Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Justifying oneself to oneself as a doctor was what Ernst B. was doing when he suggested that, while helping people in Auschwitz, he found his medical calling there; and what Wirths was doing in his persistent claim of medical purity. But the truth was, as one survivor phrased it, that no physician in the entire German concentration-camp system “gained distinction for his work as a doctor.” The statement accurately suggests that working as part of the Nazi project in the camps meant abnegation of medical responsibility. An important psychological step here is the SS doctor’s giving expression to his “holy terror of infection” (in Kogon’s words)58 by absolute avoidance of typhoid and other contagious patients. That meant stepping out of the Hippocratic sphere of the healer. The Auschwitz self could not psychologically afford that interpretation and sought to avoid it by clinging to every possible fragment of remaining medical identity.

An aspect of that struggle was some Nazi doctors’ glorification of their role. Dr. Otto F., for instance, told me that “there existed an outstanding medical attitude from the beginning to the end, and of everything published about it so far not one single word is applicable.” He went on to present a series of unsubstantiated, claims that doctors assigned to Auschwitz had resisted the killing process there, and spoke of a duty that “I owe … to my colleagues who fell during the war” to bear witness to their courage in adversity. One could say that he was still promoting the Nazi equation of Auschwitz with service in war, while at the same time expressing actual feelings of a survivor mission, however misguided, in terms of fellow doctors killed during his military, service. Significantly, such implicated Nazi doctors never brought up any of the few cases of genuine medical resistance to the Nazis: that of Ewald in opposing direct medical killing, or “euthanasia” (see pages 82-87); or the more quiet resistance to that program by men like Karl Bonhoeffer (see pages 81-82). To do so would have further contrasted genuine resistance with their own behavior. What these doctors sought to do instead was to defend more broadly the good name of German medicine at that time as a means of claiming for themselves a kind of automatic, reflected medical virtue. 
The Postwar Self 
Most Nazi doctors who worked in camps fled from approaching Allied armies. But others, less identifiable as having been associated with criminal activities, told me proudly of collegial encounters, sometimes even joint medical work, with Allied physicians soon after the surrender. What ever the accuracy or exaggeration of these accounts, and the possible need of some Allied physicians to see German colleagues as having been less corrupted than was actually the case, what was involved psychologically for Nazi doctors was their intense effort to reconnect with the Hippocratic sphere as a way of claiming they had never left it.

Upon returning to their homes, they continued, for the most part, to  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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