Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 58  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
Whether he ordered the drugs that killed that particular infant, he was certainly implicated in the killing project. He had responsibility for the false records, and admitted filling out many forms that resulted in children's deaths, and signing large numbers of false death certificates. He is widely suspected of having done much more: for a period of months during his work at the institution when there was no head doctor, children continued to die in ways considered suspicious. To me he clearly sought to explain his involvement in such a way as to minimize his responsibility. But I believe he also conveyed accurately the deliberate ambiguity that facilitated his actions and limited his sense of guilt about whatever he did in connection with the killing. This “as if” situation is characteristic of direct medical killing and, to a considerable extent, of indirect medicalized killing as well.

F.’s youthful embrace of the Nazi movement in Bavaria also had great bearing on his perceptions and actions. Having been an unusually enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth and a Party member since he was eighteen, he was deeply troubled by rumors he heard, while working in psychiatric hospitals during the early 1940s, of the killing of the mentally ill. He at first denounced these rumors as “vicious propaganda against the regime”; and when they could no longer be denied, he still “tried to see all of this somehow in connection with the idealism of National Socialism.” He had the need, that is, to seek, on the one hand, some justification of the killing within the biomedical vision; and, on the other hand, to continue to call forth defenses of denial and psychic numbing helped by the bureaucratic medicalization of the program, in order to convince himself that “these forms [which he filled out] were absolutely harmless,” and that even the policy of killing deformed children “was not a command but a regulation giving the authorization so that the children could be killed.”

He described an interaction between the child-victim without ordinary human feelings (“whom one cannot speak to, who does not laugh, who is affectively unapproachable”) and the physician-killer with the same malady (“Such an executioner does not have that bad feeling [that one has in directly killing a person] .... There is a lack of the affective tension, the emotional participation ... and that can turn any human being into a murderer”). He spoke of the Hoche-Binding study as having provided “mental preparation” for that kind of attitude, and could say of the later killing of children: “One cannot call it a National Socialist program.” Like many doctors and scientists, he combined professional advocacy within the biomedical vision with ideological embrace of National Socialism in the name of the greater German racial community: “One could not attack one’s own people from behind [dem eigenen Volk nicht in den Rücken fallen].” He also spoke of the influence of the war: how “people feared that through events of the war they themselves would be killed” and “did not have much concern left over for the sufferings of other people — let’s  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 58 Forward  Next Page