Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Nazis. “Eugenics” is a term coined by Francis Galion in 1883 to denote the principle of strengthening a biological group on the basis of ostensible hereditary worth; despite its evolutionary claims and later reference to genetic laws, eugenics has no scientific standing.)

But the German version of eugenics had a characteristic tone of romantic excess, as in Lenz’s earlier (1917) declaration, in a thesis written for his professor, Alfred Ploetz (a social-Darwinist and the founder, in 1904, of the German Society for Racial Hygiene), that “race was the criterion of value” and “the State is not there to see that the individual gets his rights, but to serve the race.” Lenz understood his advocacy to be one of “organic socialism” and feared that, without a radical eugenics project, “our [Nordic] race is doomed to extinction.”5

For Germans like Lenz in the 1920s, establishing widespread compulsory, sterilization became a sacred mission — a mission that led them to embrace National Socialism, with its similar commitment. While American and British advocates of eugenics sometimes approached this German romantic excess, the political systems in the two countries allowed for open criticism and for legal redress. In Britain there was continual legal resistance to coercive sterilization; and in the United States, legal questions could be raised concerning individual rights and limited knowledge about heredity, which eventually led to the rescinding or inactivation of sterilization laws in the states where they had been passed.* In Nazi Germany, on the other hand, the genetic romanticism of an extreme biomedical vision combined with a totalistic political structure to enable the nation to carry out relentlessly, and without legal interference, a more extensive program of compulsory sterilization than had ever previously been attempted. Indeed, the entire Nazi regime was built on a biomedical vision that required the kind of racial purification that would progress, from sterilization to extensive killing. †

As early as his publication of Mein Kampf between 1924 and 1926, Hitler had declared the sacred racial mission of the German people to be “assembling and preserving the most valuable stocks of basic racial elements [and] ... slowly and surely raising them to a dominant position.” He was specific about the necessity for sterilization (“the most modern medical means ”) on behalf of an immortalizing vision of the state-mediated race (“a millennial future”). And for him the stakes were absolute: “If the power to fight for one’s own health is no longer present, the right to live in this world of struggle ends.” 9
* In observing Nazi sterilization policies, the Journal of the American Medical Association did not so much express outrage as it contrasted America’s “more gradual evolution of practice and principles” regarding sterilization.6 Ardent American sterilizers, such as Dr. Joseph S. De Jarnette of Virginia, could, even complain: “The Germans are beating us at our own game.”7

† Thus Daniel J. Kevles reports: “Within three years, German authorities had sterilized some two hundred and twenty-five thousand people, almost ten times the number so treated in the previous thirty years in America.” 8  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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