Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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psychiatric experience at the state mental hospital at Eichberg before being made its director in 1939. A special unit was formed there for extensive killing of children. Just thirty-seven in 1941, he was one of the youngest of those central to the 14f13 program. 22 His letters suggest a variety of ways in which a physician could experience professional enthusiasm in connection with participation in murder.

There is the sense of special professional opportunity: “Our work here [at the Sachsenhausen camp] is very, very interesting .... I am collecting . . . large quantities of new experiences” ( April 1941). Three days, later: “I am putting particular value on these examinations for eventual future scientific utilization.” There is pride in the assumption of increasing responsibility: “I spoke with Dr. Heyde on the phone and told him I could handle it all by myself, so no one else came today to help.” (20 November 1941). There is professional busyness: “On 13 December [1941] we’re again going to Berlin only to leave again on 14 December to Fürstenberg [Ravensbrück] where we will begin working on the 15th. We have to be finished with Ravensbrück by 21 December” (25 November 1941). There is the statistically based aura of efficiency: “Although today I had to begin working half an hour late, a record was broken I managed to complete 230 forms, so that now a total of 1,192 are complete (1 December 1941) And after finishing 80 additional forms by working “briskly” for less than two hours the next morning, he expressed a sense of triumph over his total of 320 forms, “which, Dr. Müller [his 14f13 colleague] certainly could not do in 2 full days Whoever works fast, saves time!” (2 December 1941)* And his professional zeal in conveying to a camp doctor and the commandant “my ideas about which inmates should come into consideration for registration,” resulted — happily for him — in the decision that “the number is to be expanded by 60-70 [inmates]” (20 November 1941).

At the same time his at least partial awareness of the fundamental fraudulence of the operation emerges in his frequent use of quotations around the word “examined” and in such comments as: “There are only 2,000 men, who will be finished very soon, because they are just looked at assembly-line style” (3 September 1941) and, “About the composition of the pat[ients at Ravensbrück], I would not like to write anything here in this letter” (20 November 1940). Clearly disillusionment set in, since he wrote to his wife on 19 November 1941 that, when asked by Heyde to continue to devote himself indefinitely to the work, “I very politely declined,” and told Nitsche in a later discussion in early 1942,“that I wanted to go back to my institution [Eichberg]” (14 January 1942).†
* And, it should be noted, brings home more money. Serving as a T4 expert was piece-work. The monthly payment for up to 500 questionnaires was 100 marks; up to 2,000, 200 marks; up to 3,500, 300 marks; over 3,500, 400 marks.23

† In testimony given in November 1946, Mennecke claimed that, from 1942 on, he became aware that "all these methods of the Nazi government were inhuman and cruel and completely undiscriminating and sinful" - indeed, that he had recognized some of these truths by 1940. While we should be skeptical, it is possible that he was fending off that kind of awareness even as he enthusiastically proceeded with his deadly work. He claimed that,  during his earliest concentration-camp visits, prisoners were examined individually "to establish the presence of psychosis or psychiatric symptoms," and that it was still “a medical question.” 24 The claim could be entirely false. But if even partly true, it would suggest the highly dubious medical dimension of the project even in its origins. 
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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