Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 59  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
“Euthanasia”: Direct Medical Killing 
say, sick people.” Here he expressed both the Nazi view of the unacceptability of the wartime burden created by mental patients as well as the actual. death anxiety he and other doctors experienced at the time. The situation was aggravated by his strong personal conflict about whether to leave work in a mental hospital in order to rejoin the military at a time of war, a conflict that could lead to profound fear and guilt either way — over what he was doing and avoiding if he stayed with the mental hospital, and over what he was leaving and what he was facing if he rejoined the military, as he eventually did. For a time, he had been protected from military duty because his work in “euthanasia” placed him in the category of “indispensable.”

Despite some control over that decision, he felt himself essentially in a closed system of authority and policy: his chief called the doctors together and told them of the Hitler decree on “euthanasia” and the work of the “medical commission” in making final decisions about children, all of which, it was emphasized; constituted “a secret matter of the Reich [Geheime Reichssache].” Both chiefs he worked under were part of that closed system and “were convinced that it [the killing project] was right”; and that was a time when, unlike today, “one was afraid to do something not in accord with the chief.” Nor was there any communication between colleagues about the policy, once it was initiated: “It was only the chain of command from high to low, but no discussion,” because it was “taboo” to talk about the program to anyone. As an inexperienced doctor and human being in his mid-twenties, he felt alone and anxious and experienced stirrings of disillusionment (“I did not believe it possible that a Reich I had wished for . . . was capable of ordering something like that”), along with a sense of there being “no exit.” His way of coping was to comply, to do what was expected of him.

One of his means of adapting was to throw himself into medical work. He spent twelve to fourteen hours a day on the wards “trying to grasp the whole thing, at least scientifically, . . . to examine . . . all factors that were ... important for the development of the condition, . . . to examine the relatives, the whole family, . . . working with the patients, examining them precisely.” This permitted “the physician to break through,” but it also helped him solidify for himself his own medical “as if” situation: that is, helped him maintain a partial illusion of medical authenticity.

But he was also aware that he was involved in something dirty, in the killing of children — as when he asked himself why a particular child was sleeping so much (“That one did indeed think”) — and aware also that it was “not the legal way” for orders to come from above concerning what doctors should do. Dr. F. was later to admit publicly that the chief doctor told him of the order to kill the children, and that he (F.) was aware that the forms he filled out led directly to killing. He frequently spoke of the deceptions as “diabolical” and added, with retrospective wisdom, of course, but with significance for his feelings at the time as well: “Either  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 59 Forward  Next Page