Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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— transfer of responsibility and the pursuit of science. He consciously renounced responsibility: “I told [Heyde] I could not take on any responsibility at all because I knew I was not qualified medically,” and “Heyde said, ‘All right, you will not have responsibility,’ ” emphasizing that professors and specialists would make careful evaluations and “the committee would make the final decision.” His responsibility, Dr. D. was told, was to “render this ... very valuable service to the colleague in charge” of the killing center. It was a matter of loyalty and sacrifice, for, as he came to feel, “the soldiers at the front also had to do things they did not like.” The claim of his responsibility lay not with the patients but with his superior, his country, his race.

And responsibility became inseparable from his relationship to the authority of the regime: “The whole system radiated that authority. Like it or not, I was part of it. . . . I had no choice. I was in this web — this network of authority If you talk to people [in general terms about possibly leaving], they would say, you have to stay wherever you are, ... where you are needed. Don’t disturb the organization.”

The opportunity for his second mode of adaptation occurred with the appearance of a leading German neuropathologist at the killing center to obtain brains for dissection. Dr. D. “took this as . . . an opportunity” to approach the visitor about the possibility of establishing “a pathology department” at the killing center, and of spending a few weeks in the professor’s department “in order to get a better sense of things and be better prepared for this task” He saw this as a chance to spend time away from the killing center, as he sought to do whenever possible. But he also immersed himself in the task, studied medical histories of patients “and tried to find those whose brains might eventually be of interest,” in accordance with the professor’s research concerns. D. was even given a nurse assistant to help him in what he came to see as “preparatory work .... that made further scientific work possible.” Inevitably he came to see himself as serving science and his duty as “saving those things that still could possibly be of value scientifically for psychiatry in general … [so that] studying these brains would get us closer to understanding diseases, and of course curing those diseases.” He was quite proud to add, “The Berlin Institute gave recognition to this ... work.”

Horst D. had, in other words, found a way to connect the killing work with medical research and to feel that he was doing his duty as defined both by his immediate group and by “science .” Or to put things another way a new sense of serving medicine and science enabled him psychologically, to go on with the killing.

He welcomed the official cessation of the program after which he was reassigned to the military for the remaining years of the war. In 1945, he went into medical practice, took “special pleasure in giving life,” and described how “I brought children into the world in the middle of the night.” Serving life helped ease a residual sense of guilt that he experienced only, indirectly. He would feel “a little awkward” when with  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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