Psychology Under the Third Reich [ . . . ]

“Psychology Leading up to the Third Reich

Psychology has been around for centuries but it first began to become a legitimate discipline in 1879, when Wilhelm Wundt founded the Institut für Experimentelle Psychologie in Leipzig Germany.(27) By the end of the 1800s psychology had already developed multiple schools of thought, some of which had formed strong connections to other fields such as philosophy and biology. Because of its institutionalized origins there, psychology flourished in Germany as it became the center of psychological research and by 1928, 35.4 percent of the world’s psychological papers came from Germany.(23 p.386) The practice of psychiatry also grew as scientists learned more about the human mind and body.” [ . . . ]

[ . . . ]

“Perhaps one of the most commonly known Nazi perversions of science happened in the field of psychiatry. Before the Nazis came to power, medicine approached fighting illnesses in two different manners: Fürsorge (caring for the afflicted individual) and Vorsorge (preventative medicine).(15) During this time, many psychiatrists worked directly to heal sick individuals and also researched the hereditary nature of mental illnesses and possible ways to prevent them. When the Nazis took power, they brought with them views of social Darwinism and psychiatry became almost wholly focused on preventative medicine.

Research on and prevention of hereditary defects in psychiatric patients became psychiatry’s biggest function in the Third Reich and eugenics offered a solution. The common belief in psychiatric circles during this period was that most mental and physical defects were hereditary and therefore passed on through the generations. While some psychiatrists, such as Carl Schneider8 , advocated intensive therapy and eventual reintegration into society, the vast majority believed that mental patients were incurable and even if they could be reintegrated into society to become useful, they would pass on their defects to the next generation. Some even theorized that “Propensity to specific crimes is inherited”(24 p295) and thus criminals, homosexuals, and other ‘asocials’ were also believed to be afflicted by hereditary defects. These theories, along with Nazi ideology of creating a superior race and social Darwinism, led many psychiatrists to believe that sterilization or euthanasia of patients would weed out hereditary defects and create a stronger race. In this way, the use of eugenics through methods of sterilization and euthanasia became a solution to what was perceived by many to be a serious problem. A German psychological newspaper stated that, “If a man in mental difficulties cannot find his way through immediate relationship to God, the Party takes up the task, and here German psychotherapy can help. All Germans- from artists to officers- are born psychologists and teachers in this new calling.”(24 p295)

Aside from using eugenics to preserve and better the ‘master race’, euthanizing psychiatric patients was also considered by many to be a fiscally practical practice.” [ . . . ]

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