Background to

A Psychologial Profile of Adolph Hitler by Walter C Langer

Dr S D Stein


The United States Office of Strategic Services was established in 1942, being an offshoot of an agency formed in 1941, known as the Coordinator of Information, at the head of which was Colonel William J Donovan.  Its task was to pool information gathered by all of the intelligence services and to coordinate and organise psychological warfare in the event of the United States entering the war.  Since 1941 Donovan had been in touch with the author of this study, Walter C Langer, who was a psychoanalyst.   Donovan, now promoted to General, headed the OSS when it was established in 1942.   Although it was no longer responsible for issues concerning overt psychological warfare, Donovan suggested to Langer in the spring of 1943 that some form of comprehensive evaluation, from a psychological and psychoanalytical perspective of Adolf Hitler, and his hold on the German population, would be valuable:

"What we need is a realistic appraisal of the German situation.  If Hitler is running the show, what kind of a person is he?  What are his ambitions?  How does he appear to the German people?  What is he like with his associates?  What is his background?  And most of all, we want to know as much as possible about his psychological make-up-the things that make him tick.  In addition, we ought to know what he might do if things begin to go against him.  Do you suppose you could come up with something along these lines?  ...  Hire what help you need and get it done as soon as possible.  Keep it brief and make it readable to the layman." (The Mind of Adolf Hitler. Walter C Langer. London: Secker and Warburg, 1973, pp.3-10)

Althought Donovan wanted the study to be brief and completed expeditiously, Langer was of the opinion that the brief was "nothing short of monumental":

Hitler, clearly, was more than the crazy paperhanger depicted in popular prints.   Up until the age of twenty-five he manifested many of the characteristics that we now associated with the "hippies" of the 1960s.  He was shiftless, seemed to lack any sense of identity, appeared to have no real sense of direction or ambition, was content to live in filth and squalor, worked only when he had to and then sporadically, spent most of his time in romantic dreams of being a great artist.... Nevertheless, this apparantely insignificant and incompetent ne'er-do-well was later able, in the course of a relatively few years, to talk his way into the highest political offices, hoodwink the epxerienced leaders of the major powers, turn millions of highly civilized people into barbarians, order the extermination of a large segment of the population, build and control the mghtiest war machine ever known, and plunge the world into history's most devastating war.  How could one, in a short period of time, hope to unravel the psychological mysteries underlying such a transformation? (ibid, pp.10-11)

In the course of carrying out the research Langer and field researchers interviewed individuals in the United States and Canada who had had some contact with Hitler, as well as scouring printed sources.  They accumulated more than eleven thousand pages of excerpted quotations and condensations that appeared to be relevant.  These all appear in The Hitler Source Book, which was appended to the study.   The numbers that appear in brackets in the text of the study files refer to the page numbers where the original material can be found. 

The raw material that was the basis for Part V, Hitler-Psychological Analysis and Reconstruction, was reviewed by three psychoanalysts, who "were chosen for this difficult task because psychoanalysis, alone, had devised a technique for exploring the deeper regions of the mind and exposing the importance of early experiences and unconscious components as determinants of personality development." (ibid, p.15)   Langer acknowledges that arriving at conclusions based on the analysis of interview materials, rather than first-hand primary material deriving from interviews with the subject, was not entirely satisfactory.

In approaching their task they concluded that in order to sift the raw material it was necessary, first, to "agree on the fundamental nature of the character structure" of the subject. 

A survey of the raw material, in conjunction with our knowledge of Hitler's actions as reported in the news, was sufficient to convince us that he was, in all probability, a neurotic psychopath.  With this diagnosis as our starting point of orientation, we were able to evaluate the data in terms of probability. Those fragments that could most easily be fitted into this general clinical category were tentatively regarded as possessing a higher degree of probability-as far as reliability and relevance were concerned-than those which seemed alien to the clinical picture. (ibid, p.17)

The pressures of war meant that the gestation of the study was considerably less than the primary author had originally intended, it being completed in eight months.  It was designated Secret and few copies were apparently produced.  It is not known what influence, if any, it had on key decision makers.  As Langer concludes:

I cannot honestly believe that it did.  I am afraid that it came to late.   The die had been cast, and the tides of war were gradually turning in our favour.   The final outcome would be determined, not at the negotiating table, but on the battlefield.  ...  The goal we hoped to achieve was the presentation of an unbiased and professional psychological appraisal of Hitler-the man and his relationship to the German people-which might serve as a common basis for decisions in the future.(ibid, p.22)

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Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 12/10/98
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