Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
 
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INTRODUCTION 
 
[at…] tempted. Over their course I experienced every kind of emotion — from rage to anxiety to revulsion, and (with survivors) to admiration, shared pain, guilt, and helplessness — and now and then the wish that I had never begun the whole enterprise. I had ni.shtmlares about Auschwitz, sometimes involving my wife and children. When I mentioned these to my survivor friend just after I had begun the research, when they were most frequent, he looked at me without particular sympathy but perhaps with a glimmer of approval, and said softly, “Good. Now you can do the work.” That helped me.

Yet, whatever the pain involved, I was not for the most part depressed or extremely distraught, and in fact experienced considerable energy in carrying out the study. I was immersed in its active requirements — the elaborate arrangements in organizing and carrying out the interviews and the general sense of a task that had to be completed. The pain hit me a bit harder when I returned to the United States in the spring of 1979 and sat down alone in my study to contemplate and begin to order what I had learned. Now I was no longer in motion, my only task was to imagine myself into Auschwitz and other killing centers, as I have been attempting to do ever since. Of course, one moves imaginatively in and out of such places — one cannot stay in them too long. Contributing to my well-being in the recent part of the work was the very struggle to bring form to the material. Over the course of such an enterprise, self-discipline is made possible by the anticipation of combating an evil and those responsible for it, of having one’s say. 
 
The Limits of Psychological Explanation 
 
Psychological research is always a moral enterprise, just as moral judgments inevitably include psychological assumptions. Consider, for instance, Hannah Arendt’s celebrated judgment on Adolf Eichmann and the “banality of evil.”¹ That phrase has emerged as a general characterization of the entire Nazi project. What I have noted about the ordinariness of Nazi doctors as men would seem to be further evidence of her thesis. But not quite. Nazi doctors were banal, but what they did was not. Repeatedly in this study, I describe banal men performing demonic acts. In doing so — or in order to do so — the men themselves changed; and in carrying out their actions, they themselves were no longer banal. By combining psychological and moral considerations, one can better understand the nature of the evil and the motivations of the men.

My goal in this study is to uncover psychological conditions conducive to evil. To make use of psychology in that way, one must try to avoid specific pitfalls. Every discipline courts illusions of understanding that which is not understood; depth psychology, with its tenuous and often defensive relationship to science, may be especially vulnerable to that  
 
THE NAZI DOCTORS:
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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