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Manuscript of Douglas M. Kelley

In the pages of a book manuscript featured here, an American psychiatrist named Douglas M. Kelley describes his evaluation of imprisoned Reich Labor Leader Robert Ley.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

As World War II ended in Europe, the Allies prepared to prosecute leading Nazis for their crimes before an International Military Tribunal assembled in Nuremberg, Germany.1 Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, a psychiatrist serving in the US Army, was placed in charge of evaluating the arrested Nazi leaders' mental states to determine if they were competent to stand trial. Less formally, he and his colleagues were at Nuremberg to find out "what made those Nazis tick."2 His encounters with these high-ranking Nazis challenged the limits of Kelley's professional role as a physician in different ways. 

Kelley conducted extensive interviews, analyzed samples of handwriting, and administered Rorschach inkblot tests to the prisoners. He then used the results of these examinations to write a book filled with psychological profiles of the Nazi leaders.3 In the pages of his book manuscript featured here, Kelley evaluates the mental state of former Reich Labor Leader Robert Ley. His diagnosis supported the widespread belief that sane people could not have planned the crimes of the Third Reich. Genocide scholar James Waller explains why many people find this misperception appealing: "People want psychological distance from the perpetrators; they did not want to believe that the potential to act like a Nazi could exist in them or their neighbor."4

As leader of the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, or DAF), Ley had personally overseen the "Strength through Joy" program (Kraft durch Freude), which organized entertainment, athletic events, and group vacations for German workers. He was also known for public drunkenness, and Kelley found him the "most unstable of the lot." In these pages, Kelley describes Ley's bizarre plan to resurrect the Nazi regime from the Nuremberg jail with the secret help of the US Army.

Kelley believed that Ley's delusional behavior could be explained by a pathological brain disorder. When Ley killed himself in his cell in October 1945, Kelley "seized the opportunity" to prove his theory and ordered postmortem tests on the former Nazi leader's brain. Nazi leader Hermann Göring would also commit suicide in the Nuremberg jail in October 1946—mere hours before he was to be hanged for his crimes.

Although Kelley thought it had been "a real chore" to listen to Ley, he was impressed by Göring's intelligence. Göring seemed to regard Kelley as a friend, sharing information about the Nazi leaders’ legal defense strategy that the American doctor then gave to the prosecution. Kelley's manuscript describes Göring as "a brilliant, brave, ruthless, grasping, shrewd executive," but Dr. Gustave M. Gilbert—an American psychologist at Nuremberg who maintained more professional distance—characterized Göring as an "intelligent but sadistic egotist" and "an aggressive psychopath."5 

Kelley returned to the US as the trial was underway, and he began giving interviews about the Nazi leaders almost immediately. He wrote about his experience and gave public lectures, becoming a minor celebrity for his work at Nuremberg. Gilbert also wrote extensively about the leading Nazis he examined, and he and Kelley developed "a silly professional feud, motivated by greed and academic ambition."6

Several questions arise from Kelley's book manuscript. He was both a psychiatrist and an officer in the US Army when he examined the high-ranking Nazis at Nuremberg: What was Kelley's role, and how did he understand his duties as a doctor and a soldier? Should he have maintained greater professional distance? Should Kelley have publicized his patients’ medical histories and disclosed their defense strategies? Were the arrested Nazis Kelley's patients, his prisoners, or both?

For other items relating to the Nuremberg Trials in Experiencing History, see "The Meaning of the Gallows" and Nuremberg Trial Testimony of Avrom Sutzkever.

Gustave M. Gilbert, "Introduction," in Florence R. Miale and Michael Selzer, The Nuremberg Mind: The Psychology of the Nazi Leaders (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1975), xii. 

Douglas M. Kelley, 22 Cells in Nuremberg (New York: Greenberg, 1947). 


Waller observes how widely accepted this belief was: "The notion that any of the defendants would test as seemingly normal and ordinary people was simply not considered." For more on the impulse to pathologize Nazism, see James Waller, "The 'Mad Nazi': Psychopathology, Personality, and Extraordinary Evil," Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002): 55–93. For more on how otherwise normal individuals became mass murderers in the Holocaust, see Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: Harper Collins, 1992).

Gustave M. Gilbert, in Florence R. Miale and Michael Selzer, The Nuremberg Mind: The Psychology of the Nazi Leaders (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1975), 13.

James Waller, Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 63.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 1997.A.0348
Page(s) 163–167
Author / Creator
Douglas M. Kelley
Nuremberg, Germany
Document Type Manuscript
How to Cite Museum Materials

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