Saturday, October 22, 2011

British mustard gas attack didn't blind Hitler: It was an episode of hysterical illness

The statements below may well all be true but one must allow for the urge to denigrate Hitler on the part of his enemies. That he could rapidly morph from being a derided outsider to a charismatic leader of his nation is implausible on the face of it and most probably is just a remnant of wartime propaganda

That he suffered an episode of hysterical blindness on the frontlines of WWI is however plausible. Psychiatric episodes under the fiendish conditions there were common on both sides and were usually covered up as "shellshock" or the like. To be one of those who cracked may have been embarrassing to Hitler himself but he would not normally be condemned for it these days. Allied troops coming home from Afghanistan to this day often have psychiatric disturbances but it is not regarded as being to their discredit or very limiting to their lives after discharge

Note also that the psychiatric diagnosis relied on below comes to us as hearsay and would not as such be credited in judicial proceedings

My remarks above are not intended as any defence of Hitler. They are merely the proper skepticism essential to a search for truth

He claimed to have been blinded by a British mustard gas attack as a heroic First World War soldier. Now research has exposed Hitler’s account of his own gallantry as a sham and revealed that his temporary loss of sight was actually caused by a mental disorder known as ‘hysterical blindness’.

Hitler described in Mein Kampf how the British had attacked in October 1918 south of Ypres using a ‘yellow gas…unknown to us’. By morning, his eyes ‘were like glowing coals, and all was darkness around me,’ he wrote.

But historian Dr Thomas Weber, of the University of Aberdeen, has uncovered a series of unpublished letters between two American neurologists from 1943, which debunk Hitler’s claim.

The correspondence showed that Otfried Foerster, a renowned German neurosurgeon, had inspected Hitler’s medical file. He found that Hitler had been treated for hysterical amblyopia, a psychiatric disorder that can make sufferers lose their sight.

Dr Weber said: ‘There were rumours suggesting that his war blindness may have been psychosomatic, but this is the first time we have had any firm evidence.’ He said discovering the letters was ‘crucial’ because Hitler’s medical file, at the Pasewalk military hospital in Germany, was destroyed.

‘Hitler went to extreme lengths to cover up his First World War medical history,’ Dr Weber said. ‘The two people who had access to his medical files were liquidated as soon as he took power and the other people who knew of it committed suicide in strange circumstances.’

The letters could help to explain Hitler’s radical personality change after the war, Dr Weber said. He added: ‘Hitler left the First World War an awkward loner who had never commanded a single other soldier, but very quickly became a charismatic leader who took over his country.

‘His mental state could explain this dramatic change and his obsessive and extreme behaviour.’ [How?]

He said the evidence also gave a crucial insight into Hitler’s mental state during his leadership. ‘The fact that he would not have been able to deal with the stress and strain of war is significant,’ Dr Weber said.

Details of Hitler’s blindness appear in a new edition of the historian’s book Hitler’s First War.

The study also shows how Hitler’s claims to have been a gallant First World War corporal who frequently risked his life were mostly lies.

Far from being a fearless frontline fighter, he spent so much time in regimental headquarters miles behind the lines that fellow soldiers in the trenches branded him a ‘rear area pig’. In reality he was little more than a ‘teaboy’ who worked as a messenger running errands, the study revealed.

Hitler, who served in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment, was twice awarded the Iron Cross, but Dr Weber said this was largely due to the fact he knew officers who made recommendations.

He attended only one meeting of veterans from his regiment, in 1922, when he was ‘cold shouldered’, the historian said.


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