Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
 
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“LIFE UNWORTHY OF LIFE”: THE GENETIC CURE 
 
one is a physician or one is not.” And: “The physician, regardless of his ideology or age, all these years he has been educated to help the sick, to heal the sick and not to kill the sick.”

Doctors in Hans F.‘s situation had to have some awareness of the reversal of healing and killing, but did not necessarily experience sufficient guilt to prevent them from participating. In this doctor’s case, residual feelings of shame and guilt were later intensified by the knowledge that, among the doctors he worked closely with, one had served a five-year prison term, while the other, his former chief, had been sentenced to death at a trial held soon after the war. Our interviews could also have stimulated his guilt feelings: he later expressed publicly a sense of greater culpability and the conviction that he should have told Nazi leaders at the time that the program was “crazy” and was making doctors into monsters. Highly revealing was his rage — perhaps the only rage he expressed during our interviews — toward those who gave orders from above for people like him below to do the killing: 
 
Well, there is an enormous difference if one says the patients who fall under these provisions are unworthy of life, that they should be killed — that is still a provision, you know — but the actual carrying it out, that is the big problem, see. Who will do this thing? I believe those gentlemen who engaged in such theoretical reflections never reflected on that .... No judge who gave the verdict of death has ever hanged anyone, you see .... I can say a hundred times, “He [a patient] is such a mental defective that he can never develop at all,” . . . etc., etc. but that does not enable me to kill him [umzubringen; literally, “put [him] away”].
 
He identified his former chief as one of those “desk criminals” (Schreibtischtäter) — a term used widely about the Nazis during the postwar period — who caused others, such as nurses and lower-ranked doctors, to do the dirty work and to be caught between the desk criminal and the victim. Dr. F. implied that he included himself in that latter, entrapped group. His moral confusions were expressed in still another significant form: his attitude toward the specimens taken from the dead children. Autopsies were performed at the time of the killings by a pathologist in Dr. F.’s institution, and he himself would sometimes examine brains of his own former patients. He did that, he explained, 
 
not only because one could perhaps, so to speak, lighten one’s conscience but because one is interested in finding out what was wrong with the person: What is going on there, why is he sick? What’s the matter with him? ... Why is this child an imbecile? Why is it paralyzed? There was a high scientific interest present — I, must point that out.
 
THE NAZI DOCTORS:
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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