Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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arriving SS doctor were his ritual of initiation, his transition from ordinary life to the Auschwitz universe, and the early calling forth of his Auschwitz self.

In terms of actual professional requirements, there was absolutely no need for doctors to be the ones conducting selections: anyone could have sorted out weak and moribund prisoners. But if one views Auschwitz, as Nazi ideologues did, as a public health venture, doctors alone became eligible to select. In doing so, the doctor plunged into what can be called the healing-killing paradox.

For him especially, killing became the prerequisite for healing. He could arrange for medical care only so far as the slaughterhouse was kept at full function. And his healing area (the medical block) was simultaneously a clearinghouse for further killing. He became an advocate of killing on two fundamental levels: that of the ecology of the camp (selecting larger numbers at the ramp and on the medical block when the camp was overcrowded, hygienic conditions were threatened, and the quantity of sick or weak inmates strained medical facilities and lessened work efficiency [see pages 180-81]); and in connection with the larger biomedical vision (curing the Nordic race by ridding it of its dangerous Jewish infection), whatever the degree of intensity or amorphousness of his involvement in that vision. The healing-killing paradox was what Dr. Ernst B. called the “schizophrenic situation.” But that situation was an enduring institutional arrangement, the basis for social equilibrium in Auschwitz (see pages 210-13).

But prisoners could not be permitted to kill themselves; suicide violated the logic of the healing-killing paradox. Indeed, overt suicide; such as running into the electric fence, was considered a serious violation of discipline and often exhaustively investigated. (Suicides by Treblinka prisoners were described by one commentator as the “first affirmation of freedom” contributing to significant prisoner rebellion in that camp.6) More gradual submission to death as in the case of the Muselmänner, could be tolerated or even encouraged because it did not seem to challenge Nazi life-death control. The healing-killing paradox, if it was to be internalized by the Auschwitz self, required exclusive' control of life and death on the part of Nazi perpetrators.

The key word in the healing-killing reversal is Sonderbehandlung, or “special treatment,” carried over from Nazi practice and from the 14f13 project in particular (see pages 136-37). We have seen how this euphemism for killing insinuated something on the order of medical therapy, along with a standing that was “more legal than legal.” (In general bureaucratic usage, “special” [the prefix] was the opposite of “regular”: special trains and regular trains, special courts and regular courts, etc. Special procedures were deemed necessary because of special conditions. The word not only detoxified killing and aided in its routinization but, at the same time, infused that killing with a near-mystical priority for the “Auschwitz self” in carrying it out. Killing assumed a certain feeling of  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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