Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 474  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
Indeed, the transcendence is likely to be related to some such killing, often to war or the expectation of war. Examples here are religious wars of the past and their contemporary expressions, as well as secular analogues of these religious wars. The war fever of 1914 mentioned earlier, with its anticipation of victory and national deliverance, set a standard for Nazi transcendence. And that 1914 moment, in turn, drew upon earlier historical memories. Consider the words of a German “national liberal” upon the return of the victorious (over Austria) Prussian troops to Berlin in 1866: “I feel more attached to the goddess of beauty and the mother of graces than to the powerful god of war, but the trophies of war exercise a magic charm even upon the child of peace. …One’s spirit goes along with the boundless rows of men who acclaim in the god of the moment — [military] success."35

Hitler became an agent of this transcendence, because of both his oratorical-demagogic genius and the German hunger for transcendence. As he invoked principles of “‘honor,’ ‘fatherland,’ ‘Volk, ’ ‘loyalty,’ and ‘sacrifice,’ … his German hearers not only took his words in deadly earnest but hung on them as upon the message of a savior.” 36 For each of these words represented a transcendent principle, a means of offering the self to an ultimate realm that provided a sense of immortality bordering on omnipotence. Then “the will of the Führer” could become a “cosmic law”37 because his message of revitalization could invoke the experience of transcendence and place that experience within a structure of thought and a program of action.

Albert Speer described to me the extraordinary impact of hearing Hitler speak for the first time. It was 1930; and Speer, a young architect the university seemed in that time of economic and political duress, to have no future. He had boyhood memories of being part of a voluntary group greeting returning soldiers at the railway station at the end of the First World War (“It was terrible, terrible, awful [They were] dirty, neglected, really a defeated army”) and of experiencing “kind of a mourning about this situation.” Now Hitler appeared addressing a university audience* in measured tones with the simple message that “all can be changed” : Germany could become great again and individual Germans could divest themselves of guilt and loss by embracing this glorious future. Speer was moved to the point of rapture, felt himself to be “drunk” or in an altered state of consciousness, and needed to go off by himself to walk in the woods outside Berlin in order to “absorb” what was happening to him. He was describing a classical experience of transcendence, an ecstatic state of feeling outside oneself and swept up by a larger force that could connect or reconnect one with ultimate spiritual principles. From that day on, he belonged to Hitler and came to share his sphere of omnipotence and power, so that he could describe the whole
* Speer said that Hitler had two separate speeches: a simplistic rabble-rousing message for ordinary audiences; and a more careful "historical analysis," no less "rousing," for the educated.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 474 Forward  Next Page