Psychology at Nuremberg
by Joel E. Dimsdale
Yale University Press, 256 pp., $30
On May 10, 1941, Rudolf Hess, the deputy führer of Nazi Germany, surreptitiously piloted a plane from Augsburg, Germany to a small homestead in Scotland. Upon being discovered by a farmer, he exclaimed, “I have an important message for the Duke of Hamilton.” Hess had come to make a peace offer to Britain without Hitler’s knowledge, reasoning that Germany’s true enemy was the Soviet Union. It was so odd and surprising that a joke began to make the rounds: Churchill, cigar in mouth, said to Hess, “So you’re the madman are you?” And Hess replied, “Oh, no, only his deputy.”
This joke, popular in Germany, reflected a prevalent view: Only a psychopath would appoint a deputy like Hess; only a madman would attempt to conquer the world. This conclusion was shared by President Roosevelt, who called Hitler “a nut” and a “wild man.” Indeed, officials in the United States and Great Britain committed significant resources to exploring Nazi psychiatric pathology during the war. For instance, Walter Langer, an American psychoanalyst, studied propaganda and Hitler’s psyche under the auspices of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS).