Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 75  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
“Euthanasia”: Direct Medical Killing  
“covered by two more.” For instance, at each killing center, there was a “Special Registry Office,” which had a subdivision whose specific task it was to determine a suitable death date for each patient. On the death certificate prepared by the doctor, the date of death was always omitted, to be provided by this department. On the basis of its “timecards” and “death files,“ it could prevent the recording of large numbers of deaths at a particular place during a particular time sequence.68

The bureaucracy of deception extended — logically, one might say — to the ashes of cremated patients, which were haphazardly mixed together so that the urn received by the family of a dead patient contained ashes that were not their relative’s. (Families were told that quick cremation was necessary, especially during wartime, for public health reasons.) One of the program’s leaders later said that he objected vehemently “for reasons of piety” when the policy had to be implemented because of a directive that corpses no longer be cremated individually. He claimed to have said to the administrator responsible for the order: “Even if the German people forgive you everything, they will never forgive you this.”69 While one must be skeptical about any such remembered conversation, it could suggest the existence, even then, of a glimmer of awareness of the desecration in this final medical falsification.

Inevitably, there were slip-ups in the bureaucracy of deception: a family receiving two urns; or being told that a patient, whose appendix had been removed earlier, had died of appendicitis; or being notified of the death of a patient who had not actually been killed and was alive and physically well. Or people learned (especially as church groups with national contacts began to look into the matter) of the suspicious deaths of a group of patients sent out together from the same mental hospital;, or of letters received by families, at the same time in various parts of Germany, announcing the deaths of patients who were known to be physically healthy shortly after their arrival at a particular institution.

In addition, people working at killing centers would drink heavily at nearby bars and sometimes reveal aspects of what they were doing. Local people employed in “euthanasia” station kitchens and laundries also spread the word. Sometimes transfer procedures were conducted where they could be seen — even on occasion in a town marketplace — so that many people witnessed the force used on some recalcitrant victims.

And there was direct sensory evidence of the killing that no bureaucratic deception could eliminate: “The heavy smoke from the crematory building is said to be visible over Hadamar every day.” And: “At full capacity ... [the chimneys at Hartheim] smoked day and night. Locks of hair went up through the chimneys and landed in the street.” These bureaucratic oversights were mentioned in Nazi documents critical of the way the program was run and urging that “more sensitivity be exercised in carrying out these activities.”70 But the “mistakes” were partly a product of the regime’s own conflicts and contradictions about its principle of secrecy. In spite of the elaborate cover-up at every level and the pledge  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 75 Forward  Next Page