Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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The Auschwitz Self: Psychological Themes 
The SS was the élite “community within the community,” “oath-bound, full of “corps spirit,” consistent in its mixture of cruelty and courage. Nazi doctors entering the SS imbibed some of this ethos. Each took the SS oath:  
I swear to you, Adolf Hitler — as the Führer and Chancellor of the Reich — loyalty and bravery. I pledge to you and to my superiors, appointed by you, obedience unto death, so help me God19 —  
and thereby became what one observer called an “ideological fighter,” whether or not one wore on one’s belt buckle (as did ordinary SS men) the SS slogan: “My honor is loyalty” (Meine Ehre heisst Treue). That idealism, however eroded by Auschwitz corruption, was a prod for SS doctors in their initial adaptation and part of the ideological call to doubling. We recall Dr. B.’s stress on “faith” in Nazi ideology as a “bridge” to the SS community. That faith in the Gemeinschaft became a source of murderous action and a crucial support for the Auschwitz self. For that self was a creation not just of the individual but of the mystical “collective will,” the Auschwitz version in fact of the “triumph of the will.” 
Ordeal and Ethos 
Whatever their original recalcitrance toward it, Auschwitz doctors became caught up in the Nazi-German principle of killing as a difficult but necessary form of personal ordeal. When asked how he could bring himself to do such terrible things, Heinrich Himmler is said to have referred to the “karma” of "the Germanic world as a whole," for which “a man has to sacrifice himself even though it is often very hard for him; he oughtn’t to think of himself.”20* Here the killer claims for himself the ordeal of sacrifice. To perform the prescribed ritual slaughter, he offers. both himself and his victims to the immortal Germanic people and its hero-deity, Adolf Hitler.

To his high-ranking SS leaders, and on at least one occasion at Auschwitz, Himmler expressed this ethos of killing as an ennobling ordeal. He raised “frankly” the matter of “the annihilation of the Jewish people” and mocked the weak-hearted, even among Party members, each of whom had “his one decent Jew” he wished to save:  
Of all those who talk this way, not one has seen it happen, not one has been through it. Most of you must know what it means to see a hundred corpses lie side by side, or five hundred, or a thousand. To
* Thomas Mann captured this principle in his novel Doctor Faustus in describing Georges Sorel’s pre-First World War Reflections on Violence as a precursor of Nazi ideology. Connecting the fate of truth with that of the individual, and indicating for both “a cheapening, a devaluation,” Reflections on Violence “opened a mocking abyss between truth and power, truth and life, truth and the community,” showing that “precedence belonged far more to the community,” as truth was abandoned for “community-forming belief.” 21   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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