UCSD psychiatrist Joel Dimsdale recalls the day an executioner came for him four decades ago at his Massachusetts General Hospital office.
A man rapped on his door, carrying a gun case.
“He said: ‘Are you Dimsdale?’ I said — yes. He said: ‘I’m the executioner, and I have come for you.'”
There was no place to call for help, but as the man sat down on his couch and opened his gun case, “I said a little prayer to myself, and also wondering who I had pissed off so remarkably.”
But the gun case turned out to be a document case, and the papers were the visitor’s — as the Nuremberg hangman of Nazis after World War II.
“Dimsdale,” he said. “Stop studying the survivors. Start studying the perpetrators. I knew them.”
So Dimsdale did, and the result is “Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals” — a book being published in May by Yale University Press.
Using 21st century diagnostic tools on four long-dead Nazi war criminals — Robert Ley, Hermann Göring, Julius Streicher and Rudolf Hess — Dimsdale conducted a detailed examination. The resulting psychological portraits depict a surprisingly broad spectrum of pathology.
In a Jewish Journal review on Wednesday, Jonathan Kirsch wrote:
“The subtext of ‘Anatomy of Malice’ is a basic but consequential question — were these four Nazi war criminals suffering from some kind of mental illness, or were they merely evil? Dimsdale concludes that Ley and Göring were not ‘demons, but very complicated amalgams of vision and malice.’
“Of the sex-obsessed Streicher, he concludes: ‘Repugnant beliefs and actions reflect moral failings but not necessarily psychiatric disorders.’ Hess, whom Göring himself dismissed as ‘completely crazy,’ baffled the psychiatric experts who examined him, and Dimsdale concludes that ‘I’m not so sure that today’s clinicians and researchers would do much better at diagnosing Hess than our colleagues who saw him from 1941 to 1946.'”
Some 11 million civilians — including enough Jews who laid head-to-toe would reach from San Diego to Berlin, he says — perished in the Holocaust, Dimsdale notes.
When the Allies convened the international war crimes trial in Nuremberg, American psychiatrist Douglas Kelley and psychologist Gustave Gilbert conducted extensive psychiatric interviews, IQ tests, and Rorschach inkblot tests, in an attempt to grasp and shed light on the psychological profiles of the Third Reich leadership.
Dimsdale — equipped with the tools of modern psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience — takes a fresh look at the unsettling findings in “Anatomy of Malice.”
A distinguished professor emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry, Dimsdale will discuss and sign copies of his book on Thursday, May 12, at a talk sponsored by the UC San Diego Library.
The event is open to the public and will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Geisel Library in the Seuss Room on the UCSD campus. The UC San Diego Bookstore will provide copies of the book for purchase. The event is free of charge but reservations are suggested and can be made at: AnatomyOfMaliceDimsdale.eventbrite.com
“The Nazi hierarchy was responsible for an unbelievable amount of suffering and carnage,” Dimsdale says. “At the end of the war, 75 percent of Holocaust survivors were the sole survivors in their families. What drove these men to commit crimes of this magnitude and what were their psychological states? That is a complicated and perplexing question, and one I thought worth examining.”
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: