Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 314  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
beginning his family viewed the Nazis as more or less disreputable, the worst element of the society. But by the mid-1930s, the “spectacular” economic successes of the regime began to change that impression, along with the emerging “enthusiasm of … young people.” His father moved grudgingly toward approval of Hitler in a tortuous, not uncharacteristically German, manner, asking, “How is it possible that such a primitive man can reach such an influential position?” and concluding, “It can only be that he isn't so primitive but just pretends to be.” Ernst B. himself reacted with parallel convolution: always antagonistic and yet respectful toward the Prussian military culture, he was struck by the fact that “the conservative, Prussian military men, especially the young ones, started to become very National-Socialistic,” which led him to think that “there must be more to it [National Socialism] … something more there.”

But he was to develop a much stronger bond with the Nazis in a way that was both serendipitous and calculated. When completing his medical studies in the middle and late 1930s, he gained the impression that one had to take part in an officially sponsored organization. Wishing to avoid the paramilitary ones, he joined a student “scientific society.” He was immediately drawn into a competition the group sponsored for finding an indigenous German product (rather than having to bring one in from the outside) that could be used for a culture medium in bacteriological work. Partly perhaps on the basis of his knowledge of nature, B. “got a good idea,” located the indigenous product, and suddenly found himself in the extraordinary situation of “a student having a laboratory, two assistants, and a prize.” He was now “a scientist who received strong praise from the Party,” a man with a “good start” who had “the good fortune to get political support even though my topic … was not political.” Now he was in the position of “not just receiving commands” but of taking leadership in advising scientific teams on what could be grown in certain Bavarian forests, and what must be cut down in order to make room for such growth. He received an additional prize in a more public ceremony, which caused him only one problem: his wife-to-be thought him a “top Nazi” and avoided him for some time. He completed his medical studies with a flourish, proud of the fact that his thesis on his discovery of the local culture medium was a “fine thing … about twenty lines, I think, no more.”

This special Erlebnis, or “experience” (his term for the entire sequence), undoubtedly influenced his decision to join the Party at the time: “Not only because in a practical sense I had to [for getting an assistantship at a clinic] but with a positive feeling… [and with] no obligation, no force.” He did, in fact, obtain a coveted assistantship and a good hospital connection at his university while retaining his position in the bacteriological department and even, in 1939, being awarded a two-year scholarship for study abroad — thwarted only by the outbreak of the war.

He began to observe less positive features of the regime during two  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 314 Forward  Next Page