Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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doctors’ suppression of feeling, or psychic numbing, in relation to their participation in murder.* But to chart their involvement in a continuous routine of killing, over a year or two or more, one needs an explanatory principle that draws upon the entire, functioning self. (The same principle applies in sustained psychiatric disturbance, and my stress on doubling is consistent with the increasing contemporary focus upon the holistic function of the self.)8

Doubling is part of the universal potential for what William James called the “divided self”: that is, for opposing tendencies in the self. James quoted the nineteenth-century French writer Alphonse Daudet’s despairing cry "Homo duplex, homo duplex!” in noting his “horrible duality” — as, in the face of his brother Henri’s death, Daudet’s “first self wept” while his “second self” sat back and somewhat mockingly staged the scene for an imagined theatrical performance.9 To James and Daudet, the potential for doubling is part of being human, and the process is likely to take place in extremity, in relation to death.

But that  “opposing self” can become dangerously unrestrained, as it did in the Nazi doctors. And when it becomes so, as Otto Rank discovered in his extensive studies of the “double” in literature and folklore, that opposing self can become the usurper from within and replace the original self until it “speaks” for the entire person.10 Rank’s work also suggests that the potential for an opposing self, in effect the potential for evil, is necessary to the human psyche: the loss of one’s shadow or soul or “double” means death.

In general psychological terms, the adaptive potential for doubling is integral to the human psyche and can, at times, be life saving: for a soldier in combat, for instance; or for a victim of brutality such as an Auschwitz inmate, who must also undergo a form of doubling in order to survive. Clearly, the “opposing self” can be life enhancing. But under certain conditions it can embrace evil with an extreme lack of restraint.

The Nazi doctor’s situation resembles that of one of Rank’s examples (taken from a 1913 German film, The Student of Prague): a student fencing champion accepts an evil magician’s offer of great wealth and the chance for marriage with his beloved in return for anything the old magician wishes to take from the room; what he takes is the student's mirror image, a frequent representation of the double. That double eventually becomes a killer by making use of the student’s fencing skills in a duel with his beloved’s suitor, despite the fact that the student (his original self) has promised the woman’s father that he will not engage in such a duel. This variation on the Faust legend parallels the Nazi doctor's “bargain” with Auschwitz and the regime: to do the killing, he offered an opposing self (the evolving Auschwitz self) — a self that, in violating his own prior moral standards, met with no effective
* Henry V. Dicks invokes this concept in his study of Nazi killers.7   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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