Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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The recipients of those letters undoubtedly understood that “stresses and conflicts” were euphemisms for more sinister matters. But for varying psychological reasons of their own, about 70 percent of those approached agreed to see me. Some felt they should show this courtesy to a “colleague” from abroad introduced to them by a person of great medical standing in their country. The amount of time that had passed since the Nazi period permitted some of them to look upon it as something they could now begin to talk about. Indeed to do so could afford them an opportunity to affirm a post-Nazi identity. I had the impression that many of these former Nazi doctors retained pockets of guilt and shame, to which they did not have access — that is, unconscious or numbed forms of quiet self-condemnation. Those unacknowledged feelings were consistent with a need to talk.

But their way of dealing with those feelings was frequently the opposite of self-confrontation: rather, the dominant tendency among these Nazi doctors was to present themselves to me as decent people who tried to make the best of a bad situation. And they wanted a confirmation from me of this view of themselves. Moreover, as elderly men — the youngest were in their late fifties, most were in their late sixties or older, and one was ninety-one — they were at the stage of life when one likes to “review” one’s past in order to assert its meaning and affirm its legacy beyond impending death.

Some part of these men wished to be heard: they had things to say that most of them had never said before, least of all to people around them. Yet none of them — not a single former Nazi doctor I spoke to — arrived at a clear ethical evaluation of what he had done, and what he had been part of. They could examine events in considerable detail, even look at feelings and speak generally with surprising candor — but almost in the manner of a third person. The narrator, morally speaking, was not quite present.

I had to consider many levels of truth and untruth. I tried to learn all I could about each Nazi doctor before seeing him, and afterward to compare and cross-check details and interpretations with those available from other sources: from interviews with other former Nazi doctors and with nonmedical professionals; from interviews with former inmates and victims, especially those who had been physicians at Auschwitz; from written accounts of all forms of Nazi medical behavior, especially those writings that appeared relatively soon after the war; and from a great variety of books and documents, including trial records as well as diaries and letters when available. All this additional information was necessary for evaluation not only of willful falsehood or (more often) distortion but of questions of memory as well. We were discussing events that had occurred thirty or forty or more years before; persistent forgetting and manifestations of psychic numbing could blend with self-serving distortion. Yet I also encountered vivid and accurate recall, along with surpris- […ing]  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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