Goebbels´ clubfoot

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goebbels clubfoot
Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) was a Nazi politician in Germany and the chief propagandist for the Nazi Party, becoming Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda from 1933 to 1945. He advocated for discrimination, including the extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust. He had a clubfoot.

He wrote in his diary in 1924:

“Then I remember a Sunday when our family took a long walk to Geistenbeck. Next day the problem with my foot returned. What incredible pain! Despite months of treatment, my foot was paralyzed for life. From that moment, my youth held little joy for me. I had to look after myself, and could no longer join in the other children’s games. I became lonely and solitary. My former friends had no affection for me.”

That isolation probably played a role in shaping his attitudes and outlook and his desires for revenge against those he perceived had wronged him. Heiber argued that the clubfoot played a disastrous role in his life by engendering a strong desire for him to be compensated for this misfortune. His parents were deeply religious and they viewed his misfortune to have a clubfoot as a curse placed on the family. They had the belief that a physical defect was a punishment inflicted by God. Goebbel’s began to question the existence of God as “Why had God made him this way, so that people laughed at him and mocked him? Why was he not allowed to love himself and life as others did? Why did he have to feel hatred when he wanted and needed to feel love?” (source).

Goebbels managed to get an exemption from military service during World War One because of his clubfoot. He tried to conceal his clubfoot the best he could. That did not stop Goebbels enemies from drawing a parallel between him and with the cloven hoof and limp of the Devil.

After Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, Goebbels became the Chancellor of Germany for one day and then he and his wife committed suicide, after they poisoned their six children with cyanide. At autopsy, the Soviet physicians noted that

“the right foot sole is twisted inward to such a degree that it stands virtually at a right angle to the leg bone”

It is unclear what was the cause of Goebbels’ clubfoot and several hypotheses have been advanced (Victor et al, 2019):

  • The most common cause of a clubfoot is genetic and present at birth
  • Langerich suggests that Goebbels had a neurogenic type of clubfoot due to a metabolic disorder in childhood
  • WL Shirer reports that Goebbels stated that the cause of his clubfoot was osteomyelitis
  • Sometimes, Goebbels himself attributed the defect to an accident
  • Others have attributed it to poliomyelitis
  • Victor et al (2019) believed it was due to hematogenous osteomyelitis:

In children the source of bacteremia leading to osteomyelitis is usually inapparent. Perhaps a blunt trauma causing the excruciating right foot pain he reported at 10 after a long walk could be the source of bacteremia. There are other less likely possibilities for hematogenous osteomyelitis in his biography. Goebbels’ childhood was overshadowed by poor health and he had pneumonia as an infant. He reported having “infammation of the lungs with terrifying delirium”. This pneumonia could be due to Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes (β-hemolytic group A) or Staphylococcus aureus. The microorganism might have spread hematogenously to the right tibia and/or fbula, damaging their lower metaphysis and perhaps the right peroneal nerve, stopping the bone growth, shortening the right limb
and enhancing the development of a clubfoot years after the pulmonary infection

It is known that he almost died after birth with pneumonia and this period of ill-health may have played a role:

As Ralf Georg Reuth, the author of Joseph Goebbels (1993), pointed out: “For two years his family doctor and a masseur struggled to rid his right leg of intermittent paralysis. Finally they had to tell the despairing parents that Joseph’s foot was ‘lamed for life,’ would fail to grow properly, and would eventually develop into a clubfoot. Fritz and Katharina Goebbels refused to accept this prognosis. They even arranged for Joseph to be seen by doctors at the University of Bonn’s medical school, a step requiring great courage for people of their humble station… Later, after the boy had hobbled around for some time with an ugly orthopedic appliance that was supposed to hold the paralyzed foot straight and provide support, the surgeons at the Maria-Hilf Hospital in Monchengladbach agreed to operate on the ten-year-old. The operation proved a failure, putting an end to any hopes that the child might be spared a clubfoot.” Source

Victor et al also noted that:

It is not inconceivable that Goebbels, Hitler’s master of the Aryan racial puritanism and white supremacy, was lying about his clubfoot’s etiology to get rid of the stigma of an inherited defect.

This was probably important in the context of The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring in Nazi Germany which allowed for the compulsory sterilization of anyone who suffered from a list of alleged genetic disorders. Some have claimed that clubfoot was removed from the list of genetic diseases, as it was considered Goebbels’ disease (Victor et al, 2019).

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