The Nazi and the Psychiatrist

Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII


By Jack El-Hai

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The basis of the forthcoming feature film Nuremberg, starring Russell Crowe, Rami Malek, and Michael Shannon

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 — 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.
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  • "With full access to Kelley?s notes on Nazi psychology, El-Hai infuses his story with the messy, compelling details of people?s lives. These tug the reader inside Kelley?s head for an engrossing exploration of human nature, sanity and despair."—Science News

    "This intimate and insightful portrait of two intersecting, outsized personalities—one an exemplar of public service and the other an avatar of evil—is as suspenseful as a classic Hitchcock film that hinges on an eerie psychological secret. Readers of The Nazi and the Psychiatrist will be riveted by Jack El-Hai?s moving study of how good and evil can converge in a heightened instant and across a lifetime.” — Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of Far From the Tree

    “In the chilling tale of Dr. Douglas Kelley, a young U.S. Army psychiatrist and his secret evaluations of Nazi leader Hermann Göring, Jack El-Hai weaves a harrowing narrative that brilliantly probes the depths of evil… [A]n utterly fascinating book.” — Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize?winning author of Devil in the Grove
  • “Enthralling story which grips from the first page and reads like a thriller”—<iDaily Mail, Must Read, (UK)

    “Ace reportage on the unique relationship between a prison physician and one of the Third Reich?s highest ranking officials…. El-Hai?s gripping account turns a chilling page in American history and provides an unsettling meditation on the machinations of evil.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

    "Journalist El-Hai?s haunting historical account raises questions about the human capacity to cause harm.... In this thoroughly engaging story of the jocular master war criminal and the driven, self-aware psychiatrist, El-Hai finds no simple binary."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

    “Well researched and well written”—Library Journal

    "Jack El-Hai?s biography of Army psychiatrist Douglas Kelley provides a riveting look at the top Nazis awaiting trial — and reveals the dangerous power of intimacy with evil."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

    "If you liked Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt, try The Nazi and the Psychiatrist by Jack El-Hai."—Psychology Today

On Sale
Sep 2, 2014
Page Count
304 pages

Jack El-Hai

About the Author

Jack El-Hai is a widely-published journalist who covers history, medicine, and science, and the author of the acclaimed book The Lobotomist. He is the winner of the June Roth Memorial Award for Medical Journalism, as well as fellowships and grants from the McKnight Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the Center for Arts Criticism. He lives in Minneapolis.

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