Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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healthy inheritance.” His only reservation was that the program had become too politicized.

He seemed similarly sympathetic to “euthanasia,” which he stressed “was a medical term,” but became critical of it when it seemed more “a political action.” He told how confused he and his colleagues were as patients “were taken from us . . . I didn't know where to” — until he learned from relatives that those patients “died soon” in specific institutions. Upon learning the truth, “I was shocked .... frightened to think it happened in an orderly state.” He and his colleagues sought to find ways of saving people (by not diagnosing schizophrenia, by transferring them to private institutions less vulnerable to the killing project, or by sending them home) but mostly cooperated in ways they thought they had to. Psychiatrists varied between being “oppositional” or “indifferent.” The latter seemed in the majority and “accepted [the project]. And since it was a state policy they did not wish to oppose it.” Much depended upon the stance, of hospital directors and of local medical-administrative authorities, some of whom were “radical Nazis” and pressed for maximum compliance while others sought to minimize the number of patients taken.

Dr. E. went on to explain that he and other psychiatrists came to distinguish between “dishonest” opinions from those experts who acted out of “sheer political motivation,” on the one hand; and, on the other, “honest” judgments from those experts, much fewer in number, who based their opinions on genuine medical considerations. As he talked, it became clear to me that a focus on this distinction had enabled him and his colleagues to avoid moral truths concerning the “euthanasia” project: to avoid recognizing that what they viewed as “honest medical opinions” about schizophrenic or mentally deficient patients became the basis for mass murder of these patients. Yet his visible pain as he discussed these matters suggested that he could not avoid that recognition, and probably had not even then.

After we had been talking for a little less than. two hours, he made it clear be did not want to say more: “I am nearly eighty years old, and . . . I don’t want to have anything more to do with that era .... I don’t want to think about it any more.”

His story is that of the middle-aged psychiatric functionary in a state system as a dependent, essentially obedient civil servant. While the medical killing project was too radical for such a person, he could not risk or even imagine genuine resistance, and his compromise was to combine compliance with an effort to cling to professional psychiatric standards. The result was bitterness over his own moral corruption and disillusionment toward a regime he had served. Dr. E’s personal experience epitomizes the dilemma that haunts all of German psychiatry: a murderous episode in the recent past whose memory can be neither confronted and absorbed nor wished away.  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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