Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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died of natural causes years before, having been for the most part relatively senior at the time of their crimes. But the ones I did see, as I shall describe, were hardly free of evil, sometimes murderous, behavior.

I decided not to mention my Jewishness in preliminary correspondence with these doctors. Some undoubtedly suspected I was Jewish, though none asked me directly. On the one occasion when the matter came up specifically, the doctor concerned (during an interview near the end of the work) referred to an article in Time magazine describing the research and mentioning the fact that I was Jewish. His unctuous reference to the “tragic history” of our two peoples tended to confirm my impression that, had I emphasized my Jewishness from the beginning, this information would have colored and limited responses during the interviews and caused a much higher percentage of former Nazi doctors to refuse to see me. Whether talked about or not, however, my Jewishness was in some way significantly present in every interview, surely in my approach and probably in perceptions at some level of consciousness on the part of the German doctors.

Concerning the interview sequence, I first described briefly the purpose, method, and ground rules of the research, including a casual reference to my policy of recording interviews. Upon obtaining a doctor’s agreement to proceed, I asked a few factual questions about his immediate situation, but essentially began by asking him to trace his educational, especially medical, background. Because those experiences were relatively less emotionally loaded than subsequent ones, he could establish a pattern of fairly free discourse along with a kind of medical dialogue with me. It would also usually require him to describe the impact of the early Nazi period on his medical study and work and on his life in general. I would then usually ask more about the man’s family and cultural background, before examining in detail what he did and experienced during the Nazi years. The doctors knew that this was what I had come for, and many plunged energetically into those experiences. They tended to be less ready for detailed questions about feelings and conflicts — and about images and dreams, aspirations and self-judgments. But over the course of the interviews, the doctors came to reveal a great deal in these areas as well. With a little encouragement, these doctors — like other people I have interviewed in different research — entered readily into the interview’s combined pattern of focused explorations on the one hand, and spontaneous associations on the other.

The atmosphere tended to vary from uneasy to cordial. There could be periods of genuine rapport, usually alternating with tensions, various forms of distancing, and reassertion on the part of both the Nazi doctor and myself of our essentially antithetical existences. I shall have more to say later about the worldviews these doctors expressed; but generally most adopted a rather characteristic post-Second World War, conservative political and social stance which included criticism of Nazi excesses but support for relatively authoritarian elements in German society and  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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