Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
 
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“Euthanasia”: Direct Medical Killing 
 
senior doctors were involved in killing, they soon gave way to younger men, and some of the young doctors were quickly elevated to senior status. Killing doctors came to be chosen apparently for their combination of inexperience and political enthusiasm.59

At Brandenburg, for instance, Dr. Eberl was twenty-nine years old when he learned to operate the gassing mechanism. The man later assigned to assist him, Dr. Aquilin Ullrich, was only twenty-six. Ullrich testified that his duties hardly required medical knowledge. He and Eberl did no more than make a “superficial inspection” of the naked patients in the anteroom of the gas chamber, which at the time he found “inexplicable”; subsequently he came to realize that “the presence. of the physician at that moment was used to calm the mentally ill and camouflage the killing process.”60

Another doctor, who first worked as an assistant at a killing center, was informed by his immediate superior that “a physician, according to the law, had the last say, and he therefore had to re-examine the arrivals.” Later he was informed by Dr. Nitsche, one of the “senior experts,” that these pro forma “‘examinations’ before the death chamber served mainly to calm the conscience of the doctor who has to carry out the killing.” 61 The Nazis were clearly aware of the psychological importance of the medical “as if” situation to the doctors involved.

For the most part, the “examination” consisted of the doctor simply checking on the fact that patient and chart coincided — the right person was being killed — and using the occasion to help decide which false diagnosis would be appropriate (consistent with the patient’s record and appearance) for the death certificates soon to be issued. Reversing a decision about a patient’s death at that point was extremely rare, probably limited only to a few discovered to have been war casualties of some kind.62* The fundamental significance of that pseudo examination was medical legitimation of murder.

Many of these patients were apparently deceived. A man who worked at the Hadamar killing center told how a patient he had known for many years, said to him on the way to the gas chamber, “We will have a real bath now and get other clothes.”63 When patients were not deceived and did resist, they were quickly subdued by physical force, though even this could resemble ordinary treatment of psychiatric patients. What happened next makes clear the doctor’s responsibility for the entire killing sequence: 
 
After doors were closed, the air was sucked out of the gas chamber . through a ventilator by the same doctor who carried out the earlier “examination.” Then for about ten minutes, carbon monoxide was let in [by that doctor] and its effect observed through a small window. As soon as he thought that those shut in had died, he had the gas chamber
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* In Württemberg, only twenty-nine patients, mostly war veterans, were saved.   
 
THE NAZI DOCTORS:
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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