Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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The Auschwitz Self: Psychological Themes 
[or…] ganic renewal: the creation of a vast “German biotic community” in which one can draw parallels between the vast world-conquering German mission and the smallest physiological intracellular system.¹ Even the term anus mundi can become associated with a positive mission involving the principle of “the necessity to sweep clean the world.”² The healing achieved by killing could also become part of the immortalizing vision, of the “holiest human right and … obligation,” which is “to see to it that the blood is preserved pure and, by preserving the best humanity, to create the possibility of a nobler development of these beings.”³

The Auschwitz self was the means by which the Nazi doctor could bring to his killing the mana of a shaman, a priest, a magician. For in the case of such an ancient healer, “there is no cleavage between the domain of fantasy in which he acts and the world of affairs wherein his mystic acts are efficacious.”4 In that way the Auschwitz doctor-shaman becomes “loaded up with powers”5 in his deadly “healing” (see also pages 481-84). He is a recognized healer with special powers; his killing is legitimated by, and at the same time further legitimates, the regime’s overall healing-killing reversals. Thus it became quite natural to use a vehicle marked with a red cross to transport gas, gassing personnel, and sometimes victims, to the gas chambers.

Since the healing-killing paradox epitomized the overall function of the Nazi regime, there was some truth in the Nazi image of Auschwitz as the moral equivalent of war. War is the only accepted institution (a highly honored one in the case of the Nazis) in which there is a parallel healing-killing paradox. One has to kill the enemy in order to preserve — to “heal” — one’s people, one’s military unit, oneself. And if one follows the rules of war, one also heals those among the enemy whom one has not quite killed but merely wounded and captured. The “equivalent of war” image, with its claim to courage and endurance, lends “honor” to the self. A Nazi doctor could thus avoid a war in which his life would really be threatened (that on the Russian front) but participate in a claimed moral equivalent of war in which he faced no such danger. The analogy was furthered by the sea of death he encountered and contributed to in Auschwitz. He could experience a psychological equivalent of war, at moments feel' himself on “the battlefield of the race war”6 On this and many other issues, partial conviction could combine with rationalization.

Of the three Nazi doctors discussed in detail, Mengele was most in tune with the healing-killing paradox; Wirths did most to maintain it but was least at ease with it; and Ernst B. was at its periphery and for the most part able to limit his activities to healing. But healing-killing perversions came to define all of their outer and inner reality. We remember, for instance, Dr. B.’s essential agreement with his friend Mengele’s insistence that “it would be a sin, a crime” not to utilize the special opportunity Auschwitz presented for research with twins; and B.’s further sympathy for the Nazi doctor subjected to “Auschwitz conditions,” having to make instant decisions during selections. His message is that the Auschwitz  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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