Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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But these two “humanitarians” were undoubtedly more concerned about the well-being of the killers. The psychological difficulties experienced by the Einsatzgruppen in face-to-face killing (see pages 159-62) were also met by a form of medical technicism. The Wehrmacht neuropsychiatrist who had treated these psychological difficulties in Einsatzgruppen troops, described them to me — the general manifestations of anxiety, including anxiety dreams — in the most detached clinical tones. When I asked him whether he had ever experienced anxiety dreams in response to all this killing or to his treating the killers, he answered that he had not: “I never killed anybody”; and, “As doctors … we were outsiders.” It also became clear that he and his colleagues did not alter their medical approach in any significant way when treating these “killer troops” (as he called them during our interviews), but simply did what they could to relieve symptoms and help the men to return to duty. He would even sometimes gently warn them, “Be careful now, you’re complaining but you’re well.” He was trying to suggest to me that, in doing so, he was considering the interests of the individual killer soldier. But there was no doubt that he was playing the role of the physician suspicious of malingering, who insisted upon holding to strictly medical criteria in decisions concerning sending these men back to duty where they could continue their killing. The extreme medical-psychiatric technicism here has two dimensions: first, the use of one’s specialized knowledge for the sake of the command structure of one’s military unit, whose function even ordinarily is the killing of enemy soldiers; and the special feature here that the “duty” to which patients were returned had nothing to do with war and its rules but was simply that of murdering Jews. One was returning them to an atrocity-producing situation in the extreme, to a form of duty where atrocity was not only likely in the average case but was precisely one’s assignment (see page 15).

The more crude forms of killing in Nazi camps described by Ernst B. as being on the level of a “handicraft” could be seen as intermediate stages in the shift from primitive Einsatzgruppen to sophisticated Auschwitz killing. The evidence suggests that the doctors were active at all levels, and that they contributed their professional knowledge all through the improving technological sequence, culminating in what Dr. B. called the “perfection” of Auschwitz. Examples here include doctors’ important role in 14f13 connections between “euthanasia” killing and death camps and the early role of doctors in the development of Zyklon-B gas, though we know that the gas itself and its applicability to the killing of human beings were discovered by nonmedical technical experts. The importance of this medical-technological stance to the Auschwitz self is suggested by B.’s statement that when a doctor’s specific suggestion for improving the efficiency of the crematorium turned out to be successful, “he was just as pleased about it as [any doctor would be] after a well-performed [surgical] operation.” Here professional pride merges into German cultural preoccupation with individual and organizational efficiency. That  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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