John W. Thompson – Psychiatrist in the Shadow of the Holocaust by Paul Weindlingby Frank W. Stahnisch

Journal of the History of the Neurosciences


Clinical Neurology / Neuroscience (all) / History and Philosophy of Science



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Journal of the History of the

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John W. Thompson – Psychiatrist in the Shadow of the Holocaust by Paul


Frank W. Stahnischa a Department of Community Health Sciences & Department of

History, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Published online: 15 Oct 2014.

To cite this article: Frank W. Stahnisch (2014) John W. Thompson – Psychiatrist in the Shadow of the Holocaust by Paul Weindling, Journal of the History of the Neurosciences: Basic and Clinical

Perspectives, 23:4, 405-407, DOI: 10.1080/0964704X.2013.868854

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Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, 23:405–407, 2014

Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISSN: 0964-704X print / 1744-5213 online

DOI: 10.1080/0964704X.2013.868854

Book Review

Paul Weindling. John W. Thompson – Psychiatrist in the Shadow of the Holocaust.

Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2010. 440 pp. $US95.00.

ISBN 978-1-58046-289-1 (hardcover).

This biographical book originates as part of a broader research program on the history of medicine in Nazi Germany and the social context of the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trials of 1947, as well as questions on the forced migration of Jewish physicians in the 1930s and 1940s that Paul Weindling, the Welcome Trust Research Professor at the Oxford Centre for Health, Medicine, and Society, has pursued over the past decades. His scholarship has already been reflected in substantial monographic publications, including Health, Race and

German Politics between National Unification and Nazism (1989) and Nazi Medicine and the Nuremberg Trials: From Medical Warcrimes to Informed Consent (2004). These books have examined major themes including human experimentation in the context of racial anthropology and eugenics ideas, as well as the development of the concept of “informed consent” during the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial that pursued medical misconduct during the

Second World War and the crimes against humanity committed by Nazi physicians.

The psychiatrist John W. Thompson, featured in Weindling’s recent monograph, is a particularly interesting figure in twentieth-century neuroscience history as well as in

Canadian cultural and political life. He had been a close associate, for example, of major intellectual figures such as the British-American writer Wystan Hugh Auden (1907–1973),

English poet Sir Stephen Harold Spender (1909–1995), and Major General Georges-Philéas

Vanier (1888–1967); yet his main impact was as leading medical expert during the investigations of the Nazi medical war crimes in preparation for the Nuremberg Trials and the publication of the legal indictments by the American physiologist Andrew Conway Ivy (1893–1978) in 1947. Further, he was an early advocate of the United Nations Educational,

Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) following the organization’s birth on

November 16, 1945, while trying to alleviate some of the devastating effects of the war on the globe. Thompson was born as one of six children to an Oregon father, to whom he referred as a “mathematical consultant” (p. 11), and a Scottish mother. His school education took place in Lausanne and Edinburgh, following which he pursued his studies of natural science and medicine at Stanford, Oxford, and Edinburgh. Already at the age of 7, while his family were living in Mexico, he witnessed the effects of armed conflict during the political upheaval of the Mexican revolution, following which his family emigrated to nearby California. After his medical studies, Thompson became an experimental scientist, pursuing research in the laboratory of neurophysiologist Edward Albert SharpeySchaefer (1850–1935) at the University of Edinburgh, as well as with Walter Bradford

Cannon (1871–1945) at Harvard University. It was also at Harvard that Thompson became involved in ongoing Anglo-American research collaborations in which Toronto-based scientists, in particular, also participated. After the Dunkerque defeat in 1940, the British 405

D ow nl oa de d by [E ind ho ve n T ec hn ica l U niv ers ity ] a t 1 4:1 4 1 5 F eb ru ary 20 15 406 Book Review