John W. Thompson

John W. Thompson

Psychiatrist in the Shadow of the Holocaust

Paul J. Weindling


University of Rochester Press



Biography of a World War II-era physician whose work was a response to the suffering of Holocaust victims, and whose investigations laid the groundwork for the Nuremberg Medical Trials.
John W. Thompson: Psychiatrist in the Shadow of the Holocaust is the biography of a doctor whose revulsion at Nazi human experiments prompted him to seek a humane basis for physician-patient relations. As a military-scientific intelligence officer in 1945, Thompson was the first to name "medical war crimes" as a category for prosecution. His investigations laid the groundwork for the Nuremberg medical trials and for the novel idea of "informed consent." Yet, Thompson has remained a little-known figure, despite his many scientific, literary, and religious connections.
This book traces Thompson's life from his birth in Mexico, through his studies at Stanford, Edinburgh, and Harvard, and his service in the Canadian Air Force. It reconstructs his therapeutic work with Unesco in Germany and his time as a Civil Rights activist in New York, where he developed his concept of holistic medicine.
Thompson was close to authors like Auden and Spender and inspirational religious figures like Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche. He drew on ideas of Freud, Jung, and Buber. The philosophical and religious dimensions of Thompson's response to Holocaust victims' suffering are key to this study, which cites accounts of psychiatrists, students and patients who knew Thompson personally, war crimes prosecution records, and unpublished personal papers.

Paul Weindling is Wellcome Trust Research Professor at the Centre for Health, Medicine and Society: Past and Present, Oxford Brookes University, UK.

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9 black and white, 1 line illustrations
456 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in Medical History
Paperback, 9781580464604, April 2013
Hardback, 9781580462891, September 2010
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC BIO017000, MED105000, MED039000
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Table of Contents

"Ecce Homo"
Mexican Childhood
Palo Alto Schooling, Stanford Student
Transatlantic Physiologist
Edinburgh Physician
Excitable Harvard
High Altitude and Rapid Descent
Auden, Anxiety, and the German Mind
Belsen, "My Crucifix"
Medical War Crimes Revelations
Experimental Ethics
Therapist for the German Patient
UNESCO: At the Conscience of the World
The Eau Vive Affair
Child Guide
New York: "St. John the Psychiatrist"
"Dying We Live"
John Thompson's Writings: Published, Unpublished, and Lost
Archives and Selected Bibliography


Almost singlehandedly, Thompson initiated a new Nuremberg Trial targeted specifically at German doctors accused of "Medical War Crimes." Author Weindling traces in minute detail how an aroused Thompson overcame resistance in high Allied military and diplomatic circles [a few sought only practical results from those experiments without considering ethics]. Thompson would have none of that. He and his adherents informed the public about monstrous experiments undertaken not only by the SS but also by civilian doctors. Those trials duly took place in 1947, thereby establishing an incontestable record of what had transpired in German camps, hospitals, and sanatoria . [An] exhaustive study. JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE AND ALLIED SCIENCES.

Author Bio

Paul Weindling is Wellcome Trust Research professor in the History of Medicine, Department of History, Oxford Brookes University.

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