Holocaust Scholars and historians are asking the question: How did the German people choose consciously to support an anti-democratic regime that was against humanity at the dawn of WWII?
This question was particularly relevant during the Nuremberg trials after WWII. People heard about the horrific acts that occurred in the holocaust and wanted to know how so many people could murder so many innocent people in cold blood. What kind of personality did these people have and is it pathological?
In order to answer these questions, a number of leading psychiatrists and psychologists interviewed and psychologically tested a group of captured Nazi leaders. Using the Rorschach test, they wanted to explore the core of the Nazi personality in order to find out if it was pathological or normal. They also wanted to find out if there were similarities among the Nazi leaders and if they felt regret for the monstrous acts that they committed?
Another important matter during and after the war was the psychology of Adolf Hitler who was a fascination for a lot of psychologists and psychiatrists. They wanted to understand how the vision of one man brought the world into chaos. They wanted to know if he was normal or mad, and most importantly, if there’s some Hitler in each and every one of us?
In this article I will answer these questions using the data and findings of the Nuremberg psychologists and psychiatrists together with the psychological profile of Adolf Hitler. I will discuss the question whether the Nazis had personality disorders, or were they mentally sane, and only responded to command.
The Psychology of Evil Adolf Hitler
One of the most common beliefs about Hitler is that he was a mad genius who started the holocaust for personal vendetta against the Jewish people. There are a lot of references (mostly in the non-academic world) that claim that Hitler was pure evil and simply cannot be understood because he wasn’t a human. Contrary to this belief, especially in the historic research of WWII and the holocaust, there is a moral importance to study Hitler’s psychology, mind and behavior. The reason for this research is to understand how this one man brought chaos to Europe and most of the western world.
One of the first profiles about Hitler was published in 1939 by the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung who had met Hitler and Mussolini in 1930. Jung described Mussolini as a passionate man full of energy. On the other hand, Hitler frightened Jung because he was unfriendly, un-sexual and almost un-human. There was something different about Hitler. There was something about his personality that wasn’t recognized by Jung.
The second profile, published in 1972, was written by the psychiatrist Langer during WWII. The psychiatrist psychoanalyzed Hitler’s personality after reading Mein Kampf. Hitler was diagnosed as neurotic and psychotic combined with messiah complex. Hitler had extreme sexual perversions and homosexual masochistic tendencies. Langer believed that Hitler would one day commit suicide.
Hitler and WWI
Langer believed that the traumatic event Hitler experienced during WWI as a soldier was the starting point of his mental illness. Hitler was 29 years old when his unit was attacked by chlorine gas in 1918. Hitler’s sight was damaged which, as a result, ended his art career.
The loss of his sight together with unbearable pain, caused Hitler to blame the Jewish people for deserting Germany. His hatred grew and turned into an obsession and eventually into pathology. Hitler’s mind connected the physical pain and loss of his art career to the Jewish people. Langer argued that Hitler fabricated his injury to justify his murderous actions by saying that he was the victim rather than the attacker. This fabrication is a symptom of hysteric personality and schizophrenia.
Hitler and Oedipus complex
The famous psychoanalytic Erich Fromm published his diagnostic of Hitler’s personality in 1973 using Mein Kampf and Hitler’s personal history. According to Fromm’s diagnosis, Hitler was an anal narcissistic with self-destructive personality. Fromm argued that Hitler had Oedipus complex which projected into Germany and his hatred towards the Jews. His love for his mother reflected his love for Germany and the hatred for his abusive father reflected his hatred towards the Jewish people.
Should we know his psychology?
There are some holocaust researchers who believe there is no need to research Hitler’s history and personality. Even though he was the direct cause for the holocaust, they believe that Hitler shouldn’t be explained, and that every attempt at an explanation is un-moral.
Psychopathology of the Nazi leaders
Several psychologists examined a group of Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg trials. Their tests showed that the leaders didn’t have personality pathology and were mentally sane. The only personality feature that they had in common was high intelligence.
The mental experts were looking for an anti-Semitic mental gene but couldn’t find one. The reason for Nazism in not in pathological personality. It derives from something else. In the next few paragraphs, I will write about the psychological tests and search for a Nazi etiology if there is one.
After WWII, the united forces captured most of the Nazi leaders who were all put to trial. Before they were brought to punishment for their crimes, they were psychologically profiled. The profiles were made for mapping and understanding the criminals’ minds. One psychiatrist and two psychologists (all American) used interviews and the Rorschach personality test in 1949.
The interviewers wanted to know if the Nazi leaders (and Nazis in general) were evil people, or just regular people who were forced to do horrible things?
During the trials, two out of three of the interviewers came to the conclusion that the leaders’ personality were not pathological but normative. These men were sane and chose to commit those horrible and horrific acts.
German society during WWII was a society that had cultural principal, without judgment or critical thinking. Understanding this, another interviewer came to the conclusion that even no signs of personality pathology were discovered in the Nazi leaders, and therefore, the perspective must be social rather than psychological.
According to the interviewer, Western society during the times of WWII was sick. Germany was one of many with high levels of conformity and obedience to authority. This finding was politically dangerous because the Western world wanted the pathology of the leaders, not of the global society. People were looking for someone to blame for the wrongs of WWII. That’s why these findings were published 30 years later.
Looking back, knowing all the horrible acts of the holocaust, we allow ourselves to ask how it happened. How did so many people allow this nightmare to come true? How could people be so cruel?
These questions were asked at the Nuremberg trials. People couldn’t accept any answer rather than pathology. They didn’t want to hear any other answer, other than the sickness of the Nazi mind. They wanted to believe that only the sickest mind could commit these monstrous acts. But the truth was that psychologically, the leaders were sane and chose to follow horrible orders. The Nazi leaders said that they didn’t have any choice, and that they had to follow these orders or else they would have been killed. Furthermore, the leaders said that they weren’t acting as individuals but as a group.
Even though the psychological tests showed that the leaders were sane, they were punished for their evil acts. They chose to take innocent lives, and got what they deserved. We must not forget the power of conformity and authority. We must not forget how, for our own survival, and the survival of the ones we love, we will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. I hope that we never have to ask these questions ever again.
Written by: Mager Ynon