Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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The Auschwitz Self: Psychological Themes 
by species evolution. At the same time, we are meaning-hungry creatures; we live on images of meaning. Auschwitz makes all too clear the principle that the human psyche can create meaning out of anything.  
The Force of Routine  
The meaning derives partly from routine as such. The daily happenings and environmental rhythm at Auschwitz became (as the word’s derivation suggests) a route or path, a direction of the inner as well as the outer being. To report to an office, to speak to colleagues, to make one’s rounds on the medical block, to spend a bit of time at one’s research, to confer with camp officials and prisoner functionaries on diet and sanitary procedures, to issue medical and disciplinary orders, to here and there exchange an amusing anecdote or tell a little joke, to conduct selections for an arriving transport, to have meals and evening entertainment with fellow officers — all these came together as a life form, within which the mind could build coherence and significance. The whole vast institution was on the same “route,” including coerced activities of prisoner doctors as well as other inmates. It was in that sense a total mission — everyone’s — though the nature of the mission may have been kept more hazy than the sense that there was one.

Through the blur of the medical mystification of the “as if” situation, selections themselves took on meanings for the SS doctor: he was saving a few Jews; the “Jewish problem” was being “solved”; he was improving the health of the camp, diminishing the danger of epidemics, lessening the danger of overcrowding.

For the Auschwitz self, the daily routine, including notably selections, was totalized: meaning came to lie in the performance of one’s daily tasks rather than in the nature or impact of those tasks. Then, however, “topsy-turvy” things became in Auschwitz (as one survivor put it), “nothing seemed strange there.” Auschwitz could even come to seem a place whose very extremity permitted freer and franker discussion of meaning — as in Dr. B.’s descriptions of spirited discussions with Mengele concerning the pros and cons of the Final Solution. At the same time, by not contesting the Auschwitz project, one maintained one’s meaningful organizational ties, one’s “status honor.” And if one were a prime mover in Auschwitz, as were Wirths or Höss, one derived enormous meaning from one’s work. But, even as he killed, every doctor’s Auschwitz self could retain some sense of mediating between man and nature and thereby serving life. 
The Ultimate Biological Soldier  
Nazi ideology lent considerable support to all meaning structures. Underneath the absolute routinization, for instance, the Auschwitz self could have the unspoken sense of being part of a purification process, in  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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