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Shadows Walking' examines inner minds of Nazi doctors

PLATTSBURGH - Douglas R. Skopp has invested the past 30 years of his life in conducting research and writing his first book, but it's time he's felt has been well spent.

The retired State University of New York at Plattsburgh professor drew upon his expertise teaching German history in the U.S. and researching it at its source in the early 1960s - and again in the mid-1980s as a Fulbright scholar - for his book, "Shadows Walking."

Skopp had investigated the political behavior of a variety of educated professionals in modern Germany - public school teachers, physicist, chemists, mathematicians. However, in 1985, he became intrigued by doctors who came under the influence of the Nazi movement during World War II.

"I was interested in how doctors became Nazis and whether or not their educational experiences and their social and political values tended to make them join the party or oppose the party," said Skopp.

It was upon returning to the U.S. in 1986 from his time in Germany that Skopp began gathering his research and writing it down, page by page.

"I wrote the book during summer vacations and spring breaks. I never took time for it during school," said Skopp. "But, when I retired in 2006, I had more time to finish it."

"Shadows Walking," explained Skopp, is a fictional biography that centers around two main characters - Johann Brenner, "an idealistic physician and ardent German nationalist" and his childhood friend, Philipp Stein, also a doctor. Brenner joins the Nazi party, willingly participating in "crimes against humanity" that violate his Hippocratic Oath to practice medicine with a strong sense of ethics. Stein, on the other hand, is a German Jew caught in the most turbulent of times in the Fatherland.

"So, the story of the novel is how their lives intersect at several different points until their final meeting," said Skopp. "At that point, [Brenner], as I have imagined, has a significant choice to make, when he finally realizes what his career has led to."

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