The Nazi Doctors

A study of mid-20th Century medicine, and what faults must be constantly guarded against in science.


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Nazi doctors did more than conduct bizarre experiments on concentration-camp inmates; they supervised the entire process of medical mass murder, from selecting those who were to be exterminated to disposing of corpses. Lifton (The Broken Connection; The Life of the Self shows that this medically supervised killing was done in the name of “healing,” as part of a racist program to cleanse the Aryan body politic. After the German eugenics campaign of the 1920s for forced sterilization of the “unfit,”it was but one step to “euthanasia,” which in the Nazi context meant systematic murder of Jews. Building on interviews with former Nazi physicians and their prisoners,

Lifton presents a disturbing portrait of careerists who killed to overcome feelings of powerlessness. He includes a chapter on Josef Mengele and one on Eduard Wirths, the “kind,” “decent” doctor (as some inmates described him) who set up the Auschwitz death machinery. Lifton also psychoanalyzes the German people, scarred by the devastation of World War I and mystically seeking regeneration. This profound study ranks with the most insightful books on the Holocaust.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This extraordinary work analyzes the terrible, seemingly contradictory phenomenon of doctors becoming agents of mass murder. With chilling power, it limns the Nazi transmutation of values that allowed medical killing to be seen as a therapeutic healing of the body politic. Based on arresting historical scholarship and personal interviews with Nazi and prisoner doctors, the book traces the inexorable logic leading from early Nazi sterilization and euthanasia of its own citizens to mass extermination of European Jews and other “racial undesirables.”

Ultimately the book asks how doctors rationalized being “killer-healers.” Lifton’s responsea multifaceted evaluation of genocide, of the seductive power of Nazi ideology, and of the psychological process of “doubling”is both profound and thought-provoking. A remarkable achievement; it is essential reading. Benny Kraut, Judaic Studies Dept., Univ. of Cincinnati
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

“A powerful reminder not only of what happened, but of the monumental evil done by the particular human beings who were trained to heal and cure.” — Boston Globe

Lifton starts from the premise that understanding how physicians could embrace Nazism’s racist ideology and murderous behavior is the most difficult aspect of Nazism to comprehend. Physicians, Lifton notes, played a crucial role in the Nazi drive toward genocide. Thus, the author wants to know how these doctors became killers, how educated, ordinary people allowed themselves to commit barbaric acts. To do this, he examines what he calls “medicalized killing,” specifically, how doctors functioned in Auschwitz.

In doing so, he analyzes in depth three particular physicians: Ernst B., who seemed to be what passed for compassionate in the world of the camp; Josef Mengele, presented as the archetypal Nazi fanatic; and Eduard Wirths, a model of how a decent man allowed himself to be transformed into a killer. In a concluding section, Lifton presents a psychiatric theory called “doubling” which he uses to explain the evil. (Doubling involves an individual forming a second self, more or less autonomous from the first, which becomes the evil part of the self and which therefore allows the decent part to remain guiltless.)

Lifton finally suggests the application of such a doubling theory to the post-Nazi age, one pregnant with the possibilities of holocaust and nuclear destruction. Based on 10 years of research and writing, on interviews with Nazi physicians, other Nazis, and survivors, Lifton has written a compelling book, which, while morally sensitive, is admirably unflinching and provocative. We are finally left shaken by the Nazi doctors’ moral failure, but with a far clearer understanding of what they did and why they did it. The book is a major contribution to Holocaust study and medical ethics. (Kirkus Reviews)

Product Description
A brilliant analysis and history of the crucial role that German doctors played in Nazi genocide.

About the Author
Robert Jay Lifton is Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He is also director of the Center on Violence and Human Survival. Dr. Lifton is the author of many books, including The Nazi Doctors and Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, which won the National Book Award.

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