Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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The Auschitz Self: Psychological Themes 
Nor did well-educated Nazi doctors escape that confusion in clinging tenaciously to their medical identity. One former Nazi doctor spent decades, following conviction at Nuremberg (for involvement in experiments) and a long prison sentence, attempting to restore his medical honor; during our interviews, he repeatedly asked that I intervene formally and ever legally on his behalf, despite my clear declarations from the beginning that no such action on my part was remotely possible.

For Jews to be made into victims, Jewish doctors had to be divested of their standing as healers (as I have described in chapter 1). Long before Auschwitz, the slogan was put forward in Germany that “a Jewish doctor is no doctor; he is an abortionist and a poisoner.”55 But German doctors became precisely what they had accused Jewish doctors of being — not abortionists but killers of infants and children, certainly “poisoners,” and also, in their way, “treaters” or “handlers” of the sick. The further Auschwitz irony, (found in other camps as well) was that the only authentic healers were the prisoner doctors, who were, of course, mainly Jewish.

Nazi doctors could make psychological use of that irony by living vicariously, medically speaking, through the prisoner doctors they sponsored and ruled over. The Auschwitz self could take on its own medical identity (furthered by medical hobbies and “scientific” experiments) and thereby become better able to kill.  
The Purely Technical  
Perhaps the single greatest key to the medical function of the Auschwitz self was the technicizing of everything. That self could divest itself from immediate ethical concerns by concentrating only on the “purely technical” or “purely professional” (das rein Fachliche). Demonstrating “humanity” meant killing with technical efficiency.

For the Auschwitz self there is a logical sequence: a doctor’s task is to alleviate suffering and to exert a humane influence in any setting. When the setting is one of mass murder, that means calling forth medical and technical skills to diminish the pain of victims. While the logic depends upon a highly technicized view of medical function, the Auschwitz self can grasp at the pseudo-ethical principle of “humane killing.”

That principle was put forward not just by Auschwitz doctors but by the Nazi regime in general. Hitler himself, in his final testament-suicide note, contrasted the painful deaths of “Europe’s Aryan peoples” by hunger, battle, or bombing with the “more humane means” by which “the real criminal … [had] to atone for his guilt.”56

The use of poison gas — first carbon monoxide and then Zyklon-B. — was the technological achievement permitting “humane killing.” Hence, the early advice by Grawitz, chief SS physician, when consulted by Himmler on the matter, in favor of gas chambers — surely the ultimate in such technical-medical consultation.  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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