The Nuremberg Interviews

Leon Goldensohn (1911-1961) was a psychiatrist and army officer who kept detailed notes of the lengthy interviews that he conducted in 1946 with thirty-three Germans who exercised leadership positions before and during World War II. Because of Goldensohn’s untimely death, the interviews were almost forgotten until edited for publication by Robert Gellately, a professor of history at Florida State University and author of two respected books about coercion in Nazi Germany.

For each interview, there is a photograph and summary of the subject’s career. Some conversations, such as those with Hermann Goering and Hans Frank, take up more than twenty pages. Others are rather short. Although similar responses from these men have previously appeared in a variety of published works, The Nuremberg Interviews is the most complete and interesting collection available in a single volume. Gellately’s introduction and historical explanations in the endnotes are extremely helpful.

In addition to recording the words of defendants and witnesses, Goldensohn offers a number of critical comments about the charges leveled against the indicted Nazis. He suggests that the prosecution exaggerated the intentionality and coherence of Nazi planning, although he is highly skeptical of the attempts of the Nazis to downplay their individual participation in the violation of human rights. Goldensohn frequently makes moral judgments but offers very few psychological or psychiatric interpretations of individual motivations.

The Nuremberg Interviews makes for fascinating, if often chilling, reading. Many of the defendants and witnesses denied any direct knowledge of the extermination camps and mass slaughter in Eastern Europe. Some, including Rudolf Hoess and Oswald Pohl, acknowledged their personal roles in the holocaust, while insisting that they had no way of countering the evil polices of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels.