Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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The Auschwitz Self: Psychological Themes 
try to cast off their Auschwitz or Nazi self and to see themselves (and of course to represent themselves to the world) as essentially decent and moderate postwar German burgher-physicians of a conservative stamp. An incentive for being interviewed was to meet with me as doctor to doctor and thereby reinforce their sense of themselves as healers. They were ambivalent, of course, given their residual doubling and their sense, accurate enough, that I would probe for the Auschwitz or Nazi self. Yet to refuse to see me would be to suggest — to themselves, if not to me — that the Nazi self still loomed large for them and had to be protected. What many of them wanted from me was an opportunity to put forward the healing self and to receive my American, or American-Jewish, confirmation of it. And that healing self tended to be available to them professionally. Even Nazi doctors who had been directly involved in murder could initiate or resume medical practice in their home areas and become conscientious, much-admired physicians.* Hence, the strange three-part odyssey from pre-Nazi physician-healer, to Nazi physician-killer, to post-Nazi physician-healer.

What these doctors could not psychologically do was confront the Nazi or Auschwitz self in its relationship, to medicalized killing. Here there was conscious and unconscious collusion on the part of much of the postwar German medical profession. There was, for example, the protection given Heyde by other doctors before he was brought to trial, as well as his strange death (see page 119), And even a man like Ewald who showed considerable courage in resisting direct medical killing, destroyed records that might have implicated other psychiatrists in that destructive project and perhaps raised certain questions about himself as well. But the most striking medical collusion in this respect was the ostracism by the German medical profession of the distinguished psychoanalyst Alexander Mitscherlich because he insisted upon full disclosure of its crimes.†

Precisely because it had not been confronted, the Nazi or Auschwitz self tended to surface at odd moments: Ernst B.’s nostalgia for people’s sense of purpose during the Nazi era; and the attempt of several doctors I interviewed to bear witness to the Nazi era in their own way, by covering over crimes of Nazi doctors and preserving the reputation of German medicine. A doctor’s inability to confront the Nazi or Auschwitz self left him without moral clarity concerning his contemporary self.
* One example was Dr. Kurt Heissmeyer, who conducted cruel medical experiments in the Neuengamme concentration camp on twenty Jewish children taken from Auschwitz. Artificially infected with tuberculosis, they were murdered on Heissmeyer’s request so they could not be witnesses. Also murdered were two French doctors, two Dutch orderlies, and twenty-four Russian prisoners of war. After the war, Heissmeyer returned to his home in Magdeburg, now in East Germany, where he was highly regarded as a lung and tuberculosis specialist. 59

† According to Dr. Mitscherlich, the first report on medical crimes he and his collaborator, Fred Mielke, produced immediately disappeared from bookstores; German physicians arranged to buy up the entire printing in order to prevent the book from being read by anyone else. 60   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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