The Nazi and the Psychiatrist

Encounters behind bars between Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering and an American doctor 65 years ago raise questions about responsibility, allegiance and the nature of evil
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In the early summer of 1945 a 52-year-old prisoner arrived at Mondorf-les-Bains, a town in Luxembourg that included an American detention center for suspected war criminals. The prisoner, dragging 49 suitcases, gem-encrusted jewelry, gold cigarette cases, precious watches and nearly the entire world’s supply of the narcotic paracodeine, had surrendered to Allied officials several weeks earlier. After a dozen years in which he held nearly unchecked power and could demand anything he desired, he now occupied a small cell furnished only with a toilet, bed, chair and table. The bloody collapse of the Third Reich, whose Nazi government he now represented as the highest-ranking captive, had left him a leader without followers, a commander without fighters, anda prisoner accused of murdering millions and commit­ting other crimes against humanity. He ­acknowledged the right of the victors of World War II to punish the Nazi leadership, but he planned a vigorous defense of his actions at his forthcoming war crimes trial.

This was the situation of Hermann Goering, formerly deputy of Adolf Hitler, president of the Reichstag, commander in chief of the German air force, member of the Secret Cabinet Council and Reich Marshal (along with a slew of other official titles), when a 32-year-old American psychiatrist named Douglas M. Kelley entered his cell for the first of many meetings. Kelley was among the few people—along with other medical personnel, lawyers and guards—allowed access to Goering. During the next six months the prisoner and the psychiatrist would hash over the outcome of the war, the fate of Goe­ring’s family and the Reich Marshal’s legacy.

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