Adolf Hitler: The Medical Diaries. The Private Diaries of Dr Theo Morell 
edited by David Irving.
Sidgwick, 309 pp., £10.95, May 1983, 0 283 98981 5
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Adolf Hitler: The Medical Diaries consists of a translation of the medical records kept by Hitler’s physician, Dr Theodor Morell, and of Mr Irving’s extensive commentaries on those records. Morell, a fashionable Berlin GP specialising in venereal diseases, became the Führer’s personal doctor at Christmas 1936. The elevation, which took place during a visit to Hitler’s retreat on the Obersalzberg, was greeted by Morell’s wife with the oracular words: ‘What do we need with that!’ – a rendering, presumably, of ‘Wozu brauchen wir das?’

The diaries begin in July 1941, a few weeks after the start of the Russian campaign. Hitler had a row with Ribbentrop, at the end of which he seems to have suffered a minor heart attack, and early in August he went down with dysentery. Given the sanitary conditions at the Führer’s headquarters in the mosquito-infested swampland of East Prussia, Morell’s services were much in demand; at the same time several rivals for his position were spreading rumours about Morell’s professional skill and loyalty. At this point, Mr Irving tells us, Morell decided to keep a record of his patient’s real and imagined symptoms, and of all the medicines and treatment he prescribed. The reason for this decision is obvious. Given the atmosphere of suspicion and fear in which Hitler’s entire entourage lived and the peculiar cures Morell administered, he was anxious to have detailed documentary evidence of his management of Hitler’s health in order to cover himself if things went wrong.

Obese and vain, servile and sentimental, greedy for money, fascinated and terrified by everything that went on around him, Morell is the sort of figure every decent John Buchan chap loves to hate. (Mr Irving likens him to Lord Moran, Churchill’s physician – could it be his contempt for the Establishment that explains a comparison as inaccurate as it is insulting?) Morell was as well-informed on most aspects of internal medicine as the average GP of the time, and had a good deal of specialist knowledge of the restorative drugs then on the market. Only a quack could have acted the part allotted to him and, whatever he may have been like before he joined Hitler’s ‘court’, Morell conformed as best he could to what was expected: ‘What more natural,’ Mr Irving asks, ‘than that the busy Führer should engage a physician who would work instant “miracle cures” through the hypodermic needle?’ But Morell was a quack of a special kind. On the one hand, he was anxious to indulge ‘the pill-crazed Führer’ by letting him have prescriptions, injections and applications of every conceivable kind, the more so since Morell himself owned a number of pharmaceutical factories (which, in spite of huge army contracts, failed to show a profit), had a stake in several patent medicines and a rake-off from several pharmacies. On the other hand, he was terrified of the possible effects of any one of the ‘77 different medicines’ he prescribed (all are listed at the end of this book), and so he administered ‘minimal quantities which could not meet daily requirements and were thus devoid of any therapeutic significance’. Take him for all in all, he is a subject for Molière rather than for historical inquiry.

The quality of this piece of book-making is not easy to convey. Here are some extracts (those in quotation marks come from Morell’s diaries, while the rest are mainly Irving’s comments):

  ‘The Führer kept thanking me for his immediate relief. After retching several times, bringing up the air and gases he had swallowed, the Führer became completely relaxed and was just about as pleased as he could be ...’

  ‘He flatly refused to allow me to administer an enema of oil or camomile tea in bed, but on the contrary took an irrigator and tried to administer one to himself on the WC, the patient sitting on the toilet bowl for the purpose. I had to wait outside (he even locked me out) ...’

  Hasselbach stated that Hitler’s sex instinct was neither increased nor depressed, and he was neither a pervert nor a homosexual ... ‘There was no disturbance of vesical or rectal sphincter tone’ ... no papilloedema, no double vision, no convergent or divergent strabismus ... His lacrimation and salivation were normal; he was able to wrinkle his forehead and shrug his shoulders normally ...

  ‘... still able to show great modesty and kindness toward his associates and collaborators,... ’

  ‘He says he slept longer and better last night than almost ever before.’ As we know, it was in these very days [June 1940] that Hitler took his irrevocable ‘Barbarossa’ decision to launch his armies into the Soviet Union ...

  In mid-summer [1941] Morell detected a progressive ailment in his patient’s heart, coronary sclerosis ...

  ‘Constant medication over a period of years may have upset the psychological balance of his body ...’

  ‘Hitler might have dealt with situations very differently after a glucose injection ...’

  ... extracts of testes prostate and seminal vesicles of young bulls ... [were] indicated for all types and consequences of genital hypoplasia (the excessive smallness of an organ) ... But according to Professor Schenk [who testified ‘recently’: some of these people are still with us], ‘no specific effect was expected. At best a nonspecific and placebo effect was contemplated ...’

  Hitler, of course, was proud of the advanced research being conducted by his doctor. He awarded Morell the civil version of the Knight’s Cross ...

  ‘Then he livened up and expatiated for well over an hour about our courageous, daredevil Italian allies, and the headaches they’re giving him ... ’

  Then the illness worsened and the generals got their way ...

  To fight the buzzing in Hitler’s ears Morell resorted to one of history’s most ancient remedies, leeches ...

  ‘Of the Mark II leeches, only one is still alive, and I was hoping to apply leeches once more before Mussolini gets here’ ...

  ‘Set three leeches (two behind the ear, one in front). The latter sucked well and strong’ ...

  ‘During actual flight Hitler let off wind, which resulted in some improvement ...’

  Later in 1944 we cannot help remarking that when Morell was incapacitated, his patient’s health seemed to improve quite rapidly ...

  ‘Up to the Berghof. Patient A has headache on the left side. His legs are trembling (invasion imminent, but where?). Intravenous shots of Glucad ...’

  ‘The miracle is,’ he said 11 days [after the assasination attempt of 20 July 1944] to General Jodl, ‘that the shock got rid of my nerve complaint almost entirely ...’

  It would be the late autumn 1944 before Hitler partially recovered from the assassin’s attack ...

  ‘The Führer had had a lettuce salad for lunch yesterday without any immediate subsequent problems ... Right now [December 1944] he claims he is facing the worst burdens of his entire life. His nerves are taking a beating from coming events and the constant terror of air raids on German cities ... He has a bowel movement once a day, but it is of normal coloration and neither weak nor very hard ...’

  As soon as the [Ardennes] offensive had begun, and was apparently running well, Hitler scarcely sent for his doctor, Morell.

  ‘April 2, 1945 ... The military situation is very bad, which is why the tremor in his hand is really pronounced ...’

  ‘April 21, 1945 ... I wanted to give him another shot but he grabbed me and lost his temper, shouting that he knew precisely that I was going to inject him with morphia ... ’ Again Hitler shrieked at him: ‘Get out of that uniform, put on some plain clothes and go back to being the doctor of Kurfürstendamm!’

How much of this sort of thing can one take? Most people’s capacity is limited, and I suspect Mr Irving is no exception. While he and his electronic aids to research are able to collect and print out this software, a re-reading and checking of it appears to be beyond them. How else is one to explain the repetitions with which this compilation abounds? It isn’t merely that the same material has been used in different forms several times over: entire passages recur in different parts of the book. Twenty-two lines of Morell’s diary on pp. 76-77 are repeated almost verbatim on pp. 128-129; so are two entire letters – one of 28 lines and another of 21 lines; two footnotes recur, almost verbatim, on pp. 25 and 204; the text of one and a half pages (244-245) with a few lines omitted recurs, verbatim but without the omissions, on pp. 300-301; yet another letter of 26 lines (pp. 267-268) is repeated, verbatim but with a few additions, on pp. 302-303; the same German text is quoted in two different English translations on pp. 15 and 231, and so on. In short, this is a product whose editor and publishers share the belief that anything that has Hitler’s name on it will sell.

Mr Irving’s obsession with ‘hard facts’, especially if they are likely to upset received historical views, is well-known; and so is his contempt for interpretation. No doubt the facts assembled here ‘speak for themselves’, but do they tell us anything significant that wasn’t known before? What Hitler’s medical history tells us is that a sequence of illnesses and mental disturbances influenced his conduct of the war, often with disastrous results; and that the process of mental and physical deterioration was accelerated by the effects of the Stauffenberg coup of July 1944. Mr Irving has not unravelled that psychosomatic sequence, and it may well be impossible to do so. He does not ask what value the facts he has assembled have nor what illumination they will yield – beyond the claim he makes in the opening paragraph of his book, that they are fascinating.

There are a few value-judgments in this book, as when Mr Irving calls Hitler ‘the world’s most infamous dictator’, when he speaks of his ‘malevolent words’, and the like. Coming from any other author, these phrases would be hardly worth quoting. Here one is glad to acknowledge them because they dispel any possible doubt about Mr Irving’s sympathies. If in some of his other books these seemed to lie with Hitler, this was because Mr Irving saw him as a weak and irresolute leader and an underdog. Some such interpretation may be implied here too, but it is not made explicit. What does emerge is that Hitler’s conduct of the war was influenced by his boundless subjectivity: that, to some extent, it was dependent on his moods and pathology – in the face of a situation that was becoming less and less amenable to that influence. I cannot think of a historian who would disagree. ‘What do we need with that!’: perhaps the oracular Frau Morell was right after all.

Morell’s notes on his ‘conversations’ with (meaning monologues by) Hitler confirm the picture we have from numerous other sources; we are familiar to excess with its traits of impatience and hysteria, arbitrariness and that heedless self-assertion which goes under the mystifying name of ‘will power’, to which is added a strong does of self-pity:

‘He says that the weeks since 20 July [1944] have been the worst of his life. He has fought and won a heroic struggle the likes of which nobody, no German, can ever imagine. Despite the most agonising pains, and despite hours of faintness and nausea of which he’s never breathed a word to anybody even when they inquire, he has kept a stiff upper lip and fought it all back with iron energy. Often, he says, he has been in danger of crumpling, but by sheer willpower he has always managed to overcome his condition.’

Again, from another source (24 February 1945): ‘And if my whole left side were paralysed, I would still call on the German people again and again not to capitulate but to hold out to the very end.’ No longer ‘till final victory’, but ‘to the very end’. Consciously or not, the Leader here articulates the secret appeal he had for his followers and nation. Suffering and pain are used to legitimate ‘total’ leadership – a leadership that is ‘existential’ by virtue of being intensely personal and going beyond ordinary politics. This complex of penitential ideas is not an invention of Hitler’s, or of Goebbels’s propaganda. It is a dominant element in the culture of Germany in Hitler’s time; present in her literature and philosophy, it is part of the Nietzschean heritage and thus a secularised version of Christian precept. But it was Hitler’s instinct that it could be translated into collective, political terms. ‘Total’ destruction had always been the regime’s threat and secret goal: once victory was beyond his reach, the goal could be openly acknowledged. This belief in the ‘redemptive’ value of suffering and pain is now discredited. At least, if a few of its literary remnants are still with us, its political application belongs to the past. About literature one cannot be certain, but history doesn’t repeat itself.

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