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March 12, 2003


Was syphilis the demon that drove Hitler mad?

By Mark Henderson
Science Correspondent


HITLER may have been dying of syphilis when he committed suicide in his Berlin bunker, according to a new book that could explain his mental decline in the final months of the Second World War.

David Irving comments:

IT is characteristic of the British press now that they ask every other "expert" they can, other than myself, the one historian and Hitler biographer (Hitler's War, Hodder & Stoughton, 1977) who interviewed all Adolf Hitler's surviving doctors, retrieved their papers, and in 1981 found, transcribed, annotated, and published the diary of his principal physician Dr Theo Morell (The Secret Diaries of Hitler's Doctor: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1983, and Grafton Books, 1990)
   Instead of inquiring my opinion, they quote American hack academic Rudolph Binion, and British biographer Sir Ian Kershaw, who boasted to The New York Times that he had made no attempt to locate or talk with Hitler's staff, medical or otherwise (let alone search for the medical records).
   As for author Deborah Hayden's theory: she visited my lecture at Seattle in May 2002, and I directed her attention to the Morell diaries, and particularly to the urinalyses and blood serology results on his Patient "A" (Hitler) which I published in full as appendices.
   Morell routinely performed on Hitler both the Wassermann and Meinecke tests, which are tests for syphilis, and they came up negative in 1940. There is not the slightest hint of syphilis in Morell's diaries or in his medical notes on the man who was his patient from 1937 to 1945.
   If Hitler was clear of syphilis in 1940, it is a mystery why any author should imagine that he had contracted it by 1945 -- except perhaps that a "syphilitic Hitler" will sell books, while one clear of sexually transmitted diseases probably will not.

Related file:

The Secret Diaries of Hitler's Doctor (1983) Free download

New analysis of the records kept by Hitler's doctors has revealed that he suffered from many of the most characteristic symptoms of tertiary syphilis, and that he was treated regularly with drugs that were commonly prescribed for the sexually transmitted disease.

The controversial diagnosis, which would cast new light on the dictator's behaviour, from his sexual frigidity to his paranoiac rages, is advanced in Pox: Genius, Madness and the Mysteries of Syphilis, by Deborah Hayden, an American historian. Although it may never be possible to prove that Hitler was syphilitic, the balance of evidence suggests the disease as the most likely explanation for the wide range of health problems that afflicted him, particularly in his last years.

"If Hitler's life is looked at through the selective lens of a possible diagnosis of syphilis, one clue leads to another and then another until a pattern of progressive disease emerges," said Ms Hayden, a former lecturer on the history of the disease at the University of California at San Francisco. "Syphilis must be considered in our understanding of Hitler's career, his motivations, the events of World War Two, and even the Holocaust."

The theory that Hitler had syphilis has been advanced before, most notably by the Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, but has generally been rejected for lack of proof. Ms Hayden has amassed an unprecedented wealth of circumstantial evidence, although she accepts that the diagnosis will never be irrefutable.

"This is not definitive proof, but I think there is a preponderance of circumstantial evidence," she said. "It certainly might have affected his mind, and if he knew or thought he had it, and didn't have long to live, it may have accelerated the war effort."

Aside from the well-known mania of his last years, which would be consistent with the mental effects of the parasite, Hitler had an abnormal heartbeat that points towards syphilitic aortitis. Notes kept by Theo Morell, his physician (right), show that he had an accentuated or "tympanic" second sound to the heartbeat, which is often caused by syphilitic damage to the aorta. Dr Morell's records of drug treatment show that from 1941 Hitler received regular injections of iodide salts, a standard 1940s therapy for cardiac syphilis. He had lesions on his shins so painful that they sometimes prevented him from wearing boots, and suffered intermittently from encephalitis, dizziness, flatulence, neck pustules, chest pain, gastric pain and restrictive palsies - all are associated with the disease. A knowledge that he carried the disease would explain his lack of sexual interest towards his long-term consort and eventual bride, Eva Braun, and his devotion of 13 pages of Mein Kampf to syphilis. "The question of combating syphilis should have been made to appear as the task of the nation," he wrote.

HProf Theo Morellitler's very appointment of Dr Morell in 1936, Ms Hayden suggests, is significant. The doctor, a dermatologist, was one of Germany's leading experts on the disease.

Several contemporary rumours held that Hitler contracted syphilis from a prostitute in Vienna in 1908 or 1910. Some accounts suggested that the prostitute was Jewish. Ms Hayden said that these were probably hearsay, but that Hitler did write in Mein Kampf that the Jews were responsible for spreading the disease.

More plausible are reports that Hitler was given the diagnosis at a German field hospital in 1918, when he was recovering from a gas attack. Heinrich Himmler, the SS chief, may have destroyed copies of his medical records. Robert Berger, a cardiac surgeon at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said that Hitler's symptoms could indicate a diagnosis of syphilis. "The picture is consistent with syphilis, although it is not definitive. Each of the symptoms and treatments fits."

Rudolph Binion, Professor of History at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and author of Hitler Among the Germans, said that the diagnosis would fit with almost every aspect of Hitler's known medical symptoms and behaviour. "While it's impossible to diagnose with 100 per cent surety, she has an extremely presumptive case. It falls in very much with a case of textbook syphilis," he said.

However, Sir Ian Kershaw, Professor of History at Sheffield University and one of Hitler's most authoritative biographers, said that he was unconvinced. Rumours of Hitler's condition were based on "dodgy hearsay", he said, adding: "I remain heartily sceptical."

Copyright 2003 Times Newspapers Ltd.



Was Hitler homosexual: by David Irving


Related items on this website

Hitler suffer from syphilis? Disease Detective Deborah Hayden's new book, Pox, pulls the covers off famous people
Observer, Oct 7, 2001: Hitler was gay - and killed to hide it, book says
October 1999 story: Hitler secretly gay --historian (Joachim Fest)
David Irving's comments on this allegation
Eva Braun's cousin breaks her silence about her times with Hitler's mistress

see also The Sydney Morning Herald


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