Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 451  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
The Auschwitz Self: Psychological Themes 
for continuously warding off anxiety and, above all, responsibility. The equilibrium tended to be unsteady in the Auschwitz self, as in the case of the shaman for whom “no amount of power … seems to be enough” and who lives constantly in “the sense of his relative impotence in the spirit-world.”50 
“Helpless” Omnipotence 
This powerlessness associated with omnipotence was in fact cultivated throughout the Nazi movement. Dr. Otto F. epitomized it, declaring that for a student it was “a matter of course” to undergo military training with weapons; as a doctor one underwent Gleichschaltung because “you had to,” and you had to perform sterilizations also “as it was simply ordered by the university which received its order from the state health offices;” and in Auschwitz “you’re just there on the spot and helpless” (although he was actually chief camp doctor, at least briefly). Doctors received commands from the camp commander, Dr. F. explained, but even the latter was trapped by a kind of blackmail held over him by the Nazi regime so that “he suffered badly.” Similarly, about sending Einsatzgruppen personnel back to duty after successfully treating them, one former Nazi doctor told me that “it was a horrible thing but we couldn't do anything [else].” And concerning cooperation with direct medical killing, or “euthanasia,” another doctor remembered thinking, “Well what can be done? First of all we are powerless, we can’t change this situation.”

But in all those situations, however Nazi doctors felt and wanted to feel powerless, they were also in a stance of omnipotence. Indeed, the entire Führer principle rendered one simultaneously a helpless tool (because only the Führer decided all things) and one who shared in the Führer’s omnipotence, by serving as the agent (or tool) of the Führer. Since the Führer’s will was the court of last resort, it was for everyone else a system of nonresponsibility. And, indeed, even the Führer could be painted a “helpless”: because the Jew’s evil forced the Führer to act or make war on him; or because psychologically the Führer’s sense of helplessness was “projected onto the Jews” along with “the fear of contamination, of impotence … [and] the destruction of the male’s chief source of identity and power that was being culturally eroded … by the modern mass work … most particularly and painfully in Germany where a long patriarchal tradition was crumbling traumatically away.”51  
Killers as Doctors: Professional Identity 
It is ironic, but psychologically not surprising, that these men struggled in the midst of their killing function, to hold on to their sense of themselves as doctors. All the more so since, as Dr. B. told us, “medical activity
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 451 Forward  Next Page