Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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to individual paranoia. In paranoia, ideas, even if delusional or hallucinatory, tend to be logically systematized, and therefore convincing to the afflicted individual and often to others as well. Paranoia is in fact a disease of logic, of logic gone mad because divested of critical restraint of any kind. Certain ideological thinkers carry their ethos to the border of paranoia or across that border, without being psychotic; they can then be considered “paranoid personalities,” as could Hitler himself, though in some cases it would be difficult to diagnose any form of mental illness.

Newer theories of paranoia stress underlying fear of annihilation, whether of the individual himself or of humankind in general (end-of-the-world imagery). This imagery is sometimes referred to as “soul murder,” the term used by a famous early paranoid patient; and the structure of ideas and symptoms, including at times delusions and hallucinations, can be understood as efforts at regaining life power, efforts at revitalization. The exaggerated logic is part of that effort to hold the self together.* A collective version of this pattern is apparent in what I have said about post-First World War Germany as a whole: a sense of having been militarily and psychically annihilated, subjected to “soul murder.” Demagogic leaders (notably Hitler, but there were others) could touch that raw nerve of annihilation and soul murder in ways that attributed it to a specifically evil outside force, the Jews.

The extremity of death-camp logic was an attempt to hold together the Auschwitz community, itself an ultimate manifestation of the German-Nazi ethos of Jewish threat and evil — the whole process paralleling that of the logical extremities resorted to in paranoia in order to hold together the individual self. But there is an important difference as well. Individual paranoid logic tends to form over a lifetime, usually originating in extreme early trauma readily perceived as “soul murder” and also influenced by any inherited vulnerability to paranoid states. The collective experience of and response to perceived soul murder can absorb into its deadly logic adults with varied psychological backgrounds, as occurred with Nazi doctors. We therefore do well to resist the temptation to invoke the clinical term “paranoia,” even if we draw a partial model from that condition. Rather, the Nazis’ logic lays claim to what I have called a “sacred science” as part of a total ideology, an ideology that has totalized the original social trauma as well as the argument and policy invoked in the name of revitalization.34

The Nazi ethos thus came to contain a sacred biology, whose logic was taken on and actively promulgated by the Auschwitz self. For the claim of logic and rationality was part of the larger Nazi claim of direct outgrowth from the biological laboratory. To be sure, other movements, Marxism and Soviet Communism, for instance, have also claimed scientific validity. But only the Nazis have seen themselves as products and
* The sequence from Freud to contemporary work by Ida Macalpine and Richard H. Hunter and by Harold F. Searles is discussed in The Broken Connection and placed within a paradigm of symbolization of life and death.33   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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