Alice Ricciardi

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 24 April 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:964
  1. Ned Stafford

In 1946 the US military government overseeing Nazi prosecutions in defeated Germany announced plans to put on trial doctors and others for crimes against humanity, including the murder of around 100 000 mentally ill people. The West German Medical Association appointed a small delegation of medical observers, including Alice Ricciardi.

Only 20 doctors and three administrators stood trial, many others being in hiding or having committed suicide. Hearings began in December 1946. Evidence presented into August was not for the squeamish. Michael Hayne, a German psychoanalyst who later befriended Alice in London, says: “She was appalled—what she had to hear at the trial.” Evidence included doctors supervising the murder of rebellious children who did not fit the Nazi ideal. This was especially shocking to her.

During the trial Alice and other medical observers did not buckle under pressure from the German medical establishment to support the defendants. Thirteen doctors and three administrators were convicted—seven executed. The observers, despite deep opposition from doctors who wanted to bury the crimes, wrote devastating accounts.

Alexander Mitscherlich, head of the observers, coauthored the book Science without Humanity, but not with Alice. Instead she wrote her own book with the chillingly …

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