Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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have stuck this out and excepting in cases of human weakness — to have kept our integrity, this is what has made us hard. In our history, this is an unwritten and never-to-be-written page of glory.22
The Auschwitz self could be experienced as a call to such an ordeal and to the necessary but difficult, even heroic, hardness that entailed. That hardness was race-centered: “We must be honest, decent, loyal and comradely to members of our own blood, but to nobody else,” so that if “10,000 Russian females fall down from exhaustion digging an anti-tank ditch … [that] interests me only insofar as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished,” as Himmler expressed it in the same Posen speech of 4 October 1943. All that was to be done within the immortalizing SS mission as “a National-Socialist order of men of Nordic stamp … [who are] the forebears of later generations essential to ensure the eternal existence of the Germanic people of Germany.”23 The “blood cement” of direct involvement (see page 432) was part of the shared ordeal: one Einsatzgruppen staff officer “insisted on principle that all commissioned and noncommissioned officers” under him “participate in the executions” in order to “overcome ” themselves as he had “overcome” himself. He was demanding from all an Einsatzgruppen equivalent of the Auschwitz self — or, what has been aptly termed “heroic action in a criminal cause.”24

When most of the mass murder of Jews had already been accomplished (in May 1944), Himmler stressed that only the SS could have done it, that the killing “could only be tolerable to and could only be carried out by an organization consisting of the staunchest individuals, of fanatical, deeply committed National Socialists.25 SS officials were always to “carry the burden for our people” — that is, to maintain an ordeal readiness for murder.

The shift from face-to-face killing by the Einsatzgruppen to the elaborate machinery of the gas chambers can be said to have diminished the degree of the ordeal. But the ordeal remained, as did the demand for ordeal readiness. Then Nazi doctors’ conscious sense was more that of  “unpleasant” ramp duty involving strain, fatigue, and hardship (what Karl K. called eine Strapaze) requiring a great deal of alcohol to keep going which in turn led to the further unpleasantness of a hangover that ruined the next day. The mutual toasting over the course of a night was undoubtedly an effort to lend some nobility to what was a further degrading of a criminal ritual But the sense of ordeal was still there as clearly suggested by B .’s description when trying to convince me how difficult Nazi doctors’ decisions were in Auschwitz, of the pressure on Nazi doctors at the moment of selection (“You must go there, you go there — these alternatives leave no room for discussion”). Wirths’s insistence upon doing selections himself, rather than leaving them to other doctors, was a commitment to personal participation in this ordeal — and probably also an effort to “overcome” his prior self in favor of an emerging Auschwitz self.

The combination of ordeal and ethos gives us another perspective on the case of Delmotte (see pages 309-11) and on the effective function  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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