How psychiatrists used Rorschach tests to examine Nazis during the Nuremberg trials.
By 1945, the word Nazi—for a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party—had become shorthand around the world for a cold-blooded sadistic monster beyond the pale of humanity. Six million Jews had been killed. How could any of the Nazis not have known? There was an overwhelming desire to stage The World vs The Nazis, with the defendants all guilty and deserving to die, but there was no clear legal basis for doing so. And the truth was that not all of the Holocaust’s perpetrators were party members, and vice versa. It was impossible, logistically and in principle, to condemn every single party member as a war criminal. The atrocities were unprecedented in human history, but for that very reason it was unclear what laws fit the crime.
The legal issues were resolved by negotiation among the Allies and by fiat. An international military tribunal was created. “Crimes against humanity” were prosecuted for the first time, at the Nuremberg trials, beginning in 1945. Twenty-four prominent Nazis were chosen as the first group of defendants. But the moral quandaries remained. The defendants claimed that they had been following their own country’s laws, which in this case meant whatever Hitler wanted. Could people legally be held to account on the basis of a higher law of common humanity? How deep does cultural relativity go? And if these Nazis really were deranged psychopaths, then weren’t they unfit to stand trial, or even not guilty by reason of insanity? Read More