Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Bearing Witness
   The story is not ended, it has not yet become history, and the secret life it holds can break out tomorrow in you or in me  
I complete this book with many different feelings: relief at the idea of Nazi doctors no longer inhabiting my study, uneasiness concerning the limitations of my work, anger toward Nazi killers in general and Nazi doctors in particular, and a certain satisfaction that I have seen the effort through. My mind darts back and forth between the sitting rooms in which I talked to former Nazi doctors and images of Jews lined up for selections at Auschwitz and mental patients being gassed at killing centers. From the beginning I have been on guard against letting the sitting rooms block out the victims.

Yet it was in those sitting rooms that I did a great part of the research, and did it in a way that required me to view medical perpetrators, whatever their relationship to evil, as human beings and nothing else. That meant requiring of myself a form of empathy for Nazi doctors: I had to imagine my way into their situation, not to exonerate but to seek knowledge of human susceptibility to evil. The logic of my position was clear enough: only a measure of empathy, however reservedly offered, could help one grasp the psychological components of the anti-empathic evil in which many of these Nazi doctors had engaged.

Yet whatever its logic, it felt strange and uncomfortable to hold out even minimal empathy (and even with full awareness of the clear distinction between empathy and sympathy) for participants in a project so murderous, and one aimed specifically at my own people, at me. If I never fully resolved the matter, I managed it by understanding my empathy to be in the service of a critical rendition of those doctors' psychological actions and experiences. One sometimes enters into another’s situation not to help but to expose and evaluate motivations and behavior.

Even then, one is making human contact, avoiding what Erik Erikson  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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