Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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“This World Is Not This World”
[sub…] sequent students of the process realized that sadism and viciousness alone could not account for the killing of millions of people. The emphasis then shifted to the bureaucracy of killing: the faceless, detached bureaucratic function originally described by Max Weber, now applied to mass murder.7 This focus on numbed violence is enormously important, and is consistent with what we shall observe to be the routinization of all Auschwitz function.

Yet these emphases are not sufficient in themselves. They must be seen in relation to the visionary motivations associated with ideology, along with the specific individual-psychological mechanisms enabling people to kill. What I call “medicalized killing” addresses these motivational principles and psychological mechanisms, and permits us to understand the Auschwitz victimizers — notably Nazi doctors — both as part of a bureaucracy of killing and as individual participants whose attitudes and behavior can be examined.

Medicalized killing can be understood in two wider perspectives. The first is the “surgical”method of killing large numbers of people by means of a controlled technology making use of highly poisonous gas; the method employed became a means of maintaining distance between killers and victims. This distancing had considerable importance for the Nazis in alleviating the psychological problems experienced (as attested over and over by Nazi documents) by the Einsatzgruppen troops who carried out face-to-face shooting of Jews in Eastern Europe (see pages 159-60) — problems that did not prevent those troops from murdering 1,400,000 Jews.8

I was able to obtain direct evidence on this matter during an interview with a former Wehrmacht neuropsychiatrist who had treated large numbers of Einsatzgruppen personnel for psychological disorders. He told me that these disorders resembled combat reactions of ordinary troops: severe anxiety, ni.shtmlares, tremors, and numerous bodily complaints. But in these “killer troops,” as he called them, the symptoms tended to last longer and to be more severe. He estimated that 20 percent of those doing the actual killing experienced these symptoms of psychological decompensation About half of that 20 percent associated their symptoms mainly with the “unpleasantness” of what they had to do, while the other half seemed to have moral questions about shooting people in that way. The men had greatest psychological difficulty concerning shooting women and children, especially children. Many experienced a sense of guilt in their dreams, which could include various forms of punishment or retribution. Such psychological difficulty led the Nazis to seek a more “surgical” method of killing.

But there is another perspective on medicalized killing that I believe to be insufficiently recognized: killing as a therapeutic imperative. That kind of motivation was revealed in the words of a Nazi doctor quoted by the distinguished. survivor physician Dr. Ella Lingens-Reiner. Pointing to the chimneys in the distance, she asked a Nazi doctor, Fritz Klein, “How can  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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