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The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide [Hardcover]

Robert Jay Lifton
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)


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Book Description

August 1986 0465049044 978-0465049042 Third Edition
The renowned psychiatrist's most powerful and important book--a brilliant analysis of the crucial role that German doctors played in Nazi genocide.


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.

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 561 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Third Edition edition (August 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465049044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465049042
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
122 of 126 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This book explores the question of how doctors, who are sworn to do no harm, became the integral organizers and managers of the Nazi death camps. Through exhaustive interviews with these doctors, people who knew them, and camp survivors, Lifton arrives at more than just individual psychological profiles of these professional killers. He presents us rather with a dense, psychosocial exploration of the dynamics of state-organized terror, along with enough history to describe the milieu in which these dynamics evolved. (Many people will be surprised to discover that the eugenics movement, which fueled the Nazi terror, had a large following in the United States during the 1930's.)

The book reads like a novel in parts (especially the chapter on Josef Mengele). However, I found the introduction one of the most interesting sections; in it Lifton describes the process he went through to gather and analyze his data. This included interviewing ex-Nazi doctors, who suspected or knew outright that Lifton himself is Jewish. Lifton's descriptions of the verbal dances he and these doctors did around the German/Jewish conflict are fascinating.....For obvious reasons this book is not an "easy read," despite the quality of the writing. It will literally give you bad dreams. But it serves to instruct us about demons which still inhabit the collective human psyche, demons which we fail to acknowledge only at our peril. For this reason, if no other, it demands our attention.
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62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing read July 26, 2000
By P. Bjel
Format:Paperback
In this reviewer's opinion, Lifton's book is the definitive work on the subject of Nazi doctors; in this book, he has pulled together more details and information about his subjects on a scale that has yet to be surpassed. From the origins of the Nazi "bio-medical vision" (his term) to "euthanasia," to the full-blown scale of the Final Solution, a clear-cut transition into mass murder and genocide is presented in light of a tremendous number of lives and times of Nazi perpetrators, whose betrayal of the Hippocratic Oath is shocking.
Lifton's original research is in itself a work of tremendous value; he personally interviewed many former Nazi doctors, survivors that bore direct witness to their crimes, as well as the Jewish and non-Jewish doctors that became collaborators with their Nazi superiors. So many accounts of their lives and deeds abound within the pages of this book...their experiences speak for themselves to add to the growing portrait of the medical profession in light of Nazism.
In this reviewer's opinion, Part III, which deals with the doctors in Auschwitz, is the most integral part of the book, with Chapter 16 being one of the most prominent chapters, as its subject, Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous doctor that never ended up living and being caught for his insurmountable cruelty, is given a human face that cuts through all the years of myth, legend, and hype surrounding his career and medical experiments.
There is one weak part of the book, evident in its sub-heading: "Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide." While it is incumbent that readers will judge for themselves the validity and integrity of psychoanalysis in history, this reviewer finds this an appropriate element suitable for another book.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN EXCELLENT BOOK! July 27, 1999
Format:Paperback
For somebody just interested in what went on in the "Nazi bio-medical vision" or the researcher, I highly recommend it. Robert J. Lifton gives a highly detailed account from survivors and even medical personnel that were present. His book steers clear of fabricated stories and really tries to underline the truth behind this tragedy. I bought this book 2-3 years ago, and I still cannot put it down. The true-life stories behind this book really leave an impression no one can deny. So like one reviewer on this book commented, I also must say if this is the only book you'll ever read on this subject, this is the one to read.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating January 10, 2005
By Jack
Format:Paperback
This is a fascinating look not only at what the Nazi doctors did during the reign of the Third Reich but also how they perceived what they were doing and the legislative precedents that culminated in the general acceptance of medicalised killing by many German doctors.

The book is easy to read. Whilst it is a factual account, it still flows with the continuity of a novel making it hard to put down.

Informative and fascinating. Well worth a read and makes you realise the importance of global medical ethical debate as its absence in pre-war Germany, most certainly contributed to the precedents that allowed legalised genocide.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for those concerned with bioethics! June 8, 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When I read The Origins of Nazi Genocide, which came out in 1995, the author referred to this original book concerning the physicians and scientists who had exploited the 'situation' in Germany to their own ends. I had also come across references to this book in many, many professional papers...yet, made the stupid decision that I didn't need to read it. I finally decided I had to read this when my advisor in science education recommended it because he was using it in teaching bioethics to science teachers.
Though Friedlander's book is excellent, and was my introduction to The Medical Holocaust (especially as concerned the disabled) Lifton's book goes much further and deals with the physician/scientists within the concentration camps as well as in the psychiatric institutions which became involved in the killing machinery of the Nazis. Lifton's book explores the rationalizations made by these men to take advantage of a situation to experiment on those who could not give informed consent. Though Lifton tends to make a few speculations concerning motives from his interviews with physicians who were not prosecuted or were absolved of their involvement in these camps...his speculations are on target (mostly) and he backs up his statements with the words of these doctors from letters and interviews with those people who had the most to do with them: the prisoner physicians forced to work in these environments not only to save their own lives, but the lives of so many others.
Of course, more information is in this book concerning the atrocities. Sometimes, I had to put the book down and leave it for a while because the information is so horrendous.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Book
What am I supposed to say? I love it? Will never happen! Easy to read, but disgusting to say the least. I hope all Nazi's and similar thinking individuals rot in hell!
Published 2 months ago by disappointed
3.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, but still heartbreaking
A great book and I would recommend it to anyone going into PSY or any interest in the subject. -
Published 3 months ago by Amanda Bates
2.0 out of 5 stars I'm sure there are much better books on the holocaust, I wouldn't tell...
To me, it is boring to read. I did learn a lot about the operation of the death camps though. There is a line in the book about "going from being selected to up in smoke in 30... Read more
Published 3 months ago by The Garden Guru
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging
It was scary to see how ordinary doctors became complicit in the whole killing of innocent people. They lost the focus on the person / patient as their personal responsbility and... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mark Kummer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book Dealer
Thank you so much for this book. 20 years ago I lent my 1st edition, hard back to a neighbor and never got it back. It was on my "to re-buy" list and I found it! Read more
Published 9 months ago by Laura Ann Bachelder
4.0 out of 5 stars The Nazi Doctors
it satisified my interest in nazi doctors, although, i was more interested in their training of which there was little mentioned.
much repitition.
Published 18 months ago by bill
5.0 out of 5 stars Well done.
Tough subject, but well researched and riveting account of the "medicalization of killing."
This is a must read for any serious student of the Nazi war machine.
Published 19 months ago by Parker H. Lee III
4.0 out of 5 stars light summer reading
I read this for a book group. Not something I would have picked to read on my own, but glad to have read it. The analysis is a bit repetitive and bogged me down quite a bit. Read more
Published 20 months ago by gojohnnylawrence
5.0 out of 5 stars INSIGHTFUL
The first third of the book is the most interesting and gives a detailed account of how the Nazi Party took control of the medical profession as it existed at the time in Germany. Read more
Published on July 1, 2012 by WRR
5.0 out of 5 stars Auschwitz Medical Ethos
The author presents comprehensive research into the SS physician's role at Auschwitz during WWII. Policies of euthanasia are discussed early on in Hitler's reign and serves as a... Read more
Published on June 19, 2011 by Virginia C. Hughes
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