Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Socialization to Killing 
Mengele: Lucas was “an easygoing, fatherly man who carefully and with slow movements selected on the ramp,” while Mengele “did it with graceful and quick movements.” Mengele’s exuberant style reflected a set of ideological and characterological qualities we shall examine in chapter 17. Lucas’s more cautious style was that of a man who, according to prisoner doctors, “was always decent toward the patients and,. . . treated us well,” and “was a human being ... [who] gave me back my faith in the German man,” and whose relative softness toward prisoners put him in repeated conflict with other SS doctors and officers. Yet despite all this, he, too, did selections.

While those differences were real and meant a great deal to prisoner physicians and other inmates, Dr. Ernst B. has claimed that they were not nearly as great as they appeared. He himself had been revered by a number of survivors as a rarity, a humane SS doctor. But he thought that more critical and fearful attitudes toward other doctors had to do with their “typical SS” authoritarian demeanor, and went so far as to suggest that it was little more than a question of bedside manner. Discussing himself and his Auschwitz medical superior (mostly feared and avoided by inmates), Dr. B. drew the analogy of two doctors who enter a community, with the same professional qualifications; and even though they both use the same medications, “in the opinion of . . . people, one is a good doctor and the other is not,” the source of the difference in their reputations being only “their personal relationships with patients.”

Needless to say, “personal relationships” could have staggering importance in Auschwitz; and Dr. B., for psychological reasons of his own, minimized important actual differences between himself and fellow SS doctors (for instance, he alone managed to avoid performing selections [see chapter 16]). He acknowledged that doctors differed in their approach to selections, but there was truth to his point that all SS doctors were greatly influenced by what he called “practical” (meaning pragmatic) issues: their shared relationship to an institution and to its selections demands, as regulated by higher medical and command authorities. And as greater numbers of transports arrived, selections were going on much of the time; as Dr. B. put it, “There was no way of avoiding [viewing] them if one had work to do in the camp.”

Under increasing pressure to select, most SS doctors underwent what he viewed as an extraordinary individual-psychological shift, from revulsion to acceptance: “In the beginning it was almost impossible. Afterward it became almost routine. That’s the only way to put it.”

This shift involved a socialization to Auschwitz, including the important transition from outsider to insider.

Alcohol was crucial to this transition. Drinking together, often quite heavily, evenings in the officers’ club, doctors “spoke very freely” and “expressed the most intimate objections.” Some would “condemn the  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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