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Perdig√£o, H.G. (1987). The Nazi Doctors. Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide: By Robert Jay Lifton. New York, Basic Books Inc., 1986. 461 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 56:720-722.

(1987). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 56:720-722

The Nazi Doctors. Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide: By Robert Jay Lifton. New York, Basic Books Inc., 1986. 461 pp.

Review by:
H. Gunther Perdigão

It is impossible to become inured to the horrors of the Holocaust. It takes a strong stomach to read this book, which examines how and why the German doctors participated in the program to exterminate the Jews and other "enemies of the State." Lifton tries to answer the questions: how did healers become killers? and, why genocide? What was the source of the impulse to destroy a human group in its entirety?

The book is divided into three parts. Parts I and II (entitled "Life Unworthy of Life: The Genetic Cure" and "Auschwitz: The Racial Cure") describe the progression from sterilization of the feeble-minded to mass murders in the camps. Discussions of how the Nazis deluded themselves into thinking that what they did was for the common good are woven into a historical account.

The methods the Nazi regime used to persuade German doctors to take part in the Holocaust capitalized on the anti-Semitism that had long existed in Germany but was given new impetus after World War I. The pervasive feeling in Germany was that the country had lost the war because it had been betrayed by the Jews and the Communists. Germany's post-war chaos was seen as an Aryan illness caused by the Jews: the agents of racial tuberculosis. Once the medical metaphor was accepted as the truth, the Nazis could adopt a more causal tone: "Anti-Semitism," said Himmler, "is exactly the same as delousing." The bearers of deadly disease who threatened one's own people with extinction had to be eliminated.

Nazi ideology emphasized the concept of the Volk and of the State's duty to protect it. The State existed not to safeguard the rights of the individual but to serve the race.

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