Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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The Auschwitz Self: Psychological Themes 
combination was also reflected in the Auschwitz doctors’ resentment of their superiors in Berlin for providing inadequate technical facilities (gas chambers and crematoria) for the professional requirements of the mass killing.

There is always a technical element to medicine and a necessity for a mechanical model of the body. The ordinary doctor, in effect, says (or should say) to the patient: “Allow me to look at your body as a machine, in order to do what I can in the service of your overall health as a human being.” But the Nazi doctor held to an absolutized mechanical model extending out into the environment. The machine of the body was subsumed to an encompassing killing machine, and Auschwitz inmates had no standing except as they could be seen as contributing to that larger machine. The Auschwitz self of the Nazi doctor was also part of that environmental machine, charged with maximizing its own as well as the inmate’s contribution to it. The extraordinary technical-medical success of the killing machine could create the impression for the Auschwitz self that nature itself was responding — that the project was in harmony with the natural world.

Simply absorbing oneself in medical work, in Auschwitz or elsewhere, was a way that physicians could technicize their relationship to mass murder. When I asked Dr. Otto F. whether, over the course of his extensive medical service with the police and the SS (outside of his brief stay in Auschwitz), he had encountered any atrocities or examples of Nazi mass killing, his answer was that he had been extremely busy setting up hospitals and medical programs so that at times he worked from fourteen to sixteen hours a day. More specific for the Auschwitz self of physicians was Wirths’s intensity in seeking actual medical work whenever possible. A nonmedical but parallel example is a statement by Rudolf Höss describing his superhuman efforts to get Auschwitz built and functional and declaring, “I lived only for my work.” 57 
“A Doctor Remains a Doctor” 
The matter became more complicated for the Auschwitz self when performing something close to a medical act in the very process of killing: for example, examining the degree of muscular emaciation of medical block inmates as a criterion for whether to send them to the gas chamber. Even then, one’s momentary sense of functioning as a doctor could have specifically diminished awareness of killing. The same could be true of such medical judgments that overcrowding and pure hygienic conditions required selecting larger numbers of prisoners for the gas chambers: then, too, as absurd as it may seem from the outside, the Auschwitz self could still distance itself from the killing by the sense it was performing a medical function. As a prisoner doctor put it, “A doctor remains always a doctor — a physician who tortures remains a physician all the same,” so that as a doctor he must “justify himself to himself.”  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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