Pathology afflicts every society, and in the first half of this century, Germans excelled in exemplifying it. They have also excelled in producing thinkers and scholars who analyzed this pathology. Twice in the era of the Great Wars, Germans, driven by dreams and terrified by reality, sought power and redemption. In 1945, the defeat of Hitler brought deliverance and division: the curse of frightened ambition seemed lifted. In the early years after the Second World War, the West Germans were our model wards: hard-working, prosperous, irenic, obedient, and accepting. But a terrible past and a divided and dependent present could not be banished forever. A new mood, at once anxious and assertive, has set in. The present chapter in the history of the Federal Republic could be characterized as “the return of the repressed.”

Some months ago, the Germans went through a collective psychic trauma, occasioned by the fortieth anniversary of V-E Day. To Chancellor Kohl’s chagrin, the Germans had been left out of the fortieth anniversary of D-day in June 1984. All the ambiguities of the past welled up again. V-E day had long troubled Germans. Theodor Heuss, first president of the Federal Republic, called it a day of deep paradox, “because at one and the same time we were saved and annihilated.” Chancellor Kohl felt his adherents’ resentment at always having to apologize for Germany’s past, and with characteristic insouciance thought that he could stage a second ceremony which would exorcise ambiguity. He wanted a gesture of symbolic forgiveness, a wreath from the American president that would demonstrate the moral equivalence of German and Allied soldiers. Kohl hoped to show his countrymen that the world—or at least official America—had detached the German present from the German past He wanted more: today’s moral equivalence should be extended retroactively, an amnesty for the dead.

Bitburg was the expression of a disturbed and disturbing national consciousness, of a yearning for a clear, confident identity. But in their own unease, and oblivious of the feelings of others, Germans achieved the very opposite of what they intended. They wanted reassurance; instead, they heard the outcry from abroad that expressed repugnance for anything approaching an amnesty for the past. They had wanted forgiveness and aroused anger instead. Some Germans, especially those on the right, blamed Jews for the turmoil, and for a fleeting moment anti-Semitism appeared respectable again. It was fortunate that on May 8, the president of the Federal Republic, Richard von Weizsäcker, in a speech of magisterial honesty, reminded his countrymen that the past could not be banished, that the annihilation of 1945 had begun with the national orgy of 1933, but that one could learn from the past and thus live with it, in truth and dignity.

This past summer also saw the International Psychoanalytical Congress on German soil, for the first time since the advent of Hitler.1 In its program, the president of the German host society wrote:

We are aware of the fact that remembrance of our country’s history might make it less easy for a number of people to decide whether they wish to come to Hamburg. At the same time, however, we sincerely hope that the political changes since brought about in Germany may inspire some trust in the attitude of the new generation of psychoanalysts.

Was this a plea for innocence by association, a presumption that the absence of political temptation would automatically inspire trust? Some analysts stayed away, some went with a sense of moral unease. Probably no other profession would today issue such an apologetic note, but German psychoanalysts have a peculiar history—and one that they seem to have repressed until recently.

In the last two years or so, German psychanalysts have been engaged in an intense intergenerational conflict. The younger analysts have been scrutinizing the record of those “Aryan” analysts who in the 1930s remained in Germany, in order to discover what compromises they might have made, what betrayals they committed. Analysts and psychotherapists in Germany have been strangely shielded from a study of their past. So bitter have been some of the charges that a German writer recently noted that today’s analysts “feel themselves sullied by treason and regard themselves as the Jews of today’s psychoanalytical community.”2 Heavy Germanic irony. A balanced study of German therapists under the Nazis has been long overdue.

The program of the psychoanalytical meeting noted that shortly after the last international congress to take place in Germany, in 1932, “the Nazi party came to power and psychoanalysts had to share the fate of all intellectual movements whose structures imply freedom of thought and scientific honesty as highly important elements: it was crushed, condemned and destroyed.” That has been received opinion, the complement, so to speak, of the celebration of German exiles: a regime that expelled or repudiated Einstein and Thomas Mann, James Franck, Max Wertheimer, Erwin Panofsky, and, after the Anschluss, Freud, must have “crushed, condemned and destroyed” science and art. Received opinion has held that in exile there was creativity; inside the Third Reich, sterility, uniformity, nothingness. We now come to realize that—as always in history—the actuality was far more ambiguous and complex.


The history of intellectual life under the Nazis has yet to be written. The two books under review show us that some disciplines prospered professionally, even as they stagnated intellectually. The Nazis appreciated the utility and the prestige of scientists and artists—provided these conformed to the ideological and racial requirements of the party. German professors—with a few notable exceptions—acquiesced. The failure of academics to defend the legal and moral foundations of scholarship, the very elements of freedom and independence that German universities had introduced in the nineteenth century, was probably the most flagrant example of la trahison des clercs in our century.3 We must remember that failure in context, aware that we, the fortunate ones who were not similarly tempted or terrorized, should judge those who were with the cautionary reservation: How would we have responded?

We must also remember that National Socialism was the great temptation. German academics and intellectuals were dazzled by the brilliantly staged pageantry of politics, by the flaunting of power, order, dynamism, by the promise of a new comradeship in struggle. Fear and careerism prompted prudence. The “excesses,” the early murders and the concentration camps, the persecutions of the “undesirable,” were “understandable” accompaniments of a national revolution. The regime and the universities conspired to preserve the trappings of intellectual normality. The universities survived, largely as shells of learning; the professions survived—with compromises. There was shabbiness in survival.

Geoffrey Cocks and Ulfried Geuter have written complementary works on psychotherapy and psychology under National Socialism. Both books demonstrate that these disciplines advanced under National Socialism because they made a point of their usefulness to the regime, offering compromises of their own accord. Both authors supplement published sources with interviews and with archival material. The books deal competently and unimaginatively with competent and largely unimaginative practitioners.


Nazi rule began with an instant challenge to scholars: the elimination by decree of Jewish academics and of outright opponents of the regime. The universities were purged, some decimated. Among academic psychologists and psychiatrists, as among medical doctors generally, the proportion of Jews was high. Geuter estimates that roughly a third of all German academic psychologists lost their posts: the celebrated ones, such as Max Wertheimer, the founder of Gestalt psychology, and William Stern, a pioneer in experimental psychology, were among the first victims. Week by week, “Aryan” professors in all fields and all universities saw their former colleagues vanish: the Nobel laureates, the leaders, the humdrum. Despite their avowed faith in the autonomy and sanctity of learning, these professors watched the departures in silence, some no doubt with relief and others with embarrassment. Some went into “inner emigration,” stayed in Germany, kept their distance from the regime, tried to find space between conscience and compulsion.4 When Ernst Kretschmer, a psychiatrist who had headed the society for psychotherapy, resigned in April 1933, he said, as his distinguished colleague Oswald Bumke recalled, “It’s a funny thing with psychopaths. In normal times we render expert opinions on them; in times of political unrest they rule us.” Probably many academics felt that—and, with the right people, said so in private; but they had never learned to speak openly or to join others in protest against state authority and hence found themselves especially vulnerable to the new rulers.

National Socialism in its ascendancy was seductive, and Zivilcourage—the citizen’s willingness to oppose authority—was not a trait that Germans had been taught. At a time when “thinking had again become dangerous”—to use a phrase from a recent article about the early 1930s by the distinguished German sociologist René König—German academics and professionals, with notable exceptions and equivocations, sought to do their duty, afraid to think, let alone express, heterodox thoughts.5

A few “Aryan” scholars did speak out. One remembers the Nobel laureate Max von Laue, who, even by Einstein’s standards, was unswerving in his decency. In April 1933, Wolfgang Köhler, a co-founder of Gestalt psychology and a close friend of Wertheimer’s, wrote in a German newspaper that

the greatest German experimental physicist at the present time is [James] Franck…a Jew, an unusually kind human being. Until a few days ago, he was professor at Göttingen, an honor to Germany and the envy of the international scientific community…. Intellectual achievement, character, and obvious contributions to German culture retain their significance whether a person is Jewish or not.

Köhler expected to be arrested; the Nazis did not touch him. He fought for the integrity of his internationally renowned Berlin Institute, but in the end he resigned and in 1935 emigrated to the United States. A year earlier, he had written to his friend Ralph Barton Perry that all that had happened meant “the abolition of German psychology for many years. I do not regard myself as responsible. If only twenty professors had fought the same battle, it would never have come so far with regard to German universities.”6 He was right, of course: even twenty professors—out of how many thousands!—would have made a difference. But their silence, submission, acquiescence emboldened the Nazis, who at first were fearful, and helped to confirm their contempt for academics and intellectuals.


Köhler was essentially right about the end of German psychology—as he conceived of it. Psychology as a scientific pursuit, as a passionate, disinterested inquiry, was dead. Practical work continued; the regime wanted and needed functionaries of the mind. Routine tasks were performed, measurements taken, but thoughts remained unthought or unexpressed. The ferment was missing. Professionalism shielded mediocrity.

We now know, partly thanks to Cocks’s book, that even the practice of psychoanalysis survived, if surreptitiously. Both books reveal that the response of German psychotherapists and psychologists to the Nazis was complicated and that both groups not only acquiesced but actively solicited them for greater professional recognition.

In his new book, Geoffrey Cocks, a young American historian, created a minor sensation with his “discovery” of the Göring Institute, which was founded in 1936 as the German Institute for Psychological Research and Psychotherapy and charged with the practice and teaching of psychotherapy. Before Cocks, few people outside the analytical world knew even of the existence of the institute. For Cocks it is the central evidence for his thesis that “the Third Reich witnessed not only the survival but also the professional and institutional development of psychotherapy in Germany—and thus that medical psychology as an institutional and professional entity fared much better under National Socialism than might have been expected and has been assumed.”

In the 1920s, both psychotherapists and psychologists had sought to establish their independence from the medical profession. In 1926, the psychotherapists founded a General Medical Society for Psychotherapy, with the support of Alfred Adler, C.G. Jung, Karen Horney, and Kurt Lewin. They were anxious to emphasize their medical standing, though the academic psychiatrists remained skeptical of these apparent rivals. The German Psychoanalytical Society, dominated by Freud, also repudiated an organization that had so many leading heretics in its ranks.

Cocks and Geuter make a point of the opposition of organized medicine to psychotherapy and to certain branches of psychology.7 Both writers are perhaps too critical of organized medicine and of psychiatrists in particular, suggesting that they were primarily self-protective and jealous. But the physicians of the time may have felt that they themselves were providing patients with the care they needed. One ought not forget that in the 1920s medicine was a far more humane—if clinically less effective—enterprise than it is today. Doctors listened to psychic symptoms even as they concentrated on physical ills; their ethos and their practices were different from those of today.

When the Nazis came to power, German psychotherapists organized their own society, the German General Medical Society for Psychotherapy, while C.G. Jung in Zurich agreed to head an international umbrella organization, in which at first the German society was preeminent. The perfect leader for the German society was miraculously found: Matthias Heinrich Göring. A neuropathologist and therapist, a disciple of Alfred Adler, a cousin of Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, M.H. Göring was a felicitous choice: a pious, timid man with a stammer, he had an amiable tolerance of divergent schools, born perhaps of indifference to doctrine. In any event, his name and cousinhood must have seemed like manna from hell, automatically suggesting a degree of protection. If Göring had had cousins, as Napoleon had brothers, perhaps other disciplines could have been partially shielded as well.

The Nazis never concealed their contempt for “the Jewish science,” meaning psychoanalysis in particular but expressing a certain suspicion of the practice of psychotherapy generally. They heaped calumny on Freud’s work (as other Germans had done earlier), just as they denounced Einstein’s theory of relativity. In the great book burning of May 1933, Freud’s works were consigned to the fire. Yet they could be purchased in Germany as late as 1938, and this was true of other banished authors; the regime oscillated between extremism and normality, thus gratifying different groups at different times and promoting an atmosphere of uncertainty. Jews were eliminated from administrative posts in psychotherapists’ organizations, but until 1939 they could continue to practice. Most of them emigrated, and Berlin (as, later, Vienna) ceased to be an intellectual center of psychoanalysis.

The non-Jewish therapists—and there were many—carried on. For a while they sought to conciliate the new rulers by using a different idiom. In 1934 M.H. Göring himself published a collection of his essays with the new Germanic title, Deutsche Seelenheilkunde (“the German way [or science] of healing souls”), containing the essay “The National Socialist Idea in Psychotherapy.” For a while psychotherapy was called Seelenheilkunde, and some therapists flattered the new rulers by elaborating on the German sources of their thought. The Nazis found it congenial to have therapists talk of the unconscious, of the “intuitive,” of the German soul, of will and the irrational, of the need for communal ties and holistic existence. As Cocks points out—although uncertainly—there was much in earlier thought, in what he not wrongly but inadequately labels Romantic thought, that allowed Nazis and therapists to think they were compatible. Most therapists purged their vocabulary of some of the best-known Freudian terms, such as the Oedipus complex, but they reveled in the old German term Seele, which for Freud, too, had been a key concept. As Bruno Bettelheim points out in Freud & Man’s Soul, the Standard Edition of Freud’s work translates the word as “mind.”

Therapists also denounced and repudiated Freud—even as their work often continued to be informed by his ideas on neuroses and therapy. (In the Third Reich, Heine was similarly abused: his “Lorelei” was too much a part of every German’s baggage to be eliminated; it was reprinted in Nazi texts with the identification “author unknown.”) Perhaps some of the therapists had always resented Freud’s commanding genius, perhaps the disproportionate Jewish presence in the profession had rankled. In any case, the new men in power in the party and the government were interested in getting results, and they were willing to go along with the therapists’ claim that they could heal the temporarily sick and turn them into healthy and productive Volksgenossen. It helped that some therapists, M.H. Göring included, publicly hailed the new order and joined the party. Conviction eased opportunism, and vice versa.

Jung wanted German psychotherapy to survive, and his intellectual and personal predispositions could accommodate its needs at the beginning of Nazi rule. When he agreed to head the international organization and assumed responsibility for the professional journal, the Zentralblatt, his first editorial pronouncements in 1933 must have pleased the new rulers. He reiterated his view that the Jewish and Aryan unconscious were different, the latter being more creative. “The differences which actually do exist between Germanic and Jewish psychology,” he wrote, “and which have long been known to every intelligent person are no longer to be glossed over.” A year later, he wrote that “Freud did not know the German soul, and neither do any of his blind adherents. Has not the shattering advent of National Socialism, upon which the world gazes with astonished eyes, taught them better?”

At the same time, Jung tried to rebut charges of anti-Semitism; he claimed, for example, that he had made it possible for German-Jewish therapists, banned from the German society, to belong to the international society and thus to have an institutional affiliation. He publicly acknowledged the importance of Freud’s work.8 He was angry at being called anti-Semitic, but he inveighed against futile resistance to the new realities. “Science and every healing art…must learn to adapt themselves. To protest is ridiculous—how protest against an avalanche?” How symptomatic of those early years for the renowned therapist-philosopher in his Swiss sanctuary to plead that he could not stop an avalanche! He thought the charges of anti-Semitism bespoke the “ridiculous touchiness” of people. “Jewish hypersensitivity is simply pathological…. The Jew truly solicits anti-Semitism with his readiness to scent out anti-Semitism everywhere.” Like so many other intellectuals of his time, Jung was both drawn to and repelled by National Socialism. For a while, he was a collaborator with a good conscience. After the war, he thought the world would forever hold European civilization responsible for the atrocities committed by the Germans.


The regime itself had reasons to protect the practice and profession of psychotherapy. Cocks finds “four major conditions, produced out of the historical evolution of medical psychology in Germany and modified by the institutional dynamics of Nazism in power, combined to create a unique opportunity for psychotherapy to continue to develop as a profession after 1933.” These conditions were the psychotherapists’ desire to be accepted by the medical profession, the chaotic conditions of authority under Nazism, the partial consonance of views between regime and therapists, and finally the presence of Göring himself.

Cocks sketches the background and history, of the Göring Institute, but the picture that emerges is indistinct, partly because the surviving evidence is so scant. The institute brought together Freudians, Jungians, Adlerians, and German eclectics on the premises of the old Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, falling heir to its excellent library, although Göring kept Freud’s works under lock and key. The institute provided training and therapy—precisely of what sort we do not know—and the different groups with their different theories seem to have coexisted under the same roof.

The actual work of the institute is not easy to grasp. It conducted seminars and training analyses, but what these were is unclear. According to its own figures, in the first five years, the outpatient department handled 641 cases, of which “136 were somewhat improved, 140 improved, 137 substantially improved, and 33 ‘cured.’ ” One wonders what criteria of well-being were applied. Presumably the therapists’ aim was to convert the sick into healthy members of the new national community; adjustment, not individual autonomy, was the goal.

Cocks tells us that therapy was short-term, that from the first Jews were barred from treatment, that the patients were mostly middle class and their complaints were largely of the traditional sort—personal and family problems, unrelated to the stresses of life under totalitarian rule. Yet that rule intruded: the head of the outpatient department at the institute. John Rittmeister, a Freudian, was a distant member of the Rote Kapelle, a group that opposed Hitler and, inter alia, passed intelligence to the Soviets. In September 1943, Rittmeister was arrested. He was tried for high treason and executed at the Plötzensee Prison in May 1944. The institute continued.

The institute also conducted special courses for the Luftwaffe: it prepared psychological profiles on enemy countries (Cocks has only a few inconsequential lines on this); it advised industrialists on ways to maintain morale and raise production. Its activities were broad enough to require branches in five other German cities.

In 1939 after three years of having to raise its own funds, the institute received money from the German Labor Front and the Luftwaffe, and ultimately from Hermann Göring’s Reich Research Council. Thus during wartime, the Nazi state and party directly supported the continued practice of psychotherapy, a recognition of its importance and utility that few other states have granted therapists.

Veterans of the Göring Institute were among the founders of postwar psychotherapy—in both Germanies. In a concluding chapter, Cocks describes the postwar development of a pluralistic psychotherapy, when some overeager collaborators with the Nazis suffered some setbacks but past politics became less important than doctrinal rivalries and disputes. One point is clear: during Hitler’s rule psychotherapy became far more important than it had been before.

“There are no heroes in this book,” Cocks writes; no villains either, one might add, since no one apparently was complicit in any overt Nazi crime. Not heroes, not villains—just survivors. The therapists Cocks interviewed and the psychologists Geuter interviewed seem to have had the usual selective memories. The therapists made a point of telling Cocks that they had treated homosexuals who were threatened by Nazi persecution, and perhaps had saved many of them. They may also have helped soldiers and others who were traumatized by the war or by the atrocities they saw. Unlike many institutional psychiatrists, who were implicated in the Nazi’s killing of the mentally defective until the Catholic bishopric successfully protested that program of extermination, these working therapists seem to have escaped such complicity.

The psychotherapists who stayed in practice, then, behaved no differently from other groups in Germany. They tried to survive, they saw virtue in surviving, and could salve their consciences, when necessary, by pointing to their usefulness. Should we have expected more of them? That the existence of the Göring Institute has only now become widely known suggests that therapists, too, can engage in repression and denial.

Of course it was a time for compromises, for what the Nazis called “coordination.” Furtwängler no longer conducted Mendelssohn and academics no longer taught Heine. Perhaps some therapists felt that they were in a special category. Therapists had had more Jewish colleagues, and were more directly indebted to Jews, than other groups. Indebtedness does not necessarily breed friendship or loyalty. But we assume that therapists have greater insight than others into the motives of their moral and political conduct. Perhaps they could be likened to the servants of the Church; Freud himself thought that analysts should be Seelsorger, or “ministers of souls.” Churchmen had a unique bond to Jewish thought and tradition—which did not prevent the churches from propagating anti-Semitism throughout history. Under National Socialism, many churchmen collaborated with the regime, but the clergy, at least, was divided, and the Confessional Church and a part of the Catholic Church protested some Nazi doctrines and practices. It may not be fair to compare psychotherapists to the clergy, which had some institutional protection. Their position was more precarious, but it is the cheerful cravenness of some that is deplorable.


Ulfried Geuter, a young German psychologist, has written a carefully documented history of psychology under National Socialism, showing how the regime and the exigencies of the time contributed to raising psychology to the status of a profession, which the psychologists, in their turn, did everything to promote. Psychologists taught and practiced characterological diagnosis, based on ways of interpreting conduct, bearing, perception. Before Hitler, there were Gestalt psychologists, experimental psychologists concerned with the physiological basis of sense perception, military, industrial, educational psychologists; what we call clinical psychology was largely in the hands of psychiatrists and psychotherapists.

Geuter relates in tedious detail and with much methodological self-consciousness, how psychologists legitimized themselves in the eyes of the regime and how, in turn, the regime rewarded them with higher status. He belabors the point that the progress of a profession depends not only, or not even principally, on advances in knowledge but on social needs, and on the relation between these needs and the skills of the profession. His book says little about the substance of psychology, about its ideas. Perhaps German professors, with their haughty sense of themselves, needed to learn that the history of a discipline is a mixed, even a grubby affair.

Geuter explains that new university posts were created, practitioners convinced the military and the industrialists of their usefulness and that a formal means of certification was introduced. There seems to have been an inverse relation between the social utility and the intellectual quality of psychologists in Nazi Germany. Psychologists helped to promote the German war effort and got their professional rewards, even in the face of the opposition of the medical profession. Geuter contends that, especially after 1936, the adoption of the second Four-Year Plan, the regime became more practical and less ideological—hence it became, however unwittingly and however much in contradiction to its own ideology, a powerful agent of modernization, a thesis first propounded twenty years ago by Ralf Dahrendorf in Society and Democracy in Germany. In some ways National Socialism was a leveling experience, where the old barriers of privilege and class distinction were breached. The upgrading of psychologist-practitioners at the expense of the traditionally revered professor was, as Geuter suggests, a part of the leveling experience.

German psychology flourished before the subject had been awarded formal academic recognition. The two great innovators in experimental and physiological psychology in the nineteenth century, Hermann von Helmholtz and Wilhelm Wundt, were probably untroubled by the fact that they carried the traditional title of professor of philosophy. Their descendants, less innovative but more professional-minded, wanted to see the field established autonomously, and in 1904 founded a society for experimental psychology, but the subject was still taught, if at all, by holders of chairs in philosophy or pedagogy.

As elsewhere, psychologists (and psychoanalysts) first proved their practical usefulness in the Great War. During the Weimar Republic, some democratic officials saw in educational psychology and learning theory a chance to promote progressive reforms. Little came of this, but the first professors of psychology were appointed; still, by the end of Weimar, only about half the German universities had chairs in psychology. In 1929, at the Congress of Experimental Psychology (at that meeting the name was changed to German Society for Psychology, tout court), the officers of the society signed a manifesto demanding that the field be given greater recognition in view of its practical applications in education, jurisprudence, industry, and medicine. Geuter cites a letter from Köhler to Wertheimer denouncing the manifesto, regretting this “revolution of the rabble,” and suggesting that both resign from the society.

National Socialism had brought instant, dramatic change. The dismissal of Jewish academics meant the virtual end of Gestalt psychology and cognitive psychology generally. Psychologists were primarily concerned to fill vacant chairs and create new ones. Geuter reconstructs the often acrimonious struggle over appointments; at the beginning of Nazi rule, if a candidate was a party member he had a significant advantage. In later years, Geuter contends, this was no longer the case.

By far the greatest contribution psychologists made to the state was military. The Treaty of Versailles had provided for a German army limited to 100,000 men, who had to enlist for twelve-year terms. For so elite an army, selection was critical, and psychologists were recruited as civilians to the Reichswehr. Thus was established the subspecialty of military psychology, destined to become important later in Germany.

In 1935, with Hitler’s reintroduction of universal military service, the need for psychologists multiplied. The number of Wehrmacht psychologists increased tenfold, their work even more. The Reichswehr, as prescribed by Versailles, had 3,858 officers; by the fall of 1938, Hitler’s Wehrmacht had more than 20,000 officers; by September 1943, the German army counted nearly 250,000 officers. Psychologists had a monopoly on the selection process; originally they administered a three-day test for officer candidates, later this was reduced to one day. Geuter estimates that during the war the German armed forces, including the Luftwaffe, employed five hundred psychologists, who also helped in the selection of men for specialized tasks in the several services. The Wehrmacht came to have its own concern with the training and certification of psychologists.

Geuter notes a growing similarity in the use of language and metaphor among psychologists and the military; the psychologist defined a healthy man in terms long cherished by the Prussian code: you put a premium on men of will, initiative, courage, leadership qualities. Tests were designed to discover by a man’s voice, bearing, expression, and actual conduct whether he was suitable for a particular position or not.

For some seven years, in peace and in the first three years of war, the Wehrmachtpsychologen, as they were called, contributed their skills to the perfection of the German military machine. The Wehrmacht had a high regard for the psychologists to whom it had delegated an essential responsibility. It seems clear that psychologists helped to build up an army of which an Israeli scholar, Martin van Creveld, recently wrote: “The German army was a superb fighting organization. In point of morale, élan, unit cohesion, and resilience, it probably had no equal among twentieth-century armies…. The German army…was built around the needs, social and psychological, of the individual fighting man.” By contrast, the US officer corps was “less than mediocre,” and he pointed to “the dearth of attention paid to the most elementary psychological needs of the soldier (combined paradoxically with a far-reaching readiness to accept ‘psychology’ as an excuse)”—an excuse for doing things as they were being done.9 German psychologists—probably more than Nazi ideologists—helped to create a fighting force that became the terror of the world. No doubt much was owed to older German traditions—beginning with Clausewitz—but psychologists helped to adapt these older traditions to the needs of modern warfare.

In 1942, when mass murder was systematically instituted and large numbers of German soldiers, especially on the eastern front, witnessed and even to some extent participated in atrocities, the authorities ended the service of psychologists in the army and air force; only “marine psychology” for training navy personnel remained. The reasons for this decision are not clear, but the military selection process had become simpler: there were fewer men to choose from and most had already been tested in combat.

But psychologists had already won a decisive professional victory the year before, when the government instituted a special diploma for psychologists, thus granting them the requisites of a profession: a prescribed course of training, official certification (removing the dangers of charlatans or poachers), as well as special entitlements and opportunities for employment. With this decree the Nazi government sealed its support of the profession of psychology, against the opposition of the medical establishment.

In a final, intriguing chapter, Geuter examines the self-delusions that accompanied professionalization, the rationalizations that the practitioners offered after the war. Army psychologists thought they were “purer” than their academic colleagues because they did practical work, serving the regime unencumbered by ideology. After the war, they often referred to the army as an “oasis,” a non-ideological haven. In the early years of the Nazi regime, the army had been a kind of sanctuary, a neutral ground of comradeship, but full mobilization changed all that. Their colleagues in industry had similar comforting thoughts: they helped men and women find their most suitable slots; they applied psychological techniques for human adjustment, perhaps for human betterment. Collectively their consciences were sufficiently appeased so that German psychologists cited their earlier success in order to commend “military psychology” to the Bundeswehr as well.

As Geuter puts it, with rare succinctness: “The expert replaced the savant (Gelehrte).” In 1981, a historian of American psychology noted the same thing: “The professionalization of applied psychology between 1920 and 1945 had little to do with scientific discoveries or technological innovations.”10 The two wars offered psychologists opportunities, and seizing these helped them to attain professional status—even against the opposition of the doctors, who regarded the sick as their exclusive domain. Human aggression in its most brutal and sanctified form stimulated the development of psychology, but peacetime life spawns its own conflicts and aggression takes many forms. Rivalries persist, as does the jockeying for power, wealth, status—even knowledge.

Geuter writes, at times, with an eye to the present; he often uses the term “fascism” to describe National Socialist conditions in order, I suspect, to encourage the sense that such dangers could recur, especially in capitalist countries. (Neither book discusses Soviet psychiatrists.) In his conclusion he asks whether these psychologists should not have gone beyond mere pride in their practical achievement, whether they should not have asked themselves whether the ends that the army served were compatible with their own personal or professional beliefs—a morally important question, which he raises more for present-day purposes than for historical ones.

These monographs are themselves exemplars of professionalism. They are revised dissertations, competent and carefully researched; they add significantly to specific knowledge, which in turn touches on fundamental themes. Despite serious weaknesses and lapses in Cocks’s work, both books would probably meet the standards of what Robert K. Merton has felicitously called “socially organized skepticism.”11 But both are written without a trace of literary grace or speculative ingenuity. They largely shun the human and collective drama of the age. They fail to raise questions to which there may be no answers. Still, one wonders again: how did the National Socialists become the supreme manipulators of a people’s mind and psyche? How did men so utterly inexperienced in the affairs of government so easily triumph? Were they intuitive psychologists? Did they learn only from experience, which they themselves always hailed as superior to knowledge? We learn from these scholars little about what the therapists actually did, what psychologists taught, how they sought to protect and promote morale in wartime. Perhaps the larger questions I have raised exceed the reach of scholarship. Presentday professionalism does not favor the path of empathy or the play of imaginative minds; if it did, books such as these might grapple more successfully with these great subjects.

Depressing books on depressing themes. Perhaps National Socialism was the great expressionist parody of twentieth-century progress: brutal, destructive, corrupt and corrupting, a mindless, meretricious scientism. Perhaps professionalism is the twentieth-century parody of scholarly creativity: specialization and fragmented work, narrow, with ever more machinery and ever less humane intelligence. But professionalism need not be antithetical to creativity. If read and heeded as the great warning, then perhaps National Socialism will remain the unique and terrifying, example of pathology consuming a modern, self-consciously civilized society.

This Issue

December 19, 1985