131 of 135 people found the following review helpful
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.
66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2000
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. Psychoanalysis and history, in essence, should not be combined, as they themselves are two totally different areas not meant to be combined with the risk of considerable distortion and misunderstanding. Part IV of this book can be coined the Psycho-historical aspect of this work, as Freudian methods abound.
Its psychoanalytical bearing notwithstanding, this book is absolutely riveting, tremendously exhaustive and interesting, and original. It is crucial to the understanding of the Nazi doctors that were trained (and sworn) to be healers, and who became killers and traitors of the most basic of human moral codes. Absolutely crucial to any understanding of Holocaust perpetrators and the driving force behind the genocide.
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 1999
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.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
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. It is so beyond belief that so many physicians could rationalize the experimentation, using a statement I've grown to recognize in legal documents and even in newspapers in the U.S. ('for the good of society'). I just cringe now when I see this or sentences like this. Science should never replace the rights of the individuals. And scientists are never objective...they have the same prejudices and biases that society has and it permeates their work...to the point of biasing the information they find.
My only complaint about Lifton's book is occasional repetition or dwelling on certain topics/agendas. Sometimes, it seemed as if I had just reread the same pages, but Lifton was trying to make a point in most of these cases, or make a case for what he was saying...
The need to teach ethics in all fields of endeavors, including medicine and research science is all the more important today. If we don't, the work of Lifton and FRiedlander to remind the world of the horrors of The MEdical Holocaust will have been in vain. The slippery slope is growing with advanced technology, genomics, cloning, and stem cell use, without the accompanying legal protections. The Nuremberg Code, etched into the history of mankind in 1947, seems to have been forgotten.
To remind your students of the need for morals and ethics within all fields, this book is a necessary addition for required reading. I will certainly make it required for those I work with....
University of Pittsburgh
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2005
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.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2005
In this detailed and well-researched account, psychologist Robert J. Lifton chronicles the Holocaust from a unique perspective: the role played by Nazi medical doctors. In doing so he explains the Nazi philosophy that formed the basis for mass murder: the necessity to heal the ills of German society by eliminating all its corrupting influences. Healing was and is the raison d'etre for the medical profession. Doctors were thus compelled to become killers in the application of this all encompassing "cure."
Lifton traces the evolution of the Holocaust beginning with the "euthanasia" projects of the 30's. Anyone incapable of being a productive member of society was consided, "life unworthy of life" and euthanized. Initially this was confined to the mentally challenged and the old/infirmed. Later even severely wounded German soldiers were not spared. Execution technology perfected here formed the basis for the mass executions conducted later.
Lifton interviews many physicians in this work including some former Nazi's and many Jewish doctors forced to work at Auschwitz. Here, the inner conflicts of persons trained to heal but actively involved in killing reached its apex. Reactions varied from the cold, view of inmates as "laboratory rats" and nothing more by Josef Mengele, to the tortured acceptance of the necessity of doing his duty of Eduard Wirths. Coping mechanisms included sending others to do the "dirty work" when possible, excessive use of alcohol, and in some cases, suicide. Still, the work went on, despite any internal contradictions.
This is the first work I have seen that explained the Nazi philosophy and its impact on the Holocaust. Because it was the stated goal of National Socialism to cleanse German society of all its ills, the participation of healers was essential. The Nazi's never wavered in this twisted belief. Would the Holocaust have occurred without the doctor's participation? Undoubtedly, yes! However doe's this excuse their participation? You the reader must decide. A great read. Five stars!!
Harold Y. Grooms
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 1998
Robert Jay Lifton has written an exceptional work, thoroughly and painstakingly researched, and above all, he presents an analysis of the psychopathology of the Nazi doctors that is so well-thought out and well-presented that I recommend this book above all others for my students of criminal profiling. His discourse on the nature of evil and its place and use in society is unmatched in any book I have read to date. Pat Brown, Director/Investigative Criminal Profiler/The Sexual Homicide Exchange of Washington DC and Vicinity
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2002
Written by a Jewish psychologist, this book should be required reading for anyone interested in Nazi Germany. Lifton explains the psychology behind the Nazi directives - how Hitler was able to convince a nation that it was Ok to exterminate millions of people with the stamp of approval by medical doctors. Of course, these doctors have their own stories - some performed horrible experiments on their concentration camp test subjects, some were Jewish doctors trying to minimize the pain of these experiments. The pages are filled with facts, personal stories, psychological commentary, and an insightful overview of the implementation of the Final Solution. This book clearly shows how this tragedy occurred and how truly close we are to having it occur again. It is not an easy read because it will make you think and make you feel...and hopefully, make you change.
32 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2003
This book is based on direct interviews with a number of Nazi Doctors, but rarely quotes from them. It covers a wide range of issues, but delves deeply into few of them.
It purports to be a pyschological insight into why the Nazi doctors did what they did, and how the psychological mechanisms worked that allowed them to operate. Though Lifton is a Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, I didn't find his explanations particularly insightful. He repeats a few key ideas often, without going into how these mechanisms work. Instead, he fills the book with detail of what they did.
On balance, it added little to my understanding of the subject. The detail of what the Nazi Doctors did is readily available elsewhere.
I was hoping to find first hand accounts, of which very little was included, and psychological insights. Perhaps it would have been more useful if he had covered fewer people and situations in more depth, with more analysis.
He actually spoke to these people, but the book mostly reads as drily as any history book.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2003
I heard many stories about the Nazi Doctors in the war but I had always wondered why they were the way they were and how could they live with themselves. Well this book gave a pretty good explanation on how these Doctors were. I found each of the Doctors facinating and peculiar in their own manner.
I was surprised that the Doctors did all the selecting and treated the people as cattle. They thought they were being the least cruel in this manner because the people suffered less. I also learned that typhus was one of the biggest diseases at the time. It was interesting to find out that only 15% of the people even had a chance to survive and the rest went straight to the gas chambers. Some of the Doctors were vicious while others were able to get away with not being cruel and inhuman.
I have to admit I thought Mengele was quite a character in the way that he treated people. He thought he was so superior and the story of the eyes that people had that were different colors that he set out to other colleges in Germany, well that was pretty twisted.
Also the part about him asking the kids if they wanted a ride in his car and he would drive them to the gas chambers was pretty psycho.
Overall this was a well written book but it was also very graphic so you should take care when you decide to read this one.