Kelley?  Will the men on trial be hanged for their crimes?  What makes a man become a dictator?

The relationship between Dr Kelley and Goring is particularly pivotal, because not only does it show how ‘evil’ isn’t necessarily black and white, but it also shows that individuals of wildly different backgrounds can still have a great deal in common.

While Dr Kelley was searching for a ‘Nazi gene’, some kind of indicator that shows why someone would commit such horrific crimes against humanity, not only was he unsuccessful, but he also learned a terrible truth; most ‘evil’ people share personality traits the very same as you or I.

Though certain individuals Dr Kelley evaluated suffered from narcissism and megalomania, most shared the same traits as Dr Kelley himself; intelligence, pride, and a desire to reach the top of their professional field.  In short, many qualities that any successful workaholic would admit to.

Though each man deserved to be punished for their crimes, and the blame does still reside on them, possibly the most harrowing fact that I learnt from The Nazi and the Psychiatrist is that most Nazis, including Goring, weren’t anti-semantic; they simply used propaganda against the Jews to fuel their political campaigns.  While it’s terrible to think that six million people were killed essentially because they were scape-goats, it’s an even scarier possibility when you consider an entire nation was happy to hate a race simply because their government told them to.

Though the Nazi and the Psychiatrist only scratches the surface of Nazi Germany and the on-going effects of the Nazi regime, it is an insightful book that raises questions that may not have occurred to many readers.  Not only is it thought-provoking, but it also delivers the facts without sugar-coating either the realities of the war, or even the personality flaws of the protagonist and ‘hero’, Dr Kelley.  Though it is a dark book, and it may be confronting to some, if you’re interested in WW2 or psychology, then I’d recommend giving this book a read.

Have you read The Nazi and the Psychiatrist?  Are you interested in WW2 or history-related non-fiction?  Let me know!

the nazi and the psychiatrist by jack el-hai

The Nazi and the Psychiatrist – (image taken from http://www.thumbs4.ebaystatic.com)

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