Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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among most of the belligerents. But for Germany the situation was quickly transcendent, so that “regardless of social station or political conviction, August 1914 was a sacred experience.” Even Stefan Zweig, the Austrian-Jewish writer later associated with intense anti-war sentiment, said at the time, “Each one of us is called upon to cast his infinitesimal self into the glowing mass there to be purified of all selfishness.”11

Thomas Mann, characteristically convoluted, referred to the war as “brutality for intellectual reasons, an intellectually based will to become worthy of the world, to qualify in the world,” and concluded that “Germany’s whole virtue and beauty … is unfolded only in war.”12 And the related Expressionist literature of the time — whose catchword, Rausch, meant “intoxication” or “ecstasy” — had a vision of “war as an Armageddon whose end must mean a rebirth into a better world,” the creation of a “New Man,” a “union with all mankind,” or some related combination of wallowing in death with “a welcome … to extinction” and “the mystical union with the cosmos.”13

Nor were social theorists and intellectual leaders such as Max Weber, Friedrich Meinecke, or even Sigmund Freud immune from the intoxication. Weber pointed with pride at Germans as “people of great culture … human beings who live amidst a refined culture, yet who can even stand up to the horrors of war (which is no achievement for a Senegalese!) and then, in spite of it, return basically decent like the majority of our soldiers — this is genuinely humane.”14 (However reluctant one may be to compare Max Weber with Heinrich Himmler, there is a clear parallel here with the latter's orations on the nobility of the German accomplishment in killing so many Jews and remaining “decent.”) Meinecke was still more extreme, recalling thirty years and two wars later that “the exultation of the August days of 1914 [was] one of the most precious and unforgettable memories of the highest sort” because it contained within it the anticipation of “an inner renovation of our whole state and culture.”15 And for about two weeks Freud was “quite carried away … excitable, irritable, and made slips of the tongue all day long”; he was disturbed by Austrian defeats but “rejoic[ed] in German victories.”16

With the defeat, adult Germans were to become the most devastated survivors: of the killing and dying on an unprecedented scale, and of the equally traumatic death of national and social visions, of meaning itself. There were individual breakdowns, notably among artists who served in. the war. A prominent example was Max Beckmann who described having experienced no physical wounds but rather “injuries of the soul”: grotesque death imagery that subsequently haunted all of his life and art. Other Expressionist artists experienced similar “spiritual wounds,” creating “an atmosphere of painful contrivance … hysterical abandonment to the wildest hopes and the unlikeliest despair.”17

But there was also a more brutalized survivor response, as exemplified by Hitler’s own sequence: First, his memory of how “those hours [the beginning of the war] seemed like … a release … [and] I fell down on  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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