Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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The fate of Nazi doctors after the defeat varied enormously. Quite a few killed themselves, probably relatively more than in other professions. Another group was executed after trials under Allied authority in Nuremberg and elsewhere and after later trials under German authority. Many served prison sentences, which were, however, generally considered light for the crimes committed. A few, like Mengele, escaped and were never caught. A considerable number returned to medical practice and continued with it until retirement or natural death — or until, as in a few cases, they were discovered to have been criminals and belatedly tried. Many are practicing now. But the doubling process and the residual Nazi or Auschwitz self has remained with them and significantly affected their attitudes and their lives. For this reason, younger Germans could say to me that there was no hope of salvaging that generation.

A prisoner doctor who struggled painfully to maintain healing principles when there, asked me somewhat rhetorically, “Can Auschwitz be a true reflection of the medical?” He was trying to point to the extremity of conditions behind the profound medical corruption. A German anti-Nazi doctor, in discussing my research, asked, “What are we allowed to do with other people? What is the limit?” A former Nazi doctor who had spent a brief period at a killing center for mental patients, in discussing any future principle of mercy killing, asked, “Who would do it? A doctor? A hangman?” As Nyiszli said, “Among all the criminals and murderers, the most dangerous type is the criminal physician.”61 The doctor’s danger, we now see, lies in his capacity to double in a way that brings special power to his killing self even as he continues to anoint himself with medical purity. 
The Construction of Meaning  
Finally, the Auschwitz self takes on a larger, sense of meaning. Its activities take on a logic and purpose and come to seem appropriate to the environment and its overall ethos. What that self becomes is not only acceptable but significant.

Such a sense of significance is an important means of fending off feelings of guilt. More than that, it is part of a universal proclivity toward constructing good motives while participating in evil behavior. That proclivity is one of the remarkable dimensions of human adaptability, of man’s capacity (in Loren Eiseley’s words) “to veer with every wind, or, stubbornly, to insert himself into some fantastically elaborated and irrational social institution only to perish with it.”62 For no reality is directly or fully given us as human beings. Rather we must inwardly “construct” that reality on the basis, of what we inwardly bring to what is “out there.” Each such construction, every reality, is influenced by all aspects of one’s psyche, as influenced in turn by individual and cultural history and even  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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