Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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“This World Is Not This World”  
to be. My friend replied, “But it is demonic that they were not demonic.” He could then raise his second question, really the one he had in mind in the first place: “How did they become killers?” That question can be addressed, and this book is in the way of an answer.

What my survivor friend was struggling with — what I have struggled with throughout this study — is the disturbing psychological truth that participation in mass murder need not require emotions as extreme or demonic as would seem appropriate for such a malignant project. Or to put the matter, another way, ordinary people can commit demonic acts.

But that did not mean that Nazi doctors were faceless bureaucratic cogs or automatons. As human beings, they were actors and participants who manifested certain kinds of behavior for which they were responsible, and which we can begin to identify.

There are several dimensions, then, to the work. At its heart is the transformation of the physician — of the medical enterprise itself — from healer to killer. That transformation requires us to examine the interaction of Nazi political ideology and biomedical ideology in their effects on individual and collective behavior. That in turn takes us to the significance of medicalized killing for Nazi mass murder in general — and for large-scale killing and genocide on the part of others. Finally, the work has relevance for broad questions of human control over life and death — for physicians everywhere, for science and scientists and other professionals in general, for institutions of various kinds — and also for concepts of human nature and ultimate human values. I can no more than touch on most of these general issues, having made a decision to focus on Nazi doctors and medicalized killing, and then on issues of mass murder. But my hope is that others will find here experience that might help them explore any of the searing moral issues implicit in this study.

That hope raises the important question of specificity and generality. I believe that one must stress the specificity of the Nazi killing project, especially concerning Jews: its unique characteristics, and the particular forces that shaped it. But having done that, one must also search for larger principles suggested by that unique project. No other event or institution can or should be equated with Auschwitz; but nor should we deny ourselves the opportunity to explore its general relevance for genocide and for situations of a very different order in which psychological and moral questions may be considerably more ambiguous.

The sequence of this book will be as follows. In the remainder of this introductory section, I say something about my overall psychological approach, interviews, and accompanying moral questions; and then I introduce the general Nazi theory and practice of medicalized killing. Part I examines the sequence from forcible sterilization to direct medical killing — or “euthanasia,” as it was falsely named — made possible by the Nazification of the German medical profession, and culminating in an extension of  “euthanasia” to the concentration camps. Part II, the longest segment of the book, concerns Auschwitz: its evolution as an institu- […tion]
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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