Gustave Mark Gilbert (September 30, 1911 – February 6, 1977) was an American psychologist best known for his writings containing observations of high-ranking Nazi leaders during the Nuremberg trials. His 1950 book The Psychology of Dictatorship was an attempt to profile the Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler using as reference the testimonials of Hitler's closest generals and commanders. Gilbert's published work is still a subject of study in many universities and colleges, especially in the field of psychology.
Early life and education
Gilbert was born in the state of New York in 1911, the son of Jewish-Austrian immigrants. He won a scholarship from the School for Ethical Culture at the College Town Center in New York. In 1939, Gilbert obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree in psychology from Columbia University. Gilbert also held a diploma from the American Board of Examiners in professional psychology.
During World War II, Gilbert was commissioned with the rank of First Lieutenant. Because of his knowledge of German, he was sent overseas as a translator.
In 1945, after the end of the war, Gilbert was sent to Nuremberg, Germany, as a translator for the International Military Tribunal for the trials of the World War II German prisoners. Gilbert was appointed the prison psychologist of the German prisoners. During the process of the trials Gilbert became, after Douglas Kelley, the confidant of Hermann Göring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Frank, Oswald Pohl, Otto Ohlendorf, Rudolf Höss, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, among others. Gilbert and Kelley administered the Rorschach inkblot test to the 22 defendants in the Nazi leadership group prior to the first set of trials. Gilbert also participated in the Nuremberg trials as the American Military Chief Psychologist and provided testimony attesting to the sanity of Rudolf Hess.
In 1946, after the trials, Gilbert returned to the US. Gilbert stayed busy teaching, researching, and writing. In 1947 he published part of his diary, consisting of observations taken during interviews, interrogations, "eavesdropping" and conversations with German prisoners, under the title Nuremberg Diary. (This diary was reprinted in full in 1961 just before the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem.) The following is a famous exchange Gilbert had with Göring from this book:
Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
In 1948, as Head Psychologist at the Veterans Hospital at Lyons, NJ, Gilbert treated veterans of World Wars I and II who had suffered nervous breakdowns.
In 1950, Gilbert published The Psychology of Dictatorship: Based on an Examination of the Leaders of Nazi Germany. In this book, Gilbert made an attempt to portray a profile of the psychological behavior of Adolf Hitler, based on deductive work from eyewitness reports from Hitler's commanders in prison in Nuremberg.
In September 1954, while he was an Associate Professor of Psychology at Michigan State College, Gilbert attended the 62nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in New York. Gilbert was part of a four-person panel discussing "Psychological Approaches to the Problem of Anti-Intellectualism."
In 1961, when he was the chairman of the psychology department of Long Island University in Brooklyn, Gilbert was summoned to testify in the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Gilbert testified on May 29, 1961, describing how both Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Rudolf Höss tried in their conversations with him to put the responsibility for the extermination of the Jews on each other's doorstep. Nevertheless, Eichmann appeared in the accounts of both men. Then he presented a document, handwritten by Höss, that surveys the process of extermination at Auschwitz and different sums of people gassed there – under Höss as commandant and according to an oral report by Eichmann. The court decided not to accept Gilbert's psychological analyses of the prisoners at Nuremberg as part of his testimony.
In 1967, Gilbert convinced Leon Pomeroy, then a recent graduate from University of Texas at Austin, to build a clinical doctoral program in the field of psychology at Long Island University. At the time, Gilbert was serving as chairman of the psychology department of Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York.
Gilbert died on 6 February 1977.
Portrayal in popular culture
Gustave Gilbert has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions;
- Jan Englert in the 1970 Polish film Epilog norymberski
- Matt Craven in the 2000 Canadian/US TV production Nuremberg
- August Zirner in the 2005 German docudrama Speer und Er
- Robert Jezek in the 2006 British television production Nuremberg: Goering's Last Stand
- Adam Godley in the 2006 British television docudrama Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial
Also, the character "Abe Fields" in Michael Koehlmeier's 2008 book Abendland ("Occident") who is based on Gustave Gilbert (see the interview with the author in the Austrian paper Der Falter of 15. 8. 2007). In the book, Abe Fields sits in on the trials as psychologist and speaks to the defendants.
- (1947). Nuremberg Diary. Farrar, Straus and Company: New York.
- (1948). "Hermann Göring: Amiable Psychopath". Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 43, 211–229.
- (1950). The Psychology of Dictatorship: Based on an Examination of the Leaders of Nazi Germany. New York: The Ronald Press Company.
- (1951). "Stereotype persistence and change among college students". Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 46, 245–254.