Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 228  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
who had some knowledge of electroshock therapy, then quite new, demonstrated to Fischer an apparatus he had constructed with the help of the electrical section of the Monowitz subcamp. Fischer arranged for women considered to be in need of the therapy (because they were “mad” or emotionally disturbed in some way) to be brought to the professor for shock treatments. Again, Fischer was a conscientious student, attending most or all of the therapy sessions conducted by the professor, while the other prisoner doctors of the hospital attended only the first two (see pages 298-300.) .

While collaborative efforts like these were unusual, the kind of medical bond they suggested was common enough. And however these bonds were tainted by the existence of selections, they meant a great deal to prisoner doctors and served a purpose for Nazi doctors as well.

There was sometimes even a suggestion that the bond was intensified by their having survived together the unpleasantness of the selections procedure. One prisoner doctor told of getting to know Dr. Klein, who performed selections every fortnight but “was very kind,” and emphasized the bond they formed: “If you see a man every week and especially at the moments of the selections,” you come to know him “very, very well..” Dr. Magda V. clarified the matter: “It was something like what you read about the way victims of terrorists can feel about the people who took them prisoner.”

The bond, that is, is formed by extreme coercion and includes elements of a sense of shared fate, at least temporarily. The bond required the prisoner doctors to move into realms of numbing and derealization inhabited by the SS doctors. Dr. Magda V., for instance, demonstrated considerable skill both in medical areas and in handling pressures from Nazi doctors; but when I asked her about her knowledge of phenol injections (see chapter 14) she said that she was so numb that she did not “take in details … Somebody said something, but it was … unreal.” Similarly, about selections and other aspects of experience: “The whole thing was utterly unreal, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who had the feeling that you were in a kind of ivory tower and it [was] not happening.”

Dr. Jacob R., who spoke of Nazi doctors as being at times “on a certain level collegial,” also told me that for him and other prisoner doctors, “it was impossible to live in Auschwitz without a sort of emotional anesthesia.” Not until almost twenty years later, when called to testify at a trial taking place in England, did he overcome that anesthesia: “It was a terrible shock to be confronted with [Auschwitz victims], ... their life stories, ... the experimentations .... (At that time] my faculties were restored.”

Dr. Erich G spoke of a psychic immune reaction which was like wearing an asbestos jacket, so that if there is a fire breaking out the fire
* She refers here to the kind of bond — known as the “Stockholm syndrome” — that has been observed to develop between hostage takers and hostages, in which the shared death encounter can be a central factor.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 228 Forward  Next Page