Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 452  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
[for Nazi doctors] in Auschwitz consisted only of selecting people for the gas chamber.” Among the elements required for the function of a doctor’s Auschwitz self was the assertion of medical identity.

Hermann Langbein sensed the importance of that identity in developing a policy of addressing them as “Doctor,” instead of by military rank as one was supposed to do, because he noted that it created a softer, more informal tone. The title also confirmed a man’s sense of himself as physician and not merely SS officer and thus undoubtedly helped Langbein in his efforts on behalf of the prisoner population, mostly concerning matters in the medical blocks. We know that Nazi doctors’ medical identity had been permeated by the Nazi ethos before their arrival in Auschwitz. They were heirs of a great medical tradition with an abiding concern for medical ethics, including long-standing restriction among German doctors on the use of drugs with unknown effects on human subjects and the frequent practice of trying out such drugs on themselves. They were also heirs of considerable medical-political infighting, and of a profession that could encourage to the point of caricature the idea of the physician-scientist who focused exclusively on a disease entity to the point of being oblivious to the humanity of his patient, and whose position, especially if a professor, gave him a claim to unerring wisdom. While individual doctors varied in their relation to this stance-there were, of course, many dedicated healers among them — they had available to them, long before the Nazis, the model of the “medical Führer.” This heritage of a great professional tradition in decline — highly uncertain of its standing among the professions 52 — made Nazi doctors especially responsive to promises of professional, no less than personal and national, revitalization.

The Nazis courted, bullied, flattered, threatened, and above all “coordinated” physicians in accordance with their relentless Gleichschaltung policy (see pages 33-35). At the same time they expanded the doctor’s identity into that of the militarized medical Führer. Kurt Blome, who became deputy to Leonardo Conti, chief physician of the Reich, captured the spirit of this medical identity in an autobiographical book, Arzt im Kampf (“Physician in Struggle” [1942]), in which he exuberantly equated medical and military power in their battle for life and death.53 The militarization of medicine began at universities, where, as Dr. Otto F. tells us, “most students became soldiers,” as did many professors; and it became a matter of pride for medical students to undergo training with weapons. Many senior Nazi medical leaders had fought in the Freikorps, and one could not in Nazi Germany achieve full medical prestige without a prominent military background.

There could be considerable confusion about the new identity. For one thing, many of the medical “old fighters,” such as Lolling and Blome, could be looked down upon by other doctors as lacking in medical skills, as more Nazi than physician; and they were surely medical versions of the characteristically Nazi “deeply half-educated man” (see pages 492-93). The term was used by Joachim C. Fest for ideologue Alfred Rosenberg.54  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 452 Forward  Next Page