Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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it at least experienced the security of being part of a larger, inexorable flow of human events.

In equating Auschwitz with an ordinary “civilian enterprise” such as a “sewerage project,” Dr. B. reflected the intense psychological requirement of the Auschwitz self to hold to that image, to feel nothing more. The attitude resembled that, described by Raul Hilberg, among officials of German railroads responsible for transporting Jews from ghettos to death camps, who both “realize[d] what they were doing” and “coped with it finally in the most ingenious way by not varying their routine and not restructuring their organization, not changing a thing in their correspondence or mode of communications.”44 The Auschwitz self did continuous psychological work to maintain that internal sense of numbed habituation in order to fend off potentially overwhelming images of its relationship to guilt, death, and murder. It could largely succeed, as Dr. B. told me, because dead bodies did not have to be viewed* but “only smelled,” and one got used to the smell.

Insofar as it took in some of the actual atrocity, the Auschwitz self may have moved quickly to a resigned, “above the battle” stance: Dr. B.’s view, for example, that it was no different from other destructive events except “for the dimensions. … and that is clearly a technical question.” Or Dr. Otto F.’s insistence, concerning the Nazi era, that one “see the good as well as the bad and … evaluate … what really happened.” The Auschwitz self may have come to view its own survival in the midst of so much death as proof of virtue, of (as Dr. F. went on to say) “having an absolutely white vest,” or pure conscience. And that claim to virtue was maintained by clinging to a sense of “status honor” (in Max Weber’s term),46 of good standing within the mores of one’s group.

When Ernst B. spoke of the extraordinary  “Auschwitz atmosphere” as determining all behavior, he was suggesting the sheer power of the numbed habituation of Auschwitz routine. That power was manifest in the eventual contributions to Auschwitz of both Wirths and Delmotte, whatever their inner conflict and residual humanity. 
“A Separate Reality” 
Nazi doctors discussing Auschwitz seemed to me to be messengers from another planet They were describing a realm of experience so extreme so removed from the imagination of anyone who had not been
* As routines became established, an assistant could look through the peephole to confirm that people inside the gas chamber were dead. Or even if the doctor himself looked, he would not necessarily “see” the victims — that is, experience them as human beings. Virtually the only SS personnel in Auschwitz who seemed to experience themselves as killers were some of those most directly involved in the gassing, including medical Desinfektoren. Not all “poured out” their hearts to Höss; some exhibited sadism, and just one was “calm and relaxed, unhurried and expressionless” (that is, absolutely numbed).45 We could say that these men for the most part took over the burden of guilt feelings for Nazi doctors and other higher-ranking Auschwitz officers, including Höss himself.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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