Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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self, developed in response to the healing killing paradox should be everyone’s basis for judgment — Mengele’s, his own, and even mine. 
Ritual Reversals 
For the Nazi doctor, the selections process had the ritual function of “carefully staged death immersions culminating in honorable survival and earned rebirth.”7 In Auschwitz the psychological survival of the ordeal of the anus mundi of selections enabled him to experience that earned rebirth via the formation of the Auschwitz self. He had solidified his relationship to his Auschwitz group by means of what was called “blood cement” (Blutkitt),8 meaning direct participation in the group’s practice of killing — a policy long followed by criminal groups throughout the world. In that way the Auschwitz self was “baptized” by passing a test for“hardness.”

Like most functioning rituals, selections became regularized over time, as the Auschwitz self became established and more experienced. Ritual thus heightened the “sense of actuality”9 of that Auschwitz self, and provided it with the “enactments, materializations, realizations” of its commitment.10 In buttressing the Auschwitz self, selections served the major ritual function of “overcoming of ambivalence as well as of ambiguity,” and of “order perceived and yet also participated in.”11 Selections thus ritualized the practice of murder and the acceptance of evil both made possible by the increasing immersion of the Auschwitz self in the healing-killing paradox.

Selections also provide a ritual drama. Whether the Auschwitz self entered into that drama with integrated élan (as in the case of Mengele) or with hesitation and conflict (as in the case of many others) participation in that “cultural performance”12 tended to absorb anxieties and doubts and fuse individual actions with prevailing (Nazi) concepts, as does ritual performance in general. Here Auschwitz epitomized the overall Nazi preoccupation with ritual, much of it having to do with healing and killing. The regime drew much of its power from its ritualization of existence, so that every act it called forth could be seen, as having profound mythic significance for the “Third Reich” and the “Aryan race.” Even when these were, as in the case of selections, forms of “ritual ignorance,”13 propounded principles in violation of available knowledge of human behavior (in this case, false racial theories), such ritual could give participants a feeling of truth.

The healing-killing paradox so dominated Auschwitz as to create a world of selections. The Auschwitz self functioned with the understanding that, when selections were diminished in one place (the medical blocks), they were radically expanded in another (at the ramp). Beyond pragmatic Nazi estimates of “needs” was the psychological principle that atrocity begets atrocity:14 in order to justify selections, one must keep selecting. A hint why this is so can be found in primitive medicine men, whose “possession of magic … is not an entirely comfortable asset” because  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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