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David Irving’s The Secret Diaries of Hitler’s Doctor

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David Irving
The Secret Diaries of Hitler’s Doctor
Windsor: Focal Point Publications, 2009

First published in 1983, The Secret Diaries of Hitler’s Doctor is one of David Irving’s less celebrated but most impressive works of historical detective work, now back in print in a beautifully redesigned edition with a detailed index.

As Irving points out, diseases and doctors have shaped the course of history. Napoleon forfeited victory at Waterloo because of a painful attack of dysentery that forced him from the field for several hours at the height of the battle.

Hitler too may have forfeited victory because of illness.

In the Summer of 1941, at the height of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler was weakened by dysentery for weeks. Because of this illness, he was unable to resist the continual attempts of the military to undermine his strategy of encirclement in favor of a frontal drive toward Moscow. Hitler’s strategy was right, but it was fatally compromised. Of course, if Hitler were the great tyrant he is made out to be, he would not have had to argue with his generals and they would not have dared depart from or undermine his strategies. Imagine trying that with Stalin!

In 1944, Hitler was unable to fly to France to consult with Rommel because of inner ear problems caused by the attempted assassination of July 20. Later that year, Hitler was bedridden with hepatitis shortly before the Battle of the Bulge.

Since the most powerful men in history still get sick, doctors are always flies on the walls—and sometimes in the ointment—of history.

Doctors gain an extremely intimate but narrow and technical knowledge of their patients. Thus their diaries and records are indispensable to the historical researcher but also require a great deal of contextualization.

One would expect a collection of doctor’s diaries, notes, and lab reports to make for dry reading no matter who the patient was, but David Irving manages to breathe excitement into such unlikely material by placing it in the context of a titanic struggle over the destiny of the world.

Hitler, like many men of genius, possessed a powerful imagination, a heightened awareness of self and world, and immense willpower by which he made his visions real. Unfortunately, in suite with these positive traits, one often finds hypochondria (the propensity to imagine illnesses) and psychosomatic illnesses (physical maladies caused by the sufferer’s own psyche). This was certainly the case with Hitler.

From an early age, Hitler never traveled without a stash of medicine, and as his wealth and power grew, so did his use of doctors and medicines. In 1934, he began to travel with an escort doctor, which eventually grew to a team of doctors. And for the last 8 years of Hitler’s life, his chief doctor was Theodor Gilbert Morell (1886–1948).

Morell’s success was certainly not based on his looks or charm. He was fat, bald, nearsighted, swarthy, hairy, gluttonous, smelly, and ill-mannered. He was widely scorned and spurned by other members of Hitler’s entourage, particularly by Dr. Karl Brandt (1904–1947), Hitler’s first escort doctor, whose jealousy and distrust of Morell led to constant intrigues against him. Exasperated, Hitler finally dismissed Brandt in October 1944.

Morell was far from perfect, but he was certainly not the quack his enemies made him out to be. He set up his first practice in Berlin in 1919 and in the 1920s became a prominent, fashionable, and wealthy doctor. Aristocrats, industrialists, and famous artists sought his care. Hitler, moreover, was not the first head of state who offered Morell employment. He turned down offers to be the court doctor of the Shah of Persia and the King of Romania. Morell also went on to treat Mussolini.

Although Morell was a general practitioner, in the 1930s, he quietly began to specialize in treating venereal diseases, and given his high-profile patients, this bespoke a very high level of discretion and trustworthiness. Morell came to Hitler’s attention in 1936 when his friend photographer Heinrich Hoffmann visited Morell to be treated for gonorrhea. Morell cured him, which was an impressive feat before the invention of penicillin.

Later in 1936, Hoffmann invited Morell and his wife to visit in Munich, and at Hoffmann’s house they were introduced to Hitler. The Morells also spent Christmas of 1936 with the Hoffmanns, and on Christmas day Hitler invited them all to the Berghof. It proved a fateful day, for on it Hitler first consulted Morell about medical matters.

Hitler had been suffering from eczema on his legs, tinnitus, and painful stomach problems. He began to suffer these symptoms in 1936 during a period of personal loss and crushing stress. In May, Hitler was deeply pained by the illness and death of his personal chauffeur Julius Schenk. Then in the summer Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland over the strenuous objections of his terrified generals. Other doctors had failed to alleviate the symptoms and their treatments merely exacerbated Hitler’s problems. Throughout the fall of 1936, he became progressively more frail and emaciated.

Since Hitler’s health problems invariably accompanied periods of emotional upset, Morell suspected that they were largely psychosomatic. He told Hitler flatly that he would have him healthy in a year.

Morell also came to believe that Hitler’s intestinal bacteria had become unbalanced, perhaps as a consequence of his intestinal cramps, perhaps as a consequence of other doctors’ treatments. This hypothesis was confirmed by laboratory tests. Morell therefore prescribed capsules of friendly intestinal bacteria to recolonize Hitler’s digestive tract. In the 1930s, this was a radical new theory and treatment, but it is widely accepted today, particularly among naturopaths.

Morell kept his promise. After six months, the eczema and cramps were gone and Hitler could eat normally. After nine months, he had regained his old strength, and from that point on, Hitler trusted Morell completely. The Morells were rewarded with VIP tickets to the 1937 Nuremberg Rally. Far more princely rewards were to come. Morell also went on to rack up similar cures with Dr. Goebbels and other Nazi notables.

Morell’s detailed medical reports and diaries are useful for refuting lies about Hitler, e.g., that he had abnormal genitals or that he suffered from syphilis. Morell specialized in venereal diseases. Thus he would certainly be on the lookout for symptoms of syphilis. But he never claimed that Hitler suffered from syphilis in his diaries, reports, or subsequent interrogations in Allied captivity. Furthermore, the outcome of 1940 blood serology tests, including the Wasserman, Meinicke, and Kahn tests, indicate that Hitler had never contracted syphilis. (Further reason to think that Hitler did not have syphilis was the fundamental rationality of his worldview and actions.)

Near the end of his life, Hitler showed signs of Parkinson’s disease, which were widely observed by people in his circle. Morell’s records confirm these observations and indicate that he was inclined to diagnose Parkinson’s. But he also suspected a psychosomatic dimension. It is certainly odd that the tremors disappeared for a time after Hitler survived the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944. Hitler attributed his unlikely escape to providence and his confidence in himself and his mission soared.

Morell’s documents also indicate that Hitler was beginning to suffer from heart problems, a finding that he initially kept from his patient.

Although Karl Brandt’s animosity toward Morell can be explained by professional jealousy and personal dislike, he was not the only one who worried about Morell’s treatments. Over the years, Hitler’s entourage became alarmed at the number of pills and injections administered by Morell. At times, it was hard to find a fresh vein.

The injections primarily contained glucose, vitamins, and hormone preparations, most of them produced by pharmaceutical firms owned by Morell. Although one can question the conflict of interest, Irving reveals that Morell injected Hitler with such tiny doses that there was little chance of any purely pharmacological effect, for good or ill. Hitler did, however, show visible improvements after these injections.

Thus it seems likely that Morell’s treatments were placebos. Hitler, of course, was an ideal patient for placebos, given his powerful imagination which fed his hypochondria, and his powerful will, which led to his psychosomatic ailments. Of course, conventional doctors (and pharmaceutical manufacturers) sneer at placebos. But if one can trick the mind into curing the body with a mere sugar pill (or glucose injection), isn’t that really the best medicine of all?

Some have questioned Morell’s constant use of injections. But Irving reveals that it was Hitler’s preference. He wanted fast results and had no time for swallowing pills. He wanted medicine introduced directly into his bloodstream, not by way of his stomach. Morell went along with Hitler’s preference, but perhaps he had other reasons. The book makes it clear that Hitler was unusually self-conscious of his mouth and throat—which went along with being an effective speaker—and also of his entire gastric tract. He was given to imagining things stuck in his throat. He was also morbidly fixated on the pills he swallowed, feeling them or imagining them in his stomach. So it is easy to see why Morell judged it best to replace pills with injections whenever possible.

Some in Hitler’s entourage may have been shocked or discomfited when, in 1941, Morell treated Hitler’s tinnitus with leeches. This does have an air of witch-doctory, but the curative powers of leeches are still recognized today, and one can order them from any apothecary. The leeches did help, although one of them died after drinking Hitler’s blood.

About the worst thing that can be said for Morell’s treatment is that he prescribed Ultraseptyl, a sulphonamide drug manufactured by one of his companies, for combating bacterial infections. (Sulphonamides were anti-bacterial drugs used before the development of antibiotics.) Compared to other sulphonamides, Ultraseptyl was ineffective and tended to harmful side effects. Hitler finally refused to take it in October of 1944, claiming that it gave him a “taut stomach” (which may be true, but it is also the kind of thing he was given to imagining). After that, Morell gave Hitler injections of Tibatin, a more effective sulphonamide.

In all fairness, Morell also took Ultraseptyl, but it seems a clear example of how having a financial interest in a drug can cause a doctor, consciously or unconsciously, to favor it over more effective rivals, to the detriment of his patients.

Another controversy blew up around a medicine called Dr. Koester’s anti-gas pills, which Hitler took with his meals. (His diet consisted largely of starches and fruit or fruit juices, a combination that guarantees gas. Combined with Hitler’s tendency to nervous or spastic constipation, the gas pains made him miserable.) Irving does not make clear if Dr. Koester’s pills were prescription or over the counter. (They sound like a patent medicine.) Nor is it clear that Morell was the one who prescribed or recommended them.

Dr. Erwin Giesing, who attended Hitler from July to October 1944, along with Hitler’s long-time escort doctors Karl Brandt and Hanskarl von Hasselbach, discovered that the pills contained strychnine and atropine and claimed they were harming Hitler’s health. But, as Paracelsus pointed out, the poison is in the dose. A small amount of strychnine might have therapeutic effects. A large amount is fatal. The pills did contain strychnine and atropine, but in far smaller doses than the doctors claimed. Hitler was in no danger.

Giesing, Brandt, and Hasselbach were obviously exaggerating the danger to dislodge Morell. Giesing even claimed that he dosed himself with the pills and came down with Hitler’s exact symptoms—an obvious lie. Doctor-patient confidentiality obviously went out the window. Soon Hitler’s headquarters were abuzz with rumors. Himmler looked into the matter personally. Apparently he was psychologist (or cynic) enough to see straight through the doctors’ motives. They were dismissed. Morell stayed.

Ultimately, the biggest reason why Morell was regarded as a dangerous crank is that Hitler’s health declined markedly under his care. But this is hardly fair. When Morell initially began treating Hitler, his health improved significantly. If Morell had bowed out in 1937 or 1938 or 1939, he would never have been tarred with the reputation of a quack. But he stuck with Hitler almost to the very end. And the long-term prognosis for every patient is decline and death. It is just that most doctors never stick around long enough to be blamed for it.

Surely the most significant cause of Hitler’s declining health was the crushing burden of the war, which was amplified by his propensity to psychosomatic illness caused by stress. No doctor could have preserved Hitler’s health under such circumstances, and a doctor who was less attuned to Hitler’s psyche and more inclined to depend entirely on chemicals might have had far worse results than did Morell.

Dr. Morell stayed with Hitler in his Berlin bunker until April 21, 1945, when Hitler sacked him. Morell told an American journalist that when he arrived to give Hitler a glucose injection, Hitler stopped him and said that he knew he was planning to inject him with morphine. Irving speculates that if Hitler really said that, he could have suspected Morell of conspiring with his generals to drug him and move him from Berlin against his will.

When Hitler finished his tirade, Morell collapsed pathetically at his feet. Hitler, of course, knew that the end was near. He no longer needed a doctor. Perhaps he was simply trying to save his faithful retainer and knew that Morell would leave only if there were a break between them.

Morell left Berlin for Bavaria on the April 23 in Hitler’s courier plane the Condor. Morell had severe heart and circulatory problems, and the stress of the war had taken a huge toll. He was hospitalized almost immediately.

On July 17 he was arrested in his hospital bed by Americans and tortured. His toenails were torn out, and he was told that a woman screaming in an adjacent room was his wife. When his wife finally visited him, he was a broken, emaciated wreck. He wept that he thought she was dead.

Morell’s mind was also going. He apparently suffered from advancing arteriosclerosis, and perhaps strokes as well, which caused memory loss and paralysis on his right side. There was never any question of charging him with any crimes. The Americans just wanted to squeeze him for information. But Morell was declared unfit to testify in court on October 12, 1946.

On June 20, 1947, Morell was simply dumped in a waiting room at the Munich station. After that, he was admitted to a clinic where he continued to decline, losing his memory and the ability to read and write. On May 26, 1948, Theodor Gilbert Morell died, in the words of his former assistant Richard Weber, “like a stray dog.”

The picture of Morell that emerges is of a doctor who was acutely sensitive to the psychological dimension of illness and healing and also willing to employ both traditional remedies (leeches) and innovations like intestinal colonization by friendly bacteria. His main flaw was that he allowed his interests in different pharmaceutical concerns to influence his prescriptions. But one mitigating factor is that many of the medicines he used were in such minute doses that they functioned as placebos.

As a social outsider, Hitler distrusted conventional experts. Instead, he made his decisions based on character and results. Morell cured Hoffmann. Then he cured Hitler. Beyond that, Hitler probably sensed that Morell’s mind, like Hitler’s own, was not rigidly fettered by convention, something borne out in his treatments. The mutual admiration and loyalty between the two men is touching.

I highly recommend The Secret Diary of Hitler’s Doctor. It is a beautiful example of David Irving’s prodigious talents as an interviewer and archive sleuth who has wrested priceless memories, facts, and documents from the devouring teeth of time. That’s what he means by “Real History.” It guarantees that his works will be read and used by other historians for all time to come.

Source: The Barnes Review, vol. 17, no. 6, November-December, 2011

 

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14 Comments

  1. Highland
    Posted February 14, 2015 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    From what I read hear it sound’s magnificent, I’ve got it on pdf i’ll have another look next weekend.

  2. Ulf Larsen
    Posted February 4, 2015 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this review, Greg. How is this book compared to “The Medical Casebook of Adolf Hitler” by Heston & Heston (if you have read that one)? Does this book by Irving contain a lot of additional, interesting information?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted February 4, 2015 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      I bought that book, but I did not have time to read it before leaving San Francisco, and now it is in storage with most of my library. I might write something on it when I finally get settled.

  3. Sandy
    Posted February 2, 2015 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    One wonders what else the Allies did that we continue to demonize the “Nazis” to this day.

    On July 17 he was arrested in his hospital bed by Americans and tortured. His toenails were torn out, and he was told that a woman screaming in an adjacent room was his wife. When his wife finally visited him, he was a broken, emaciated wreck. He wept that he thought she was dead.

    • Jaego
      Posted February 3, 2015 at 3:12 am | Permalink

      Good point: we always hate those whom we have wronged. It’s said that many of the German prisoners at Nuremberg had their testicles destroyed by repeated kicks.

    • Peter Quint
      Posted February 3, 2015 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      I read an article written by an American soldier whom served as a guard at a POW camp after Germany was defeated. The Germans were forced to sleep out in the open with no shelter during the winter. The German civilians had to sneak food in so that these people would not starve, the American guard caught a beautiful, young German girl sneaking in a basket of food. She was lying on the ground quaking in fear, looking up at him. He waived her on in. Imagine being forced to live out in the open with nothing but a blanket and the clothes you wore, in the cold and rain. The guard protested this behavior (he could speak German) but was told that they deserved it by his fellow guards and chain-of-command. The Germans built shelters in their camps for POWs. It is when you read articles like this that you realize how evil America is! And let’s not forget the German civilians that were forced to leave their homes so that the poor, “persecuted” jews could have them. There are probably many more horrific crimes against German civilians that have went down the memory hole. I read this article on the International Historical Review (IHR) site. I think that is what it is called; the one based in California; the one that had six million dollars bequeathed to it but was unable to collect.

    • Peter Quint
      Posted February 4, 2015 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Here is the article; “In ‘Eisenhower’s Death Camps’: A U.S. Prison Guard Remembers” by Martin Brech. You can access it at this URL: http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v10/v10p161_Brech.html

  4. Posted February 2, 2015 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    One quick comment about the placebo effect – I studied psychopharmacology several decades ago when the placebo effect was first becoming a popular concept, and I remember several studies that were crucial to my understanding. (1) A negative correlation was found between experiencing the placebo effect and IQ or education level. The explanation for this is that smart, well-educated people are not easily intimidated, so they don’t find it necessary to say, “Oh, well, I think it helped a little bit” to be agreeable and keep from disappointing the doctor or experimenter. (2) The more ambiguous situations were more likely to report a placebo effect. All kinds of illnesses wax and wane, so those who were going to feel better anyway mistakenly attributed it to the placebo, which is understandable, but it didn’t last. (3) When a constant source of pain was administered – like electrical shock or whatever – delivered in the lab, there was basically no effect at all. The subjects were told, “We’re going to give you something that will make this experience much less painful.” Most subjects said that the drug did nothing.

    It’s very popular to think that the environment causes everything, “mind over matter” and all that, that nothing is biological, and the idea of the placebo effect fit into this way of thinking perfectly. But if it were really an effect, rather than an artifact (which I would maintain), then its use should have been studied and used everywhere.

    I do not claim to be an expert, and it’s possible that studies conducted more recently have changed the picture, but I doubt it.

    P.S. Very interesting paper. I saw in a documentary that Morell gave Hitler speed. Was this not mentioned?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted February 2, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      There is no credible evidence that Hitler used methamphetamine.

      • Proofreader
        Posted February 3, 2015 at 5:15 am | Permalink

        For what it’s worth, a review of Richard A. Lertzman and William J. Birnes’s Dr. Feelgood in the New York Post indicates that the claim that Hitler used methamphetamine may have originated with Max Jacobson, who was a Jewish émigré from National Socialist Germany and an infamous quack. Jacobson’s “medicine” was a mixture of amphetamines, animal hormones, bone marrow, enzymes, human placenta, painkillers, steroids, and multivitamins, and his clients included John F. Kennedy and many Hollywood celebrities.

        “Jacobson, born in 1900 and raised in Berlin, began experimenting with strange concoctions in the 1930s, when he would consult with Carl Jung, whose guidance ‘led him to first experiment with early psychotropic, or mood and mind-altering, drugs.’

        “Experimenting on ‘animals, patients and himself,’ Jacobson ‘looked for ways he could mix early mind-altering drugs with vitamins, enzymes, animal placentas and small amounts of hormones . . .’ and believed that these drugs could not only cure disease, but could ‘effect remedies on a cellular level.’

        “The doctor’s concoction — which evolved to become a mixture of methamphetamine and goat’s and sheep’s blood — caught the attention of Germany’s National Socialists, who demanded the formula. Jacobson, who was Jewish, later said that his drug was fed to Nazi soldiers, making them more vicious. He also believed that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun eventually became addicted to his formula.”

        http://nypost.com/2013/04/21/the-kennedy-meth/

        Yes, I know the New York Post is an unreliable source, but the above story is a good example of the nonsense which is still peddled about National Socialism today and which seeps into popular folklore, and it’s conceivable that Jacobson actually made the claims reported above.

  5. K.K.
    Posted February 2, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I also highly recommend this book.

    While Morell’s diaries seem to have been rather dry, technical and purely factual (apart from accounts regarding conflicts with other members of the medical staff), Irving indeed masterfully places them in the larger perspective of the gigantic struggle that was taking place simultaneously.

    After reading it one walks away with the impression that Hitler’s medical condition played a major part in the outcome of the war. Not so much because it impaired his judgment (it probably didn’t), but because it drained him of the energy necessary to drive through his personal vision and to keep a tight grip on the dissenting generals. Goring, Skorzeny and Rudel, among others, were of the opinion that the war was lost primarily because Hitler’s initial “plan of genius” (Goring’s words in the Nurenberg testimony) was too heavily diluted by his generals in the field.

    One also can’t help but to admire Hitler’s willpower in dealing with the malady. Morell’s account of a private conversation with Hitler where the latter told him what incredible pains he had to endure since the failed assassination attempt in 1944 – which he did with great dignity and in complete privacy – is one of the more touching parts of the book. Equally incredible is how he conceived and planned the Battle of the Bulge while being tied to his bed because of sickness. Inspiring stuff.

    Lastly, for me the book cleared away any negative suspicions I might’ve had regarding Morell (being a traitor, a charlatan etc.). It seems certain that he was a well-meaning, non-political man.

  6. Ea
    Posted February 2, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    It is a really touching history. Your review is amazing. Hitler was truly one of the greatest man of the world. A living legend of his time. You should do the same with the other Irving books.

  7. Peter Quint
    Posted February 2, 2015 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Hitler was the greatest white man that ever lived and a genius, but I thought he lost the Russian campaign because he got fixated on Stalingrad, that is conventional court history. The encirclement vs. the frontal attack would make a good article in its self. Again nothing but kudos and admiration for Hitler.

  8. CMB
    Posted February 2, 2015 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Great review. It’s nice to know the truth when you see articles crop up in newspapers claiming that Hitler was a syphilitic meth addict or something like that. (Although it is amusing that “news” items are still being printed about a man who has been dead for seventy years! Not exactly topical journalism.) I read this book recently, having gotten an autographed copy of it this past summer after seeing Mr. Irving speak in Cambridge, MA. Though nearly eighty, he’s still a tremendously engaging and fascinating speaker.

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