Robert Jay Lifton

World War II was the greatest tragedy in the history of the mankind. In fact, it was the greatest humanitarian catastrophe that had ever occurred on the Earth. World War II brought enormous casualties and death became routine. At the same time, millions of people died not only on the battlefields but in numerous concentration camps created specifically for the purpose of extinction of those whom the Nazi regime viewed as a threat to the Third Reich and new, pure race. Paradoxically, doctors, who were supposed to save human lives and cure people, had become collaborators of the Nazi regime and their experiments and professional knowledge became powerful tools of the Nazi murderous machine of concentration camps and genocide.

In this respect, it should be said that the policy of genocide did not occur spontaneously. Instead, the Nazi Germany passed through several stages from the policy of sterilization to the policy of genocide and physical elimination of entire peoples, such as Jew people. It is possible to find numerous explanations of the policy of genocide, including political, economic, historical and others, but the Nazi ideology played probably determinant role in the policy of genocide. The Nazi ideology was grounded on the inequality of peoples and races. According to the Nazi ideology, there were superior races, such as Arians, and inferior races, which bore a “germ of death” and which threatened to the superior race’s survival.

As a result, supporters of the Nazi ideology sincerely believed that lower races were dangerous because they brought illnesses and destructed superior races. Hence, Nazis started to search for ways of prevention of the negative impact of lower races on their superior race. In this respect, Lifton points out: “For Germans like Lenz in the 1920s, establishing widespread compulsory, sterilization became a sacred mission ”” a mission that led them to embrace National Socialism, with its similar commitment.” (p24). In such a way, sterilization was a means of protection of Germans from other, inferior ethnic groups. Eventually, marriages between representatives of inferior races and Germans were forbidden.

However, gradually, the Nazi regime expanded its control over the birth and attempted to control the death or, to put it more precisely, stimulate the death of inferior people. In such a way, “control over the death of the individual must ultimately belong to the social organism, the state.” (p.46). Thus, the Nazi empowered the state with the authority to decide who should live and who should die. In such a context, sterilization was apparently not enough to exercise the controlling power of the state over the birth and death of people. Hence, euthanasia raised since it was a perfect tool to “cure” German people from the “germ of death”, i.e. Jews, handicapped, mentally ill, and other inferior people. In such a way, euthanasia was used for “therapeutic goal of that concept: destroying life unworthy of life is “purely a healing treatment” and a “healing work.” (p.46). Moreover, such euthanasia was not only justified but it was also viewed as “a policy of killing was compassionate and consistent with medical ethics” (p.47) that means that doctors had started to play an important role in the implementation of Nazi’s racist ideology.

Nevertheless, the Nazi regime was dissatisfied with few cases of euthanasia. The regime needed euthanasia en mass to cure the nation fast and effectively. As a result “widespread killing continued in a second phase, sometimes referred to in Nazi documents as “wild euthanasia” because doctors ”” encouraged, if not directed, by the regime ”” could now act on their own initiative concerning who would live or die” (p.96). Mass murder needed concentration camps, where victims could be located and killed.

In this respect, doctors became collaborators of the Nazi regime which needed them for euthanasia which was viewed as a “special treatment,” though “it was to become a euphemism for killing in general was used originally (from 1939) as a specific Gestapo concept and code term legitimating extralegal execution” (p.136). However, Lifton argues that “a few prisoner doctors came to identify themselves sufficiently closely with Nazi doctors and camp authorities to be viewed as collaborators” (p.239). On the other hand, he concludes that “It was inevitable that at least a few prisoner doctors would cross the line into what was perceived by other inmates to be active collaboration with the SS” (p.242).

On analyzing reasons for doctors’ collaboration, Lifton argues: “This Auschwitz death taint greatly intensified the pre-existing antagonism of some Polish doctors toward all Jews, including patients; and there were frequent stories of the former’s efforts to have Jewish doctors transferred from medical blocks to places in the camp likely to result in their death” (240). Hence, doctors’ collaboration was partially grounded on the historical antagonism and their inability to resist to the pressure of the regime.

Eventually, Lifton concludes that “Nazi doctors doubled in murderous ways; so can others. Doubling provides a connecting principle between the murderous behavior of Nazi doctors and the universal potential for just such behavior. The same is true of the capacity to murder endlessly in the name of national-racial cure. Under certain conditions, just about anyone can join a collective call to eliminate every last one of the alleged group of carriers of the “germ of death.” (p.503). In such a way, he argues that doctors collaborated with the Nazi regime and became participants of the murderous machine created by the Nazi.

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