Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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“Euthanasia ” Consciousness

Binding and Hoche turned out to be the prophets of direct medical killing. While there were subsequent papers and discussions by German psychiatrists of the Hoche-Binding thesis, it is probably fair to say that, during the years prior to the Nazi assumption of power, their thesis was by no means a majority view in German psychiatry and medicine.7 Under the Nazis, there was increasing discussion of the possibility of mercy killings, of the Hoche concept of the “mentally dead,” and of the enormous economic drain on German society caused by the large number of these impaired people. A mathematics text asked the student to calculate how many government loans to newly married couples could be granted for the amount of money it cost the state to care for “the crippled, the criminal, and the insane.”8

Moreover, the extensive public and medical discussion of the sterilization project tended always to suggest that more radical measures were necessary. In an August 1933 speech at the opening ceremony for a state medical academy in Munich, the Bavarian commissioner of health, Professor Walter Schultze, declared that sterilization was insufficient: psychopaths, the mentally retarded, and other inferior persons must be isolated and killed. He noted, “This policy has already been initiated in our concentration camps.”9 On all sides there took shape the principle that the practice of extermination was part of the legitimate business of government.

Mental hospitals became an important center for the developing “euthanasia” consciousness. From 1934, these hospitals were encouraged to neglect their patients; each year funds were reduced and state inspections of standards were either made perfunctory or suspended altogether. Especially important were courses held in psychiatric institutions for leading government officials and functionaries — courses featuring grotesque “demonstrations” orchestrated to display the most repulsive behavior of regressed patients — of “life unworthy of life.” After 1938, these courses were systematically extended to include members of the SS, political leaders of the Party, the police, prison officials, and the press. In the process the medical profession itself was made ready for the extraordinary tasks it was to be assigned.10

The Nazis exploited film for the same purpose, and doctors played a large role here as well. Early films, such as “The Inheritance” (Das Erbe, 1935), were mainly didactic and ostensibly scientific in depicting medical and social consequences of hereditary impairment. A subsequent film, “The Victim of the Past” (Opfer der Vergangenheit, 1937), covered the same ground and went much further: it not only contrasted “healthy German citizens” (girls doing gymnastics, etc.) with regressed occupants of back wards, but spoke of Jewish mental patients and of the “frightening transgression” of the law of natural selection, which must be reinstated “by humane methods.” “The Victim of the Past” was ceremonially intro- […duced]  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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