Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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is the view of Moses as “an enlightened public health administrator, rather than as a spiritual leader” because certain of his precepts enhanced individual bodily health.78*

Medical materialism can overlay symbol systems that closely parallel those of primitive purification rituals. But in its concrete focus the body, on biology, medical materialism lends itself directly to purification projects that kill in the name of healing. Medically oriented purification included getting rid of the incurably ill and hereditarily impaired as well as those considered sexually deviant, notably homosexuals.

In their principle of taking over evolution from nature in order to prevent humanity from being “annihilated by degeneration” (in Lorenz’s words [see page 134]), the Nazis were putting forward their sweeping version of biological — one might say evolutionary — purification. Doctors became the professional purifiers, once they themselves had undergone purification (Hitler’s stress on the “cleansing” of the medical profession — which meant getting rid of Jews and political opponents — so that it could assume “racial leadership”), the “alert biological soldiers” on guard against anything strange or deficient and therefore defiling with its contagion. Scientific racism and mental hygiene were the medical-materalistic principles by which the Nazis murdered in the name of purification. Above all, on had to “purify the blood,” an image that in its full meaning and with its related expressions (“blood and soil,” “blood flag,” “Order of the Blood,” and “thinking with the blood”) suggests what one commentator called “the mysterious relationship of organic to inorganic nature.”79 “Purifying the blood” becomes a means of rendering sacred the mystical-immortal Aryan race and community. Paracelsus was again useful here, now as a great purifier of history itself.† As exemplified by Paracelsus, there had been a long-standing German tendency, expressed in various youth and adult movements, toward purification of mind and body. The Nazis called forth that tradition in a violent attack on all that they saw as defiling in urban life, human relations, sexual behavior, and social experiment.

The Nazis also developed the medical-purification method par excellence, applied to purification of genes and race — that of selections. The pivotal statement that “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology” could be even more pivotally understood: “National Socialism is nothing but applied biological purification.” It was from this standpoint that one Nazi writer declared that the doctor had been “restored to the priesthood and
* The term “medical materialism,” used originally by William James, has been developed in the manner used here by Mary Douglas. Norman O. Brown, in personal conversation, told me of a childhood teacher at a church school who impressed his students by declaring that Moses was a “sanitary officer.” The teacher considered himself a “modernist” and constantly connected biblical events with scientific principles.

† The reference is to Richard Billinger’s Paracelsus, as presented in a drama staged at the Salzburg Festival in 1943. Erwin Guido Kolbenheyer had written an influential Paracelsus trilogy in 1925-26, which was taken up by the Nazis; in it Paracelsus seeks virtually to eliminate history by replacing it with a divine form of nature.
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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