Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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great reservations.” With doctors buffered from the killing, selections could be accepted as an established activity and seem less onerous than special brutal tasks (such as medical collusion in torture to produce confessions) and immediate confrontation with inmates dying of starvation. But one may turn that point around and say that the selections were so onerous, so associated with extraordinary evil, that Nazi doctors called forth every possible mechanism to avoid taking in psychologically what they were doing — every form of psychic numbing and derealization (see pages 442-47). Hence Dr. B., who witnessed many selections without performing them, could say that “what remains are a few personal impressions, and these impressions are in themselves not even the really cruel events. If one tried to describe a selection now, that would be almost impossible ... because it is a technical process .... I can describe many isolated images; ... they are still there, but one must drag them out of one’s memory.” This difficulty of recall suggests that Nazi doctors never quite felt — that is, emotionally experienced — their original act in performing the selections.

Doctors were further enabled to do selections by the shared sense that Auschwitz was morally separate from the rest of the world, that it was, as Dr. B. put it, “extraterritorial.”* He referred not to Auschwitz’s geographical isolation, but to its existence as a special enclave of bizarre evil, which rendered it exempt from ordinary rules of behavior. He also stressed its extreme contradictions as contributing to its function.

For instance, he spoke of an aura of élite and highly detached military professionalism on the one hand, and of all-pervasive corruption on the other. That military professionalism, derived from both the SS and the earlier Prussian tradition, required ramrod posture, demeanor, and integrity and a form of self-control that would have made it “nconceivable ... to speak about [inner or intimate] feelings.” The underlying corruption was in the nature of shared open secrets involving all and, to a degree, contributing to cohesion: 
Every single SS man had so many possibilities for being corrupt in some way that almost everyone did something — had “dirt on his walking stick” [Dreck am Stecken]. And everyone knew about everyone else’s improper activity, which is why nothing ever came of it — because everyone knew about everyone else. That's why the SS troop Kommando always held together so well — at least externally. 
By “dirt” he meant such things as keeping gold and other valuables taken from Jews before they were killed instead of turning it over to the
* The word means outside territorial boundaries and, in a modern historical sense, has special reference to areas in which citizens of a dominant Western country were exempt from the legal jurisdiction of a weaker country (either colonized or in some way threatened or controlled) where they resided.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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