Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Socialization to Killing  
replace moral questions. They became concerned not with the evil of the environment but with how to come to some terms with the place.

They then became creatures of what Dr. B. described as the all-important Auschwitz milieu or atmosphere: “In that atmosphere everything is seen differently from the way it would be viewed now.” On the basis of all the pressures and adaptive inclinations I have described, “after a few weeks in that milieu, one thinks: ‘Yes.’”

The selections machine did not function impeccably. There could be not only too many transports for the facilities but poor organization in handling transports, too little room in camp quarantine where new inmates were kept, and occasionally an insufficient supply of gas. Among the troops, efficiency could be impaired by drinking too much, and the same was true of doctors. Doctors indeed drank heavily, though, according to Dr. B., only one was a recognizable alcoholic, and even he “had sufficient discipline not to get drunk when he was on duty doing selections.” One could say that whatever the technical problems or human frailties, Auschwitz could mobilize a collective determination to keep the gassing process going.
Psychological Distance

Participation in selections was also enhanced by a sense that they did not come first in the hierarchy of horrors. Dr. B., for instance, stressed that “other things were much worse” — such as scenes of starving children in the Gypsy camp, where 80 percent of the inmates in general were starving to death while a few could be “living very well.” He stressed the difficulty of “having this in front of you every day, continuously,” and how, “it took a long time to be able to live with that.”

There, as in other situations, what mattered was what one could see, what confronted one’s senses: “The killing was mostly excluded [from conversation], ... [since] it was not what was directly visible. But very visible were the so-called Muselmänner. [Also] visible were the ones who were starving ... to death.... That was a bigger problem .... One was more oppressed by that.”

By not quite seeing it, doctors could distance themselves from the very killing they were actively supervising. The same purpose was served by drawing upon their having witnessed what they claimed were worse horrors — in camps for Russian prisoners of war and in other concentration camps — which enabled them to conclude that “they’ve got it a lot better here.” As Dr. B. went on to explain: “What made Auschwitz especially notorious were the gassing installations. Right? And those were now somehow or other a bit further off, and one could only actually sense them by means of smell.” But, as he earlier implied, one gets used to a smell.

Furthermore, there were more “fundamentally controversial” activities about which SS men had greater qualms. Among these, Dr. B. mentioned Gestapo methods for extracting confessions, about which “one had very  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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