Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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has called “pseudospeciation,” or seeing other human beings as belonging to a diffèrent species.¹ One sympathetic commentator suggested that I could best avoid lapsing into pseudospeciation with Nazi doctors by “insisting on separating the fallible person from the evil deed, retaining our identification with the one while condemning the other.” He took this to be a psychological counterpart of Jesus’ saying “Love thine enemies.” But while I found the suggestion moving, it did not quite capture my sense of the situation. For once a man performs an evil deed he has become part of that deed, and the deed part of him. That deed or deeds has probably required some doubling with the formation of an evil self. And while one must acknowledge that all of us are fallible human beings, potentially capable of such evil deeds, we must also underscore the distinction between potential and actual evil.

My discomfort with Nazi doctors undoubtedly had to do with uneasiness about a proper moral stance and perhaps also with fear of contagion. Of course, I was also making contact with much more ordinary, all too human aspects of these doctors. Whatever satisfaction that contact provided was more than mitigated by their virtually complete absence of moral confrontation, of acknowledgment of their own moments of evil or even of the degree to which they had been part of an evil project. While that moral distancing did not prevent me from learning a great deal about their psychological, motivation, it did greatly limit any possibility for what could be called a genuine human encounter It also limited the “affective resonance” between us, and therefore my empathy for them, since empathy is after all a two-way process.

From my side came the problem of how much and for how long to “join” a doctor in his Nazi world. My psychological behavior consisted of altering my sense of self sufficiently to imagine his stance in relation to events being described, while at the same time performing two other maneuvers: bringing the victims into the picture, and holding to an ethical context depending on my own sense of self. That stance is consistent with the contemporary view of empathy as “not to be equated with identification, [and] indeed is in a sense contrasted with it … [because] we are empathic with what that person is trying to communicate to us, not with the person or his conduct.” Empathy has an important cognitive aspect and can, most simply, be understood as “coming to know.” This same observer, Michael Basch, also writes that “empathy involves resonating with the other’s unconscious affect and experiencing his experience with him while the empathizer maintains the integrity of his self intact.”² I came to see this tension concerning empathy as the key to my approach, and perhaps to the study in general.

Whatever empathy I mustered was in the service of something else: bearing witness. While I claim no prerogatives of an actual survivor, that survivorlike impulse comes quickly to anyone who seriously investigates Nazi mass murder. My kind of witness was psychological and moral, and strongly concerned with questions of the human future.  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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