A review of the book “Was Hitler ill? A final diagnosis” by Hans-Joachim Neumann and Herik Eberle. Polity Press, 2013.
This is indeed a very well researched work, originally published in Germany in 2009 under the title of “War Hitler krank?”
Several books and articles were published on this subject after Hitler’s death, because this was, and remains, a delicate question to ask, albeit not new. The implications could be heavy. If the authors could prove that Adolf Hitler was, in fact, an ill man, this alone would impact heavily on some of the fateful decisions he took during WWII and, above all, in masterminding the Holocaust.
First of all we should say that this book, written jointly by a physician and a historian, in the future will be probably considered one of the most detailed and scientifically well researched work on this subject. But we are not under the illusion that, in spite of it, the raucous voices of speculators, Holocaust-deniers and NeoNazi will be not silenced.
“Hitler was never sick” said Professor Theodor Morell (1886 – 1948) Hitler’s personal doctor, speaking to Professor Karl Brand, a surgeon (later hanged at Nuremberg). The conclusion reached by the authors of this book seems to agree with Dr. Morell assessment. Hitler was certainly a man in need of medical care but who remained always in command of his will, showing a remarkable clarity of mind.
Professor Morell was not interested in politic or history and he was a repulsive individual who did not wash much — he was ‘a fat, snoring and smelly pig’ according to Hitler’s entourage who detested him — but who could keep the full trust of his important patient up to the end of the war. Dr. Morell was mainly interested in making money and saving his neck, for this reason he left behind notebooks filled with detailed notes with the type and doses of prescriptions he was administering to Patient A. as he called Hitler. It is not true, as thought before, that he went close to poisoning him with pills containing cocaine, arsenic and Belladonna. In fact Hitler took them, together with around eighty other prescriptions, but all in safe doses. Some had been indeed beneficial to him and for the majority of the others they were harmless.
Another point discussed in the book is — already the subject of several works — about the gassing and blinding of Hitler during WWI and the possibility that the subsequent hypnosis treatment performed by psychiatrist Edmund Forster changed his character. There are writers who tried to demonstrate that Foster convinced Hitler, under hypnosis (after realizing that his blindness was only hysteric and not real) that he had a greater purpose in life: to lead the German Nation to victory. Then he did not wake him up completely from his hypnotically induced sleep, creating thus a sort mental Frankenstein. Dr. Foster and all those involved in this story were in fact murdered or committed suicide in strange circumstances, but this was probably due to the fact that in those days only a hint of Hitler lack of nerve at the front was tantamount to calling him a coward.
Morell lost his professional battle against the other doctors assisting Hitler just a few days before the end of the war, when he was summarily dismissed. This allowed him to leave the Berlin’s bunker in time and his being pig-headed helped him not to be executed at Nuremberg, a fate befallen on several of his colleagues for the part they played in the euthanasia programs of handicapped people. Another doctor who escaped the gallows was SS general Leonardo Conti, Reich Health Leader (Italian-Swiss father and German mother) but just because he hang himself in his prison cell.
Only one small, constructive, critic that I wish to make before closing. The authors forgot completely to mention that Hitler trusted so much Morell that in fact asked him to provide the name of a colleague to send to assist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The name of this pupil of Morell was George Zacharie. Mussolini could not refuse him after he became Hitler’s puppet at the end of 1943. In fact Zacharie proved to be a very capable doctor, as well as a spy, who kept his masters, Morell and Hitler, always in the loop about the state of health and depressive mood of the Italian dictator. Dr. Zacharie remained close to Mussolini, perhaps sincerely bewitched by his protean personality, until 25th April 1945. After the war he published his memoirs, which remain an important historical document as well as an interesting reading.