Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 107  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
people, especially those he cared about, wondering “what those people would think if they knew what I have been doing.” When eventually brought to trial, he felt the experience, painful as it was, to be “a kind of relief” because the matter was confronted: “I had nothing to hide any more. I could face everyone.” He hoped that “I could really leave it behind me then”; but the trial dragged on, despite his original acquittal, because the state appealed that acquittal.

In addition to his regular medical practice, Dr. D. developed an interest in contemporary psychiatry, contrasting its “tremendous possibilities” for helping people with its “dead end” in the past, when “everybody shared the common conviction that these lives [of mental patients] were already ended — that these people were in Hoche’s words, ‘empty shells.’ ” He stressed that it is the responsibility of today’s psychiatric leaders “to point out the human being in the patient, so that one feels obligated to help him and does not regard him as something one can shove away [abschieben].” Emphasizing how in the past “the professor for me was the highest,” he declared bitterly that “it never would have occurred to me that a professor, in no matter what field, would expect a student or a young colleague to do something that would step over the boundaries of human ethics.”

Concerning “euthanasia,” or any program resembling that conducted by the Nazis during the war, he was unequivocal: “I would not agree to such a program today .... Who would do the work that had been expected of me? ... Who would want to take the responsibility for the decisions?”

Horst D.’s experience epitomizes the tendency of Nazi doctors to experience conflicts about killing but to find ways to subdue those conflicts in adaptation to a murderous environment. His subsequent attitude, despite an occasional glimmer of self-examination, fell far short of genuine moral confrontation.  
A Psychiatrist Who Left: Wolfgang R.  
Another doctor who had worked at a killing center, Wolfgang R., experienced psychological circumstances closely resembling those of Dr. D. but with a significantly different outcome: R. managed to stop doing the work after about one month.

Tall and thin and ingratiating in manner, R., during our interview, was talkative but aware that, despite being generally outgoing, “whenever I talk about the subject ... the words don't come easily.” His early enthusiasm for the Nazis — and especially for the military — even, as he described it, exceeded Dr. D.’s. Indeed, R. thought himself  “predestined” for the military because of the strong military tradition of his area, and was among the first group of students to join the new Wehrmacht (the armed forces of which Hitler was supreme commander): “I valued the Wehrmacht in a very special way.” He used words like “idealistic” and “free” to describe what he and other young people felt
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 107 Forward  Next Page