Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 461  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
The Auschwitz Self: Psychological Themes  
As in the case of the Auschwitz self, Hitler’s position was that, because Jews were, biologically and existentially, a permanent locus of evil and a permanent threat, it was they who must be blamed for anything done to overcome that threat and extirpate that evil. In other words, because as Jews (and, to a lesser extent, Poles) the prisoner doctors were by definition evil, they were therefore responsible for medical negligence and all other evil in the camp — a position the Auschwitz self could hold while simultaneously depending upon the medical skills of Jewish doctors for maintaining its own professional identity.

When a Nazi doctor became enraged at a tiny mistake made by a prisoner doctor on a medical chart — a pattern all the more remarkable when one considers the extent of falsification throughout Auschwitz documents — that anger had an important psychological function. It was the Auschwitz self’s effort to hold to the “as if” situation of a decent medical establishment and to deflect potential guilt by attacking the other rather than confront itself.66  But blaming the victim can extend to retrospective Auschwitz reflections, such as those of Höss himself. The camp commandant attributed the high mortality rate among Jews to “their psychological state,” blamed “Jewish gold” for the “camp’s undoing” (extensive corruption), and described Jewish prisoners in Dachau as having “protected themselves in typical fashion by bribing their fellow prisoners,” Höss took pains to make clear his opposition to vulgar attitudes in this area, condemning Julius Streicher and his notorious Der Stürmer for its “disgusting sensationalism” and pornography as harmful to the cause of “serious anti-Semitism.”67

Höss suggests once more the Auschwitz self’s quest for meaning on the basis of a story, within which one can claim to have made every effort to be reasonable and humane in the face of extraordinary provocation, but had to point, however reluctantly, to one’s designated victim as the source of evil and threat; which in turn required that one take the matter in hand, as any clear-minded, responsible person would have done. Or more subjectively: “God knows I tried. I did my best with them. But being what they were, they kept spreading their poison and endangered my compatriots and myself, so we were left with no choice.”

Blaming the victim is highly important to the doubling process creating the Auschwitz self and to the Nazi doctor’s function within the healing-killing paradox. 
The Auschwitz Self as Performer 
The element of “performance” in the Auschwitz self, especially during selections, had considerable importance for the experience of meaning. Mengele, of course, is the exemplar here, the outstanding player of the Auschwitz game whose “graceful and quick movements” reflected his harmonious sense of meaningful work in the Auschwitz environment. But  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 461 Forward  Next Page