Cover image for The Nazi and the psychiatrist : Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a fatal meeting of minds at the end of WWII
The Nazi and the psychiatrist : Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a fatal meeting of minds at the end of WWII
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, [2013]

Perseus Books Group 2013
Physical Description:
x, 281 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Details the mission of U.S. Army psychiatrist Captain Douglas M. Kelley to understand the psychological link between the captured high-ranking Nazis and the motivations for their criminal behavior.


Material Type
Shelf Number
Book 341.690268 ELH 1

On Order



In 1945, after his capture at the end of the Second World War, Hermann Göring arrived at an American-run detention center in war-torn Luxembourg, accompanied by sixteen suitcases and a red hatbox. The suitcases contained all manner of paraphernalia: medals, gems, two cigar cutters, silk underwear, a hot water bottle, and the equivalent of $1 million in cash. Hidden in a coffee can, a set of brass vials housed glass capsules containing a clear liquid and a white precipitate: potassium cyanide. Joining Göring in the detention center were the elite of the captured Nazi regime--Grand Admiral Dönitz; armed forces commander Wilhelm Keitel and his deputy Alfred Jodl; the mentally unstable Robert Ley; the suicidal Hans Frank; the pornographic propagandist Julius Streicher--fifty-two senior Nazis in all, of whom the dominant figure was Göring.

To ensure that the villainous captives were fit for trial at Nuremberg, the US army sent an ambitious army psychiatrist, Captain Douglas M. Kelley, to supervise their mental well-being during their detention. Kelley realized he was being offered the professional opportunity of a lifetime: to discover a distinguishing trait among these arch-criminals that would mark them as psychologically different from the rest of humanity. So began a remarkable relationship between Kelley and his captors,told here for the first time with unique access to Kelley's long-hidden papers and medical records.

Kelley's was a hazardous quest, dangerous because against all his expectations he began to appreciate and understand some of the Nazi captives, none more so than the former Reichsmarshall, Hermann Göring. Evil had its charms.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist El-Hai's (The Lobotomist) haunting historical account raises questions about the human capacity to cause harm. Focusing on two charismatic but delusional men-Goring, who was in captivity, and Kelley, his interlocutor, El-Hai presents an engrossing case study on the nature of evil. Kelley, an American psychiatrist overseeing the U.S. Army's psychiatric services during World War II, was called upon to assess war criminals' ability to stand trial. His true ambition was to understand whether shared personality traits drove the horrors of the Nazi regime, and took the opportunity to study his subjects-most of whom were high-ranking Nazi officers. He did so with indifference to their culpability and little intention of treating them. One of his primary subjects was Goring, the designated successor to Hitler. Kelley's fascination with the human mind was perhaps as boundless as the delusional optimism of Goring, who believed his contributions to the Nazi Party would be celebrated and memorialized. In this thoroughly engaging story of the jocular master war criminal and the driven, self-aware psychiatrist, El-Hai finds no simple binary. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Ace reportage on the unique relationship between a prison physician and one of the Third Reich's highest ranking officials. Profoundly expanded from an original article in Scientific American, science and historical journalist El-Hai's (Creative Writing/Augsburg Coll.; The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness, 2005) dark exploration begins at the end: with the suicide of prominent U.S. Army psychiatrist Capt. Douglas Kelley. The author examines the origins of his depressive internal crisis: his professional association with one of the most powerful Nazi leaders, Hermann Gring. Unfussy and compelling, El-Hai's chronicle details the intensive intercourse between the two men. Kelley was called in to perform physical and mental evaluations on the top Nazi officials awaiting arraignment in the Nuremberg tribunals, yet zeroed in on Gring. Hitler's right-hand man presented at Nuremberg as an arrogant, plump, cutthroat "master manipulator" addicted to paracodeine. Stripped of his diamond-embossed ivory baton (a gift from Hitler), oversize gemstone rings and manifold honorifics, the prideful and charming Gring acquiesced to the general orthodoxy of Kelley's medical assessments, including inkblot testing and apperception analyses. As suicide increasingly became a destiny of choice for several other Nazi captives, the doctor became increasingly enraptured by the domineering Gring, delving intensively into his fearlessness during his conviction and further exploring the unshakable allegiance of the Nazi personality. This obsessive research would negatively manifest itself in Kelley's psyche for decades, ultimately facilitating his undoing. El-Hai's spadework involved scouring Kelley's trove of private documents, letters and clinical journals, all graciously provided by the doctor's oldest son. Recently slated for both film and stage adaptations, El-Hai's gripping account turns a chilling page in American history and provides an unsettling meditation on the machinations of evil.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

An outgoing, ambitious U.S. Army psychiatrist, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley was assigned to "maintain the mental fitness" of Nazi war criminals before the Nuremberg Trials. While interviewing and testing the accused leaders, Kelley developed a close relationship with Hermann Goring, Hitler's right-hand man. Helping the charismatic Goring lose weight and overcome his addiction to painkillers, Kelley remained aware of the Reichsmarschall's evil but was still shocked when Goring committed suicide via cyanide. Through his extensive research, Kelley came to believe that the qualities that led Nazi leaders to commit acts of horror were not unique to Nazi Germany, and this deeply troubled him over the years. Journalist El-Hai (The -Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest To Rid the World of Mental Illness) explores not only the mental states of the Nazi war criminals but also that of the overworked, distressed Kelley, who surprisingly committed suicide himself, also with cyanide, during a domestic dispute in 1958. Although more dramatic, this book is equally as well researched and well written as Eric Jaffe's A Curious Madness, reviewed below, which details the Tokyo war crimes and the army psychiatrist assigned to assess the sanity of one of its key defendants. VERDICT Recommended for those interested in the Nuremberg Trials, the Nazi criminal mind, or stories of human instability.-Leslie Lewis, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



It was a plum assignment, a rendezvous with the men widely regarded as the worst criminals of the century. Kelley's time as the supervisor of several psychiatric hospitals had taught him that aberrant behavior often had mysterious and fascinating sources, and he set his own goals for the time he would spend in this Nazi holding pen. Kelley arrived among the Nazi leaders eager to probe them for signs of a flaw common to all: the willingness to commit evil acts. Did they share a mental disorder or a psychiatric cause of their behavior? Was there a "Nazi personality" that accounted for their heinous misdeeds? Kelley intended to find out… Kelley had formed quick impressions of Göring. From his meetings with the other Nazi prisoners, Kelley recognized that Göring "was undoubtedly the most outstanding personality in the jail because he was intelligent," Kelley wrote in his medical notes. "He was well developed mentally--well rounded--a huge, powerful sort of body when he was covered up with his cape and you couldn't see the fat jiggle as he walked, a good looking individual from a distance, a very powerful dynamic individual." But having also lightly touched in their initial cell-bound conversations upon politics, the war, and the rise of Nazism, Kelley was not blind to Göring's dark side. The ex-Reich Marshal flashed ruthlessness, narcissism, and a cold-hearted disregard for anyone beyond his close circle of family and friends. That very combination of characteristics present in Göring--the admirable and the sinister--heightened Kelley's interest in the prisoner. Only such an attractive, capable, and smart man who had smashed and snuffed out the lives of so many people could point Kelley toward the regions of the human soul that he urgently wanted to explore. Excerpted from The Nazi and the Psychiatrist by Jack El-Hai All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.