Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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out of the movement itself”38: that is, all political, social, and cultural institutions were to be totally ideologized and controlled by trusted Nazis. Gleichschaltung could be a euphemism for eliminating all possible opposition, whether by exclusion, threat, or violence. Certainly for anyone looked upon with disfavor by the regime, Gleichschaltung was experienced as persecution. But it also expressed the vision of absolute unity, of the totalized community (Gemeinschaft), of making all things and people one.

Gleichschaltung, then, was the metaphor uniting visionary, idealism and terror. And the expectation of Gleichschaltung, once the process was initiated, created everywhere — in government, universities, and all other institutions and professions — the expectation of coercive unification according to Nazi ideological requirements. In medicine as elsewhere there was widespread “voluntary Gleichschaltung” — one might even say anticipatory Gleichschaltung — by people who embraced Nazi ideology in varying degrees.

The Gleichschaltung of the medical profession was completed via the Nazi-dominated Reich Physicians’ Chamber (Reichsärztekammer) and its various local branches, to which all practicing physicians had to belong. Pre-Nazi medical societies were either disbanded or “coordinated” into the Reich Physicians’ Chamber, whose leaders were drawn from the “old medical fighters” who had marched and fought in the streets in the early days. The latter had formed the National Socialist German Physicians’ League (Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Ärztebund) at a Party rally in 1929 and were involved as well in medical infighting with such rival groups as the Socialist League of Doctors.

In medicine as in other professions there was perpetual conflict between old fighters emerging from the early Nazi movement who tended to be militant and ideological, and the newer bureaucrats, who tended to be concerned with questions of organization and of integration of the existing medical profession.39 This conflict implicit in the dual authority of Party and government, plagued the Nazi regime throughout its existence. This vanguard of medical leadership, more notable for Nazi militance than scientific attainment, was nonetheless effective in pressuring its medical betters to fall in line with Nazi policies. And fall in line they did, to the extent that doctors had one of the highest ratios of Party members of any profession: 45 percent. Moreover, their ratio in the SA and SS was respectively two and seven times that of teachers.40* This medical movement toward the Nazis and toward self-Gleichschaltung was related both to strongly authoritarian and nationalistic tendencies within the medical profession, including “the underestimation of politics and the overestimation of order”,42 and to their special attraction as a group to the Nazi stress on biology and on a biomedical vision of national cure.
* But according to Michael Kater, their enthusiasm seems to have lessened after 1935 and again after the war began, and declined thereafter.41  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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