Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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“A Human Being in an SS Uniform”: Ernst B. 
in making contact with people,” and “unless I had a few glasses of beer I was not able to establish contact with that person.” Also, his rejection by his first love made him feel “like shit!”

He was to have one additional defeat before his life could be turned around. The young Ernst, who had an interest in art and painting, thought he “could become something,” rather than the nothing he felt himself to be, by studying art abroad. He did that for one year; and although he made a certain progress in his work, he felt isolated, had great difficulty with the foreign language, and began to drink heavily, again in search of contact with others. “It was simply a completely primitive difficulty in [making] contact” was the way he put it.

Upon returning home, he was ready to make a new commitment: “I saw very clearly … that I had to become a doctor.” Indeed his parents, on the basis of family tradition, especially as represented by the physician uncle killed in the First World War, “had this idea from the time I was a baby.” His father now approached him Socratically and asked whether he thought he could become “one of the top ten painters” in Germany (as would be necessary if he were to support himself). It was to Ernst B. “an illumination” (eine Erleuchtung), and “everything became clear.” Feeling angry at himself for not having thought of it that way, he plunged back into his academic work, passed his Abitur (crucial qualifying examination for admission to a university), and gave up painting for studies leading to medicine.

Kept on a small allowance by his father (“He was afraid that I might start drinking again”) and needing money, Ernst B. learned about a job hosting foreign students and that applicants would be tested for their knowledge of such cultural areas as theater and opera. Knowing nothing about the latter, he hit upon the “trick” of going to the library and reading carefully through all newspaper reviews of recent performances of all the major operas, so that when examined he could say, “Yes, but the performance in Hamburg fell through completely because the conception of the producer was such and such” — and thereby appeared to possess complete mastery of a field about which he knew very little. The nature of the job helped solve his long-standing problem: the (mostly) “American students were only interested in making contact during the beer drinking,” which then became his “responsibility as well.” He did well in his studies, and his life came into balance: upon returning home, “I could tell my father I don’t need the allowance any more and … could show him a good examination [result].” More than that, the experience provided him with a rush of  “self-confidence in my life” and the feeling that “I am very fit for [able to manage in] life [ganz lebenstüchtig].”

He continued to demonstrate that adaptability by joining the Nazi student organization during the early days of the regime (when only about 20 percent of students belonged to it) as he realized that he had to do so if he was to hold on to the job. He felt it necessary to conceal that membership from his mother, an ardent anti-Nazi. Indeed, at the  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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