Essay: The (Insane) Mind of Adolf Hitler

The Mind of Adolf Hitler contains a version of Walter C. Langer's wartime report on Hitler's personality plus additional material. Author: Walter C. Langer Subject: Adolf Hitler Publisher: Basic Books Publication date: 1972 ISBN: 0-465-04620-7 Dewey Decimal: 943.086/092/4B

The Mind of Adolf Hitler contains a version of Walter C. Langer’s wartime report on Hitler’s personality plus additional material.
Author: Walter C. Langer
Subject: Adolf Hitler
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 1972
ISBN: 0-465-04620-7
Dewey Decimal:

The Mind of Adolf Hitler: The Secret Wartime Report, published in 1972, is based on a World War II report by psychoanalyst Walter C. Langer which probed the psychology of Adolf Hitler from the available information.

The original report was prepared for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and submitted in late 1943 or early 1944; it is officially entitled “A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend”. The report is one of two psychoanalytic reports prepared for the OSS during the war in an attempt to assess Hitler’s personality; the other is “Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler” by the psychologist Henry A. Murray who also contributed to Langer’s report. The report eventually became 1000 pages long.

The book contains not only a version of Langer’s original report but also a foreword by his brother, the historian William L. Langer who was Chief of Research and Analysis at the OSS during the war, an introduction by Langer himself, and an afterword by the psychoanalytic historian Robert G.L. Waite.

The report is notable for making several correct predictions about Hitler’s future:

  • As the war turns against him, his emotions will intensify and will have outbursts more frequently. His public appearances will become much rarer, because he’s unable to face a critical audience.
  • There might be an assassination attempt on him by the German aristocracy, the Wehrmacht officers or Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, because of his superhuman self-confidence in his military judgment.
  • There will be no surrender, capitulation, or peace negotiations. The course he will follow will almost certainly be the road to ideological immortality, resulting in the greatest vengeance on a world he despises.
  • From what we know of his psychology, the most likely possibility is that he will commit suicide in the event of defeat. It’s probably true he has an inordinate fear of death, but possibly being a psychopath he would undoubtedly weigh his options and perform the deed.

History of the Report

The wartime report was commissioned by the head of the OSS, General William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan. The research and investigation for it was done in collaboration with three other clinicians – Professor Henry A. Murray of the Harvard Psychological Clinic, Dr. Ernst Kris of the New School for Social Research, and Dr. Bertram D. Lewin of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute – as well as research associates.. Langer notes in his introduction to the book that one of the three essentially dropped out of the project because he was too busy with other work, but he gives no names. “He promised, however, to write down his views and conclusions and submit them … Unfortunately, not a word was ever received from him” although he did apparently confirm to Langer by telephone that he agreed with the diagnosis of Hitler’s perversion.

Historian Hans W. Gatzke and others have suggested that Langer borrowed extensively from prior work by Murray without properly crediting him, such as his lurid sexual analysis and his prediction of suicide; Langer has disputed some of the claims although the texts show similarities. In addition, similarities have been noted to perhaps the earliest published psychological profile of Hitler developed by Murray and influential psychologist Gordon Allport for Harvard seminars on ‘Civilian Morale’ (1941), intended to be distributed to private organisations throughout the US to prepare a consensus for war. The Harvard University Archives register stated that Murray started work on this profile in 1938 upon request from the Roosevelt administration.

The Langer report was classified as “Secret” by the OSS, but was eventually declassified in 1968. After receiving some encouragement from fellow scholars, particularly Professor Henderson Braddick of the Department of International Relations at Lehigh UniversityLanger decided to publish the report in book form. The original report is in the public domain and is available on the Internet on a number of sites. Numerous substantial unexplained differences were noted by Gatzke, however, between the report as published in 1972 and separate copy of the 1943/33 report. Gatzke writes “Recent correspondence with the publisher…has revealed that the original [OSS report] manuscript was changed and edited several times by Dr. Langer and others, both in 1943 and again before publication.

Content and conclusions

The report used many sources to profile Hitler, including a number of informants, including Hitler’s nephew, William Patrick Hitler, his family physician, Dr. Eduard Bloch, Ernst Hanfstaengl, Hermann Rauschning, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, Otto Strasser, Friedlinde Wagner, and Kurt Ludecke. The so-called “Hitler Source Book” which was appended to the wartime report, ran over one thousand pages and was indexed against the report. The groundbreaking study was the pioneer of offender profiling and political psychology, today commonly used by many countries as part of assessing international relations.

In addition to predicting that if defeat for Germany was near, Hitler would most likely choose suicide, Langer’s report stated that Hitler was “probably impotent” as far as heterosexual relations were concerned and that there was a possibility that Hitler had participated in a homosexual relationship. The report stated that:

[t]he belief that Hitler is homosexual has probably developed (a) from the fact that he does show so many feminine characteristics, and (b) from the fact that there were so many homosexuals in the Party during the early days and many continue to occupy important positions. It is probably true that Hitler calls Foerster “Bubi”, which is a common nickname employed by homosexuals in addressing their partners. This alone, however, is not adequate proof that he has actually indulged in homosexual practices with Foerster, who is known to be a homosexual.

Langer’s report also concluded that Hitler loved pornography and masochistic sex, and in particular that he had “coprophagic tendencies or their milder manifestations” in his heterosexual relationships, and masochistically derived “sexual gratification from the act of having a woman urinate or defecate on him.”

According to Langer’s introduction to the 1972 publication, he and his fellow investigators made a preliminary conclusion from a “survey of the raw material” and “knowledge of Hitler’s actions as reported in the news” that Hitler “was, in all probability, a neurotic psychopath” (page 17). On page 126 the claim is slightly different, and in turn different from the statement in the scan of the original 1943/44 OSS report (page 127-128): “There was general [OSS: unanimous] agreement among the collaborators [OSS: four psychoanalysts who have studied the material] that Hitler is probably a neurotic psychopath [OSS:is an hysteric] bordering on schizophrenia [OSS adds: and not a paranoiac as is so frequently supposed].”

The report briefly mentions some claims that a Rothschild fathered Alois Hitler – Adolf’s father, who was illegitimate – when Hitler’s paternal grandmother, Maria Schicklgruber, supposedly worked as a house servant in Vienna, but concludes “it is not absolutely necessary to assume that he had Jewish blood in his veins in order to make a comprehensive picture of his character with its manifoid traits and sentiments. From a purely scientific point of view, therefore, it is sounder not to base our reconstruction on such slim evidence but to seek firmer foundations. Nevertheless, we can leave it as a possibility which requires further verification.”

There are numerous statements in the report that have proven, on further investigation, to be erroneous. The bibliography of the report contains close to 400 entries.

Purposes and Effects

The Langer report was ostensibly an objective analysis of the mind of Adolf Hitler and related aspects of his life and society, based on written material, interviews, psychoanalytic theory and clinical experience. The first words of the OSS report are: “This study is not propagandistic in any sense of the term. It represents an attempt to screen the wealth of contradictory, conflicting and unreliable material concerning Hitler into strata which will be helpful to the policy-makers and those who wish to frame a counter-propaganda.” The preface further asserts that despite the ‘extremely scant and spotty’ material for a psychological analysis, one was possible due to their informants knowing Hitler well and their descriptions agreeing relatively well with each other, combined with the writers’ own ‘clinical experience in dealing with individuals of a similar type’. Ernst Hanfstaengl has been noted as likely the main informant, a Harvard-educated German businessman who was an intimate of Adolf Hitler, who was interviewed for several weeks once returned to the US.

Others, however, have suggested that the analysis was intended to be useful for propaganda and ‘psychological warfare’. Respected historian and authority on the OSS, Bradley F Smith, states that Langer’s report was known in the OSS as the “spiced-up” version, and that the idea originally came from Fred Oechsner the chief of the London station of the OSS’s Morale Operations Branch.

In a review of The Mind of Adolf Hitler for The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Martin Waugh concluded that Langer’s work is important “because of its value to the historian; because it was a ‘first’ for this country’s intelligence services; and because of the official recognition of psychoanalysis the assignment implied.” Historian Gatzke agrees that the original document is of historical interest, but not more due to the unreliability of its descriptions of the evidence and of its interpretations. Regarding the earlier Murray report which fed into the Langer report, psychiatrist Michael Stone states “There’s a whole lot of what we would now think of as psychobabble…”, including discredited psychoanalytic theories and psychiatric labels used in different ways to today. The dust jacket of the 1972 publication states: “What effect did this astounding secret document have on Allied war policy? That is not yet known. But in the words of Robert G.L. Waite, the distinguished historian [who wrote the afterword], Dr. Langer’s The Mind of Adolf Hitler is, in itself, “fascinating…a significant and suggestive interpretation which no serious student of Hitler will ignore.”.

References & Notes:

  1. The date of actual submission of the report to the OSS is difficult to determine. Langer’s reminiscence, contained in the introduction to the book, strongly implies that it was in the fall of 1943, around October 1. However, the 1969 letter from Professor Braddick, mentioned in the text, expressly refers to his review of the wartime report dated 1944.
  2. Langer’s rather amusing and self-effacing tale of how he came to be associated with Donovan and thereafter commissioned to head the Hitler study group – and how he came to write the report in a single draft that was delivered to OSS on the final day of Donovan’s deadline – is found in his Introduction to The Mind of Adolf Hitler. Donovan had a much simpler notion of what the report would look like. However, the psychoanalytic team conducted extensive research for months, following their scholarly and academic bent. Donovan, however, needed a quick result and eventually became exasperated at the delay and gave Langer an absolute deadline – much to Langer’s chagrin, since the team had not started writing the report at that time. As a consequence, Langer produced a single draft and submitted it. It was not reviewed by any of his collaborators. The Mind of Hitlerpp. 22-23.
  3. The three collaborators are identified on the title page of the wartime report, and in the online source, under the topic ofAdolf Hitler – OSS and CIA Files
  4. The Mind of Adolf Hitler p. 20.
  5. Klara Hitler’s Son: Reading the Langer Report on Hitler’s Mind Spark, Clare L. Social Thought and Research, Volume 22, Number 1&2 (1999), pp. 113-137
  6. Love’s Story Told: A Life of Henry A. Murray Forrest Glen Robinson, Harvard University Press, 1 Jan 1992. From Page 276 and in end Footnote.
  7. Murray, Henry A.. Worksheets on Morale. Seminar in Psychological Problems of Morale. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University, ?1942
  8. Title page of the wartime report appearing online in the Nizkor Project reproduction.
  9. Letter to Langer dated 12 March 1969
  10. Walter C. Langer: A Psychologial Profile of Adolph Hitler. His Life and Legend. The report in original typewritten format is available online herevia the Nizkor Project
  11. Hitler and Psychohistory Hans W. Gatzke, The American Historical Review, Vol. 78, No. 2 (Apr., 1973), pp. 394-401
  12. ‘Section entitled Hitler’s Probable Behavior in the Future in the online version of the Report.
  13. The Mind of Adolf Hitler at p. 149.
  14. The issue of Hitler’s possible homosexuality continues to fascinate historians to this day. See the relatively recent work by German historian Machtan, solely devoted to this thesis: Machtan, Lothar (2002). The Hidden Hitler. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-04309-7.
  15. The Mind of Adolf Hitler p. 149-50, 193. In his Introduction, Langer relates an anecdote: he was chatting with a colleague who asked about Hitler’s childhood. Langer spoke about it for a while, and the colleague announced that she now knew what Hitler’s perversion was. To his amazement, she had come to the same diagnosis. When he asked how she had performed this extraordinary feat, she related that it was based on her clinical experience in other cases.
  16. Langer further notes that “[H]e is not insane in the commonly accepted sense of the term, but a neurotic who lacks adequate inhibitions. He has not lost complete contact with the world about him and is striving to make some kind of psychological adjustment that will give him a feeling of security in his social group. It also means that there is a definite moral component in his character no matter how deeply it may be buried or how seriously it has been disturbed.” Separately page 246 of the original report states “Hitler may go insane. Hitler has many characteristics which border on the schizophrenic.”
  17. In The Mask of Sanity – 5th edition, 1988, Page 326, psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley notes that Langer’s use of the term ‘psychopath’ (as with other psychiatric terms) was probably in a different and much broader sense than later usage. He cites “Langer, Walter: The mind of Adolph Hitler, New York, 1972, Basic Books, Inc.” from which he also quotes “he was not insane but was emotionally sick and lacked normal inhibitions against antisocial behavior” – but these words do not appear on search of the 1972 Google book or the scan of the original 1943/44 report.
  18. In the Afterword by Waite, the book identifies some of the factual errors in the wartime report, such as (a) the statement that Hitler had a Jewish godfather in Vienna (in fact, there is no credible evidence to support this thesis), and (b) the claim that Hitler had long and dirty fingernails (he was in fact practically obsessive about hand washing). The report also states that Hitler’s half-sister Angela Raubal came to keep house for him in 1924 (Hitler was of course incarcerated at Landsberg for all of 1924 except for 20 December–31 December). The correct date is 1928, which began the relationship with Geli Raubal.
  19. Preface of 1943/44 scanned OSS report, signed Walter C Langer.
  20. The Shadow Warriors: OSS and the Origins of the CIA Bradley F Smith. Times Books. 1983
  21. Waugh, Martin. Review of The Mind of Adolf Hitler. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 43:124-133 (1974).
  22. Hitler as mass killer: A wartime analysis By Benedict Carey. New York Times. Published: Friday, April 1, 2005


On the Web: 

Langer, Walter C. – A Psychologial Analysis of Adolph Hitler His Life and Legend and Adolf Hitler Source Book materials The original Wartime Report to OSS as made publicly available. (the link to the report says Profile but the title in the actual document says Analysis).

Langer, Walter C. – A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler His Life and Legend. Including summaries of the Source Book materials.The original Wartime Report to OSS as made publicly available. Reproduced from Nizkor but in one searchable PDF document.

Murray, Henry A. (1943) Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler: With Predictions of His Future Behavior and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany’s Surrender at Donovan Nuremberg Trials Collection, Cornell University Law Library