Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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to the holiness of his calling”; and that another writer held forth the vision that “physicians could be the true savior of the human race.”81 We have seen this visionary medical materialism associated with various occult ideas, as in the case of Rudolf Hess and Johann S., who was in part a follower of Hess (see pages 129-30). When Dr. S. plunged into personal purification via war, in response to impending defeat and other disillusionments with the Nazi movement, he was, so to speak, attempting to purify his purification, to find the simplest (or most pure) expression of life-death confrontation. The purifying impulse, once established, may not easily give way and, when its violence falls into disrepute, can lend itself to alternate forms of killing.

The goal of Nazi purification, like that of primitive peoples, was to “create one single, symbolically consistent universe.”82 Both sought qualities of “wholeness and completeness” as well as “physical perfection,” but the Nazis were much more extreme than any primitives in their literalism and in their deadly application of medical materialism and high technology to a totalistic spiritual goal.

For the Nazis were much less at home in their skins than were primitive peoples: as a modern movement seeking by their purification procedures to restore a past of perfect harmony that never was, the Nazis’ actions inevitably were compensatory and more desperate. Starting from modern forms of collective dislocation and of fragmentation of the self, their purification was bound to fail. It is simply not possible to create, from a modern psychic vantage point, a “primitive, undifferentiated universe” within which a Führer principle becomes the source of all judgments about life, death, and killing. Indeed, one suspects that the very impossibility of the project takes it from mere victimization to genocide. For, just as in primitive cultures, “witchcraft … is found in a non-structure,”83 so in modern cultures can genocide be found in the non-achievable ideal of total medical-hygienic purification.

Purification tends to be associated with sacrificial victims, whether in primitive or contemporary religious or secular terms. Genocide can be understood as a quest to make sacrificial victims out of an entire people.

The practice of human sacrifice was pursued not just to appease the gods but to engage in a mutually sustaining exchange of life power. The Aztecs of Mexico, for instance, as late as the fifteenth century and just before the Spanish conquests, pursued as their sacred duty a course of endless warfare in order to obtain prisoners to offer in sacrifice “to preserve the universe from the daily threat of annihilation.”84 But for the gods to provide this service, they in turn had to be nourished by man, “kept alive by life itself, by the magic substance that is found in the blood of man, … ‘the precious liquid’ … with which the gods are fed.” As in the case of the Nazis, in a very different context, the mass sacrificial killing became part of a vast revitalization project bound up with “national  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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