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Psychiatrist Joel Dimsdale Deciphers Psyche of Nazi Leaders in New Book, Anatomy of Malice

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“University of California San Diego Psychiatrist Joel Dimsdale”

After World War II came to an end in 1945, the mass killing and sheer devastation wrought by the Nazis off the battlefield began to emerge in shocking detail. Some 11 million civilians—both Jews and non-Jews, including about 1.5 million children—were killed during the Holocaust. When the Allies convened the international war crimes trial in Nuremberg, American psychiatrist Douglas Kelley and psychologist Gustave Gilbert conducted extensive psychiatric interviews, IQ tests, and Rorschach inkblot tests, in an attempt to grasp and shed light on the psychological profiles of the Third Reich leadership.

University of California San Diego Psychiatrist Joel Dimsdale, equipped with the tools of modern psychiatry, psychology, and neuroscience, takes a fresh look at the unsettling findings in his new book, Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals (Yale University Press, May 2016). Dimsdale, a distinguished professor emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry will discuss and sign copies of his book on Thursday, May 12, 2016, at a talk sponsored by the UC San Diego Library. The event is open to the public and will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Geisel Library in the Seuss Room on the UC San Diego campus. The UC San Diego Bookstore will provide copies of the book for purchase. The event is free of charge but reservations are suggested and can be made at: AnatomyOfMaliceDimsdale


“In his new book, Dimsdale conducts a detailed examination –using 21st century diagnostic tools– of four Nazi war criminals”

Dimsdale first became interested in the psychological profiles of the Nazi leadership in the mid-1970s, when he was researching Nazi concentration camp survivors and the coping strategies they used to survive. He decided to expand his purview after an unexpected visit from one of the executioners at the Nuremberg trials, who hanged some of Nazi Germany’s most notorious leaders. While his visitor felt no remorse, he was haunted by questions about motives, and what really drove these men to commit and authorize such heinous crimes. Were they pathological murderers or simply men who were victims of circumstance? The executioner encouraged Dimsdale to examine the psyche of the Nazi war criminals to uncover their thinking and what motivated them.

“The Nazi hierarchy was responsible for an unbelievable amount of suffering and carnage,” said Dimsdale. “At the end of the war, 75% of Holocaust survivors were the sole survivors in their families. What drove these men to commit crimes of this magnitude and what were their psychological states? That is a complicated and perplexing question, and one I thought worth examining.”

In Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals, Dimsdale conducts a detailed examination—using 21st century diagnostic tools—of four of the war criminals, Robert Ley, Hermann Göring, Julius Streicher, and Rudolf Hess. The resulting psychological portraits depict a surprisingly broad spectrum of pathology.

A member of the UC San Diego Librarian’s Advisory Board, Dr. Dimsdale received his MD degree and an MA degree in Sociology from Stanford University, and his undergraduate degree in Biology from Carleton College. After obtaining his psychiatric training at Massachusetts General Hospital, he completed a fellowship in psychobiology at the New England Regional Primate Center. Dimsdale was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School from 1976 until 1985, when he joined the UC San Diego School of Medicine as a professor of Psychiatry.

A former Chair of the UC San Diego Academic Senate, Dimsdale is a recipient of the Oliver Johnson Award for distinguished leadership, and is past-president of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, the American Psychosomatic Society, and the Society of Behavioral Medicine. He has served on numerous editorial boards in psychiatry, psychology, anthropology, medicine, and pharmacology and has been a consultant to the President’s Commission on Mental Health, the Institute of Medicine, NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, and is a long-time reviewer for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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