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The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide
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The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,446 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
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 pr ...more
Hardcover, 561 pages
Published November 30th 1986 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published 1986)
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Apr 16, 2012 Lobstergirl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, european-history
"National Socialism is nothing more than applied biology," said Deputy Party Leader Rudolf Hess at a 1934 meeting. Robert Jay Lifton, professor of psychiatry and psychology, examines the role medical doctors played in the Nazi genocidal project. From its beginnings, with the sterilizations of the unfit, the "euthanasia" of mentally defective or handicapped children, followed by adults, to its apotheosis in Auschwitz with the medical experiments of Josef Mengele and others, and the attempt to era ...more
Jan 08, 2015 William1 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. Not for the faint of heart. Martin Amis used this as background for his novel Times Arrow.
Aug 18, 2012 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-third-reich
I got my hands on this book after my Mom helped a librarian friend clean out the Stillwater High School library's non-fiction section. Since they're just going to toss the books anyway, she often sets aside any Third Reich related materials for me. I think they do this weeding because non-fiction becomes out of date so quickly, and library's use the average copyright date of their materials to gauge how up to date their collection is. In any case, after reading the book I felt that the HS could ...more
There are several points that get to the crux of this book. One is from the preface; Lifton, having interviewed both Nazi and prisoner doctors, was asked by one of the prisoner doctors "Were they monsters?" "No" he replied, "They were human beings." The prisoner doctor opined that it would've been simpler if they were monsters--but the book makes plain that it's not so simple.

Another critical point deals with a prisoner doctor who is sent to escort a child through the camp. He felt eyes on the c
Sep 23, 2007 peg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure how one decides how to rate a book on such heinous crimes. I can't say that I enoyed it or that I would go about waving the book in the air recommending it to others. What I can say is that this author offers a well-researched historical account of the genocide movement which began and advanced insidiously during the pre-war era and reached epic proportions during WWII. The questions raised in The Nazi Doctors are not dissimiliar to the issues we debate when considering capital puni ...more
Razvan Zamfirescu
May 02, 2016 Razvan Zamfirescu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: istorie
Spicuiri din recenzia finala care se gaseste pe blogul meu

Nu există carte despre nazism care să nu fie înfiorătoare, însă studiul lui Robert Jay Lifton trece dincolo de limita ororii, în primul rând prin subiectul pe care-l accesează. Să vezi cum medicii renunță la jurământul de a salva vieți și încep să ucidă pe considerente nu doar politice ci chiar științifice conform normelor naziste, depășește orice capacitatea de înțelegere.

Robert Jay Lifton recu
Katherine Addison
This is an astounding book. On a second reading, I am, if possible, even more impressed by Robert Jay Lifton than I was the first time. He takes on an enormous question--how did doctors under the Nazis come to participate in the genocide of the Jews?--and not only does he answer it, but the bulk of his research is interviews with surviving Nazi doctors.

The idea makes my skin crawl, and I'm not Jewish. Robert Jay Lifton is.

So one of the things I admire in this book is Lifton's courage and honesty
Anne Hawn Smith
This book is so hard to read...not from the writing, but the events and the people who perpetrated them. I am finding that I can only read a few pages at a time. The book is extremely well researched with footnotes and an extensive bibliography. A great deal of it comes from actual interviews.

The extent of Nazi crimes is far more unimaginable that I could have ever thought and nothing is worse than doctors, who are trained to heal, turning into killers. The book deals with the SS doctors, German
Fascinating. Not for the faint of heart. Martin Amis used this book as background for his novel Time's Arrow.
Jan 28, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: World War II buffs, undergraduates, Holocaust students
Recommended to Michael by: serendipity
In this book, Robert Jay Lifton sought to understand how people trained to heal and protect life became involved as perpetrators of genocide and the destruction of life. It remains significant as a book which ties together the early eugenics laws and operations to sterilize or euthanize undesirables with the ultimate development of mass killings on the Russian front and in the extermination camps. It also remains one of the most comprehensive analyses of the men who carried out the selections wi ...more
Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea
This was sitting on my shelf for a number of years after reading some other work about psychological torture. There is something about these kinds of atrocities that draw me toward them to figure out how totalitarianism came so swiftly--or least appeared to come swiftly. What is it that compels people to abandon their own humanness and be used in such diabolical and disturbing ways?

While he investigated Nazi doctors, I wonder about the moral dilemmas, if any, experienced by say city workers com
Ted Prokash
Apr 03, 2016 Ted Prokash rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was reminded of this read when I saw that some GR-friend or another was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The Nazi Doctors is an enormously important book! It strives to answer the question that buggers us most persistently in times of popular tragedy and especially in their aftermath: How in the F*** did we let THIS happen? It's a question that's always topical.

Lifton makes and expands on two points that I found extremely enlightening. In explanation of how normal "good" Germans,
Vasil Kolev
Jun 18, 2015 Vasil Kolev rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's one thing that any author can learn from Lifton, and that's being as honest as possible with your readers.

Even though a Jew and even though he has some really personal feelings (which get in the way at some places) he paints a really good picture of everything and gives the reader the possibility to think for himself and to understand the issues.

Also, through the book you can't stop asking yourself "What would I do in this situation?"
Dec 21, 2011 Edward rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life-issues
For anyone who wants to understand a little bit about how a society can become so comfortable with 1.2 million abortions in the US every year (over 42 million worldwide every year), this is a must-read. Many of the steps used by the Nazis to channel the medical profession into killing millions can be seen in what the pro-aborts have done. I'll plan to write more about this on my blog (, please check it out.
Jeremiah Johnson
A terrifying description of what humans are capable of doing to one another. Lifton does a wonderful job of dispelling the Nazi Doctor's mythical reputation while dutifully and accurately recording the horrors they committed. Exhaustingly researched and full of eye-witness interviews from both "patients" and "doctors"; this book should be on the shelf of every primary school and university library in the world.
Jun 16, 2008 Deborah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, in-depth look at how those who were charged with healing and saving lives as physicians were psychologically able to commit the horrendous crimes that they did during WWII. A must read for everyone on how "normal" people, healers even, could make the psychological adjustments necessary to allow themselves to be part of a genocidal machine; and those who could not.
I've always been fascinated in what makes people become monsters, and this books details the chilling metamorphoses of several with all of their delusional reasons and lingering mysteries. This is a very, very difficult read--the horrors leap off the pages and gave at least me nightmares. But I still think this is a very important book and a valuable read.
Jan 11, 2009 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent and chilling account of the process known as the healing-killing paradox in which doctors under the Nazi regime utilized their skills for death rather than life. I used this as a major component for my senior research seminar, and may challenge the author's concept of psychological doubling in future works, most likely my Master's Thesis.
Sep 20, 2008 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If this book doesn't alter the way you view our society today I don't know if anything will. This is far more than a chilling history.
Feb 26, 2016 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The way science was gradually mutilated under the Third Reich is traced here, along with chilling interviews. This book made such a deep impression on me that I struggle to recall the details, it paints such a deep picture of self-deception and perversion of science and the healing vocation. I fear I sold this to a book store and now I want to go back to it for reference. Not anyone's problem but mine. Read it again and keep it this time, would be my advice to myself.
Piego di Libri
Jan 26, 2015 Piego di Libri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Con “I Medici Nazisti” Lifton si propone di indagare il comportamento di quei medici che condussero degli esperimenti all’interno dei campi di concentramento e che, in molti casi, portarono alla morte non soltanto di ebrei, ma anche di altri prigionieri, considerandoli niente più niente meno che cavie da laboratorio.
Feb 01, 2011 Jess rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful resource, thick with source-material. Although it can be a bit repetitive in some sections, and more often downright difficult to read for the disturbing content, Lifton practices astounding restraint to maintain factual and clinical in his research. I have nothing but respect for the man's bravery and iron resolve for his project. When snippets of rage and grief do leak into his writings, who can blame him? It was enough for me personally to muster up the resolve to finish the book. ...more
Apr 12, 2016 Seth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a tough book to read. If after learning about the Holocaust you are left wondering how they could live with themselves, this title helps answer that questions. It is not a casual read, but essential for any serious historian of the Holocaust and/or Nazi Germany.
Ana-Maria Bujor
Jan 01, 2016 Ana-Maria Bujor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This is a highly detailed account of the role of medics in Nazi Germany, especially in matters related to the genocide orchastrated during the regime. There was a lot of new information I did not know, presented in what I would describe to be an objective manner. The psychology of those involved is explained as well, together with some very detailed portraits of the doctors involved in the killings. Even though there are a lot of accounts of the tragedies, the book is not meant to be just an emo ...more
One of the most horrifying books I've ever read; it's four stars come from that it's very academic/dry and at times was hard to get through. Still, the portrayal of the men who became so wrapped up in Nazi philosophies is a chilling reminder as to how easy it is to become evil.
Nov 12, 2015 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have to recommend this book though it is horrifying. You will understand the Nazi's, and you will see the parallels in our present age.
Rick Christiansen
Feb 17, 2015 Rick Christiansen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
For the record, this book took me close to a year to finish. I'm glad to be done with it. I don't know how the author committed himself to all the interviews and research that had to go into writing this. For that alone he deserves 5 stars. I felt his pain when he talked about how difficult of a book this was to complete in the introduction. It was hard enough to read. I would start this book, stop, and come back to it every so often...def not something I would want to fully commit myself to for ...more
Oct 30, 2013 Riet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dit is al een oud boek (uit 1986), maar ik kende het niet. Ik kreeg het te leen van een vriendin hier, die psychologe is. Het gaatoverd ekampdokters, maar begint al met het euthanasieprogramma van de Duitsers op hun Eigen mensen. De schrijver voert veel gesprekken met de daders, met overlevenden en met gevangen Joodse dokters. De meesten uit Auschwitz. Het blijft onvoorstelbaar, dat dit heeft kunnen gebeuren. Lifton doet veel moeite om een psychologische verklaring te geven, maar dat schiet natu ...more
Feb 16, 2012 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a difficult book to read sometimes, but if you really want to know what went on in the concentration camps and what the doctors were responsible for, this is the book to read. I was writing papers on medical ethics as far as disabled people were concerned. A lot of people who were Deaf were being rounded up and euthanized/sterilized in Nazi Germany...and America was also following some of the same practices in the 1920's and 1930's, even way up into the 1970's. I was writing about this ...more
Jan 04, 2010 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is very fascinating to the science, truth seeking individual with a tolerance and ability to "Double." For others, this would be too disturbing. The medical experiments were, from a pure research standpoint, stellar. The lack of human respect these experiments endowed were completely unforgivable. The knowledge gained from such experiments catapulted medicine tenfold. Genetics alone would not be where we are today without the sacrifice of these individuals who, basically gave their liv ...more
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  • Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans
  • The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them
  • Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience
  • The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942
  • Auschwitz
  • Mengele: The Complete Story
  • Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust
  • The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders
  • Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Extermination, 1939-1945
  • Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz
  • Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land
  • The Destruction of the European Jews
  • Inside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz
  • Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps
  • The Order of the Death's Head: The Story of Hitler's SS
  • Treblinka
  • Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers
  • The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures
Robert Jay Lifton is an American psychiatrist and author, chiefly known for his studies of the psychological causes and effects of war and political violence and for his theory of thought reform. He was an early proponent of the techniques of psychohistory.
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