Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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dogs) than to civilized Europeans, we must, therefore, assign a totally diffèrent value to their lives” (italics added).37 The Auschwitz self could feel a certain national-scientific tradition behind its harsh, apocalyptic, deadly rationality.

In all these ways, Nazi-German ideology and ethos could create, in the Auschwitz self an individual form of belief resembling that of primitive people in witchcraft: “The web [of this belief] is not an external structure in which he is enclosed … [but] the texture of his thought and he cannot think that his thought is wrong. Nevertheless, his beliefs are not absolutely set but are variable and fluctuating to allow for different situations and to permit empirical observations and even doubts.”38 
Numbing and Derealization 
The Auschwitz self depended upon radically diminished feeling, upon one’s not experiencing psychologically what one was doing. I have called that state “psychic numbing,” a general category of diminished capacity or inclination to feel. Psychic numbing involves an interruption in psychic action-in the continuous creation and re-creation of images and forms that constitutes the symbolizing or “formative process” characteristic of human mental life. Psychic numbing varies greatly in degree, from everyday blocking of excessive stimuli to extreme manifestations in response to death-saturated environments. But it is probably impossible to kill another human being without numbing oneself toward that victim.

The Auschwitz self also called upon the related mechanism of “derealization,” of divesting oneself from the actuality of what one is part of not experiencing it as real (That absence of actuality in regard to the killing was not inconsistent with an awareness of the killing policy — that is, of the Final Solution.) Still another pattern is that of disavowal or the rejection of what one actually perceives and of its meaning. Disavowal and derealization overlap and are both aspects of the overall numbing process. The key function of numbing in the Auschwitz self is the avoidance of feelings of guilt when one is involved in killing. The Auschwitz self can then engage in medicalized killing an ultimate form of numbed violence.

To be sure, a Nazi doctor arrived at Auschwitz with his psychic numbing well under way. Much feeling had been blunted by his early involvement with Nazi medicine, including its elimination of Jews and use of terror, as well as by his participation in forced sterilization, his knowledge of or relationship to direct medical killing (“euthanasia”), and the information he knew at some level of consciousness about concentration camps and medical experiments held there if not about death camps such
*Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich stress the widespread pattern of derealization among Nazis in general, both during their time in power and afterward. 40   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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