Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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The Auschwitz Self: Psychological Themes 
there, that it was literally a separate reality. That quality — that absolute removal from ordinary experience — provided the Auschwitz self with still another dimension of numbing. Even as part of itself was absorbed in routine, another part could feel the environment to be so distinct from the ordinary that anything that happened there simply did not count. One could not believe what one was doing, even as one was doing it. Marianne F. captured this sense in Nazi doctors around her when she observed, “The fact is that if you do something that is totally unbelievable, and you are incapable of believing, you don't believe it. … The gas chambers, … the houses that the crematoria had, … brick houses, windows, curtains, white picket fences. … Nobody would have believed that.” Part of the schizophrenic situation was the ability to mobilize the Auschwitz self into perverse actions in which it could not itself believe. The feeling was something like: “Anything I do on planet Auschwitz doesn’t count on planet Earth.” And what one does not believe, whatever the evidence of one’s own actions, one does not feel. That is why Dr. Tadeusz S. could say, of Nazi doctors, with bitter irony: “They have no moral problems.”

Auschwitz was a staged melodrama in which the authors had so indulged their wildest fantasy as to render it completely absurd, unbelievable to its director (Nazi doctors and other officials), to its actors (inmates) pressed into the melodrama, or to its audience (the local population, the Germans, the world), all the more so since each group within that audience had considerable additional motivation toward disbelief. Otto F., the Nazi doctor who was considerably implicated during his brief stay at Auschwitz, spoke of the whole Nazi era as “a momentary phenomenon, the coming together of the most varied elements,… not at all in the mentality of the German people.”

For the Auschwitz self, that is, the very bizarreness of its actions — the dimensions of evil it knew — supported its numbed capacity for that very evil.* 
Omnipotence and Impotence 
The Auschwitz self wavered between the sense of omnipotent control over the lives and deaths of prisoners and the seemingly opposite sense of impotence, of being a powerless cog in a vast machine controlled by unseen others. These polarized feelings were undoubtedly, widespread among death-camp personnel. But they had special meaning for doctors, who ordinarily experience both extremes of feeling in everyday confrontations with disease and death and accompanying struggles with their
* Hence the statement, made to me directly by Alexander Mitscherlich, to the effect that most Germans of the Nazi generation were incapable of confronting their guilt because its dimensions would be too overwhelming. That is, they could not, then or now, permit themselves to feel.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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