Medicine and Medical Ethics in Nazi Germany: Origins, Practices, Legacies

By Francis R. Nicosia; Jonathan Huener | Go to book overview
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Chapter Five
PATHOLOGY OF MEMORY
German Medical Science and the
Crimes of the Third Reich

William E. Seidelman

A MAJOR DEVELOPMENT in medicine in the last century was the clinical and pathological elucidation of neuropsychiatric disorders affecting memory and behavior. The singular condition associated with impaired memory is known by the eponym for the German psychiatrist who first described the clinical and pathological entity, Dr. Alois Alzheimer.1 Alzheimer’s description and definition of dementia occurred within the context of a dynamic intellectual environment comprising the psychiatrists, neurologists, pathologists, universities, hospitals, clinics, and research institutes of Germany. Alzheimer, his specific discovery, the general study of brain disorders and dementia, and the establishment of new psychiatric diagnoses were part of this remarkable confluence of people and ideas. This intellectual cauldron gave birth to modern psychiatry as we know it today.

Alzheimer’s discovery occurred within the context of the specialized discipline of academic psychiatry dedicated to teaching and research. In the early part of the last century, German academic psychiatry had achieved world dominance. By 1911, the year that Alzheimer published his second case of dementia, almost fourteen hundred German physicians were specializing in psychiatry. German psychiatry was to flourish further under the leadership of Alzheimer’s professor and mentor, Emil Kraepelin, who is considered the founder of modern psychiatry. The focus of academic psychiatry was the investigation into the organic causes of psychiatric disorder.2

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