Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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the Auschwitz community. Men pull together for the “common good,” even for what was perceived among Nazi doctors as group survival. Drinking enhanced the meeting of the minds between old-timers, who could offer models of an Auschwitz self to the newcomer seeking entry into the realm of Auschwitz killing. The continuing alcohol-enhanced sharing of group feelings and group numbing gave further shape to the emerging Auschwitz self.

Over time, as drinking was continued especially in connection with selections, it enabled the Auschwitz self to distance that killing activity and reject responsibility for it. Increasingly, the Jews as victims failed to touch the overall psychological processes of the Auschwitz self. Whether a Nazi doctor saw Jews without feeling their presence, or did not see them at all, he no longer experienced them as beings who affected him — that is, as human beings. Much of that transition process occurred within days or even hours, but it tended to become an established pattern by two or three weeks.

The numbing of the Auschwitz self was greatly aided by the diffusion of responsibility. With the medical corpsmen closer to the actual killing, the Auschwitz self of the individual doctor could readily feel “It is not I who kill.” He was likely to perceive what he did as a combination of military order (“I am assigned to ramp duty”), designated role (“I am expected to select strong prisoners for work and weaker ones for ‘special treatment’”), and desirable attitude (“I am supposed to be disciplined and hard and to overcome ‘scruples’”). Moreover since “the Führer decides upon the life and death of any enemy of the state,”42 responsibility lay with him (or his immediate representatives) alone. As in the case of the participant in direct medical killing (“euthanasia”), the Auschwitz self could feel itself no more than a member of a “team,” within which responsibility was so shared, and so offered to higher authorities, as no longer to exist for anyone on that team. And insofar as one felt a residual sense of responsibility one could reinvoke numbing by means of a spirit of numerical compromise: “We give them ten or fifteen and save five or six.”

Numbing could become solidified by this focus on “team play,” and “absolute fairness” toward other members of the team. Yet if the “team” did something incriminating, one could stay numbed by asserting one’s independence from it. I have in mind one former Nazi doctor’s denial of responsibility for the medical experiments done by a team to which he provided materials from his laboratory, even though he showed up on occasion at a concentration camp and looked over experimental charts and subjects. That same doctor also denied responsibility for the “team” (committee) decision to allocate large amounts of Zyklon-B for use in death camps though he was prominent in the decision making process because, whatever other members of the team knew, he had not been informed that the gas would be used for killing. In this last example in particular, we sense that numbing can be willed and clung to in the face  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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