Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Soon after I completed my earlier study of atomic bomb survivors, a rabbi friend visited me and in the course of our conversation declared, “Hiroshima is your path, as a Jew, to the Holocaust.” The comment made me uneasy, and I thought it a bit pontifical, even for a rabbi.

Yet from that time (the late 1960s) I had my own strong sense that I would, before too long, attempt some form of study of Nazi genocide. All of the work I had done on “extreme situations” — situations of massive violence to bodies and minds — seemed to point, professionally and personally, to such a study. Friends and students provided affectionate prodding, and without any clear plan, the idea took on for me a certain inevitability.

At several conferences on the Holocaust I made presentations on the psychology of the survivor, but came to the conviction that what was now most needed was a study of perpetrators. No wonder, then, that I was more than ready when I received a call from an editor (who had worked with me on my Hiroshima book) asking whether I would like to look over some documents he had been sent on Josef Mengele and Auschwitz medical practices. From those documents, and an immersion into related writings, I began to realize the extraordinary importance of doctors in general for the Nazi killing project. While the work was to extend far beyond those first materials, it was for me already under way.

Though I had little hesitation in proceeding, a few people I talked to expressed certain misgivings. “I hope you have a strong stomach!” was a comment I frequently heard. Some went on to make a compelling case for leaving the whole subject alone. Their argument was that Nazi evil should merely be recognized and isolated: rather than make it an object of study, one should simply condemn it. Psychological study in particular, it was feared, ran the risk of replacing condemnation with “insights.” Those misgivings gave me pause and forced me to look at some difficult personal and philosophical issues.

I had no doubt about the reality of Nazi evil. But I could now be more clear that the purpose of my psychological project was to learn more about, rather than replace, precisely that evil. To avoid probing the sources of that evil seemed to me, in the end, a refusal to call forth our capacity to engage and combat it. Such avoidance contains not only fear  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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