Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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while participating in the Nazi youth movement, volunteering for resettlement work with ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe, and living out the “beautiful time” of university medical studies before the war. Dr. R. did, however, recall a moment of pain when a popular Jewish teacher was dismissed from his former Gymnasium, or secondary school: “His facial expression was ... deeply saddened ... something I will never forget.” But Dr. R. claimed that virulent anti-Semitism was relatively absent where he had studied; thus he had not experienced the worst excesses of Kristallnacht (9-10 November 1938), a night when Jewish homes and shops throughout Germany were looted, burned, and destroyed, and many Jews killed and imprisoned.

Like Dr. D., Dr. R. had been thrust into the military before completing his medical work, and was pleased to find there a physician mentor to whom he became very close. After a period of combat (in which he thrived) and then a lull (in which he had little to do), Dr. R. was called in and told that he was being assigned to an “indispensable” civilian position at the Führer’s Chancellery. Excited by the prospect and congratulated by everyone, “I took off my precious uniform” and reported to Berlin. But instead of being briefed by Heyde or another psychiatric leader of the project he was sent directly to the killing center where he was to work, and briefed by the chief doctor there, a nonpsychiatric medical professor and ardent Nazi. The latter impressed on R. the program’s legality and priority as a direct Fuhrer order, its application only to completely withdrawn mental patients who had been well screened by authoritative professors its necessity during wartime to conserve food, and even its theological justification by a particular Catholic priest who had stated that “euthanasia” was morally justifiable in certain cases. Dr. R had attended some of Heyde’s lectures at medical school, and the fact that the professor’s name was actively invoked “added to the reassurance” he felt.

That emphasis on acceptance of moral justification, one must keep in mind, is consistent with Dr. R.’s legal defense, as is his memory of not being shocked by the killing because he had been more or less persuaded of its propriety. Another factor might, have been. that, as a military doctor, he was “used to seeing death.” What clearly did shock him was that someone who didn't have the slightest inkling of psychiatry would be sent to the killing center. He was bitterly disappointed: “I had imagined that I would be able to do medical work under the guidance of exerienced doctors and instead was pulled out of the Wehrmacht” and “put in a place just wrong for me.”

He went to the chief doctor and told him that lacking any background or interest whatsoever in psychiatry, he was incapable of doing the work: the job “is not right for me. “R. even managed to meet with Heyde and Brack at the Chancellery, told them the same thing, and was immediately offered a change in assignment “without ... any difficulty whatsoever.”

He was evasive about details of what he did at the killing center. While admitting that he checked patients against their charts to prepare plausi- […ble]
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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