Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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When Hochhuth wrote of his Mengele figure as “only playing the part of a human being,” he was trying to simplify Nazism by constructing a figure of such pure evil as to no longer belong to the category of human being. Such an exemplar distills and clarifies evil, and we know enough about Mengele to affirm his qualifications for the category. But even Mengele ha shown too many familiar facets of human behavior for one to leave him in that legendary role and, with Hochhuth, “[refrain] from any further effort to plumb [his] human features.”57 I have made clear my rejection of the legend of pure ahuman evil, clarifying as it may be, in favor of a commitment to probing motivations and behavior. I return to the legend now only to explore more about Mengele’s function as the ideal candidate for this cult of demonic personality.

At moments in Auschwitz, prisoner doctors felt it necessary to divest Mengele of his physician's status: “He was a monster, period, no more doctor than anything else,” was the way Dr. Abraham C. put it, “a monster and … only evil or calamities could come from him.”

A woman survivor conveyed some of Mengele’s aura when she said, “He represents what this [Auschwitz] represents to us” : that is, Mengele is Auschwitz. Another spoke of him as “so terrifying” that he was “more like an abstraction.” To convey Mengele’s meaning for her, she read to me a short story she had written, based on a childhood memory, and involving her unsuccessful attempt, as a little girl, to placate and please the male bully who had been terrorizing her and other Jewish children. Afterward she concluded "Mengele was feared … was admired. We tried to please him, … almost like seducing [someone].” Mengele’s style of omnipotence, then, produced both terror and a measure of admiration, a combination that serves a legend well, but from which individuals have great difficulty extricating themselves.

Adding to Mengele’s aura was the mythology of his escape. There was the false rumor that he “had caught typhus when the camp was liberated”: "While he was convalescing, he escaped.”58 Actually he left before the liberation, but the mythology continues in relation to the places where he is thought to have been seen after leaving Auschwitz — Ravensbrück, Dachau, a small camp in Czechoslovakia — whatever the accuracy of any of these identifications The escape legend is extended by his apparent contempt for postwar authority — and for justice, in living for years in his home in the vicinity of Günzberg where he was protected by local officials and family influence, by his subsequent exploits in South America, including practicing medicine under various names in different places, disappearing just in time to prevent extradition from Argentina to West Germany, advising dictators (such as General Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay, who is of German descent) on such matters as annihilating their local Indian populations; by his outsmarting a youthful female Israeli spy who attempted to seduce him in order to lure him into death or capture, and was herself found murdered; by rumors of his involvement in an extensive drug trade run by Nazis throughout South America and  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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