Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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of contagion but an assumption that Nazi or any other evil has no relationship whatsoever to the rest of us — to more general human capacities. While Nazi mass murder and brutality tempts one toward such an assumption, it is nonetheless false and even dangerous. As for the strong stomach, I was by no means without fear about what I was getting into; but decisions of that kind, in my experience, are made from one’s deepest intuition about oneself, about what is appropriate and right for one to do. That inner inclination to go ahead did not, however, relieve me of painful awareness that whatever I did would be considerably less than full moral and intellectual justice to the subject.

As I pursued the work, it became clear that the Nazis were not the only ones to involve doctors in evil. One need only look at the role of Soviet psychiatrists in diagnosing dissenters as mentally ill and incarcerating them in mental hospitals; of doctors in Chile (as documented by Amnesty International) serving as torturers; of Japanese doctors performing medical experiments and vivisection on prisoners during the Second World War; of white South African doctors falsifying medical reports of blacks tortured or killed in prison; of American physicians and psychologists employed by the Central Intelligence Agency in the recent past for unethical medical and psychological experiments involving drugs and mind manipulation; and of the “idealistic” young physician-member of the People’s Temple cult in Guyana preparing the poison (a mixture of cyanide and Kool-Aid) for the combined murder-suicide in 1978 of almost a thousand people. Doctors in general, it would seem, can all too readily take part in the efforts of fanatical, demagogic, or surreptitious groups to control matters of thought and feeling, and of living and dying. I have had professional or personal concern with all of these examples, and they bear some relationship to destructive patterns of the “medicalization” I will discuss.

But I found that Nazi doctors differed significantly from these other groups, not so much in their human experimentation but in their central role in genocidal projects — projects based on biological visions that justified genocide as a means of national and racial healing. (Perhaps Turkish doctors, in their participation in genocide against the Armenians, come closest, as I shall later suggest.) For this and many other reasons, Nazi doctors require a study of their own, and although I deal more broadly with patterns of genocide in the last section, this book is mainly about them.

Yet I make no claim to a comprehensive historical study of all Nazi doctors, or of the medical profession in general during the Third Reich. I often wished I had had access to such a study, as it would have greatly lessened the extensive digging into archives and trial documents in various parts of the world that my assistants and I had to undertake. What I have emphasized is the relationship of specific groups of Nazi doctors, and particular individuals, to mass murder — as well as the broader “healing” claim of the regime. This reversal of healing and killing became an  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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