Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
 
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organizing principle of the work, and I came to suspect the relevance of that reversal for other genocidal projects.

Much has been said about relationships of perpetrators and victims, and such relationships had considerable importance in Auschwitz and elsewhere. But I have found it essential to make the sharpest differentiation between the moral and psychological situation of members of the two groups. Whatever the behavior of either, prisoners were in the situation of being threatened inmates while Nazi doctors were threatening victimizers. This clear distinction must be the beginning of any evaluation of medical behavior in Auschwitz. Jews were the main object of Nazi genocide and therefore the main victims of Nazi doctors. But my concerns in this book also include non-Jewish Auschwitz inmates such as Poles and political prisoners and Russian prisoners of war; and also mental patients in Germany and occupied areas victimized even more directly by Nazi doctors.

As I reached the end of this work, many people asked me what it had done to me. My answer usually has been, “A great deal,” followed by a change of subject. The truth is that it is still a little early to tell. One cannot expect to emerge from a study of this kind spiritually unscathed, all the more so when one’s own self is the instrument for taking in forms of experience one would have preferred not to have known about. But the other side of the enterprise for me has been the nourishing human network, extending throughout much of the world, within which I worked. Survivors were at the heart of it, and they provided a kind of anchoring. But the network included colleagues, students of Nazi genocide, Germans committed to confronting the Nazi era, young assistants — some of whom I have known over years, and others I met for the first time — so many in all of these categories that I must list them at the end of the volume. Sharing an enterprise such as this vivifies old friendships and, in the most immediate and powerful ways, creates new ones. A compensation perhaps for my very limited knowledge of languages involved (German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and French) was the breadth of this nourishing network that took shape.

I have been aware for decades of Albert Camus’s insistence that we be neither victims nor executioners, that we avoid institutions and actions in which these two categories come into being. But I have a new understanding of what he meant. Camus in fact learned his original lesson from participating in the anti-Nazi underground. It is hardly necessary to point out how often the advice is ignored. But I would at the same time insist that we are capable of acting on it, however imperfectly — capable of learning from carefully examined past evil. I undertook this study, and now offer it, in that spirit of hope.
 
 
THE NAZI DOCTORS:
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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