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. 
[compli…] ant physician, Dr. B. acted out a host of frequently encountered German polarities having to do with defiance and submission, romanticism and science, distant vision and pragmatic task. Whatever B.’s (and his countrymen’s) journeys through Christianity, traditional utopian thought, and nationalistic movements, it was finally the Nazis who provided the path to revitalization along with a way of balancing, or at least absorbing, those polarities. He developed an impressive talent for maneuver on behalf of group acceptance and standing, but the hunger for connection could overwhelm him, as in his insistence upon sharing the transcendent national experience of war and victory.

Once in Auschwitz, his powerful need for group affiliation could hold him there, and he characteristically sought reliable connection with inmates no less than colleagues. But when asked to do selections, he could resist the kind of doubling that would have been necessary for that task. While we cannot be certain how, psychologically, he was able to do that, he probably called forth elements of the affirmative as well as the integrative inclinations within his self-process. The first, the group need, could well have helped him in a paradoxical fashion: more fluid than fixed in his style of connection, he was probably less bound than others to the kind of absolute loyalty and obedience that would have carried him over the threshold of doubling into the selections. At the same time an aspect of integrity (modeled on his father originally perhaps, but now his own), having to do not only with nondissembling but also with decency, help, and healing, had become part of his self-process. His Auschwitz dreams reflected that humane dimension and kept him aware of it in opposition to the ethos of the camp.

To be sure, he called upon the hierarchical support of his institute, and stressed, as one had to, his personal inability to meet the requirements without contesting “the objective validity of ideological orders and the call of loyalty to obey them.”³* In that act he called forth both his talent for group maneuver and his ideal of integrity of the self.

Avoiding selections this way did not mean giving up Nazi affiliations, as we know; but it did mean that his doubling in Auschwitz need not be as great as that of other doctors: his Auschwitz self, however, allowed him to adapt to shared SS requirements in that murderous environment; while his prior, more humane self, reinforced by frequent contact with his wife and children, remained reasonably intact. Unlike most other Nazi doctors, he could remain essentially a physician-healer and, in that sense, may have been partly correct in saying that his medical calling contributed to his decency toward prisoners.

That achievement was admirable, even extraordinary. Yet Auschwitz has continued to confuse him over the years, and we now have a better idea why. By not doing selections, he separated himself from the camp
* One could also effectively agree with an order but raise appropriate practical objections, or just say nothing and evade the order.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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