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

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  1,617 ratings  ·  59 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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"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
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
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...more
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
Jan 28, 2013 Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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...more
Vasil Kolev
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Stephine Yoshikawa
Painstakingly researched and totally horrific, Lofton delves into the many facets that we know as The Holocaust, where everyday people fought to survive on both sides of the torture chambers, their rationalities, and how it could happen again. Beware, if you are like me and experience sympathy pain, you will cry, vomit, and have nightmares. But you'll also better understand how such a disgusting thing happened on such a grand scale, and maybe more of the dark side of humanity than you'd ever tho...more
A- Wow. This book was sad, overwhelming, but ultimately, I feel it was important to read. What the Nazis did was absolutely disgusting. You learn about the psychology of the genocide in the last section, but frankly, what was most captivating (and horrifying) were the actual interviews with doctors about what they did, or the accounts. Disgusting. Terrible. WTF. I had to stop reading at times. But it's important to read.
I read this book years ago but am currently re-reading it to see if it gives me some understanding of how today's American doctors got so far off track. I'm curious to see if Big Pharma's pressuring tactics to get doctors to over-drug us patients in anyway resembles nazi tactics. May sound "unthinkable" but who would have thought such a thing as killing-doctors could happen in civilized Europe/Germany. Even so....
Mar 14, 2009 Erinn rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who can handle the gruesome truth of the motivation behind the Nazi's mass murder
Recommended to Erinn by: my Rabbi
So far I am very intrigued by this intimate look into the minds and motivation behind the most gruesome genocide in all of history. My Rabbi gave me this book when I started to raise the question of How? How could this have happened? What did the Nazi party tell the German people that made them put their trust in their party? How did it all begin? And, how did it get to the mass murder that it became?
Sheena Matylda
I read this book while hospitalized in switzerland because of an ear ache after reading a booklet about swimmers ear i found out that german medicine is more serious then doctor quinn. it is quite interesting it reminds me of the song my swiss army girlfriend by the mr t experience. old nazi doctors still exist although good luck finding one =) argh
I felt so sullied after reading this book, I took a shower and scrubbed my hands raw. Yet, I acknowledged simultaneously that this is an incredibly well written history of a time and place most of us find impossible to even imagine existed. Lifton has written a compelling, sensitive, and highly detailed work.
In a world that still ends in genocide; this book presents concrete "steps" in the descent into madness. How did the everyday German, or for that matter doctors, find themselves psychologically able to play their role in the Holocaust. Deep, depressing, and enlightening to a point.
Ana Rubio Serrano, Author
Startling. Extraordinary work. Lifton demostrates the Nazi doctors involvement in the mass murder. He shows their "biomedical vision", the Nazi laws, which allowed those practices. And there are interesting interviews with some perpetrators. Highly recommend.
Fascinating - incredibly well researched with a lot of primary source information and interviews with the doctors themselves. More importantly, it gives perspective into the genocide that we see happening around us today.
Interesting read on the social-psychology of mass sterilization and "euthanasia" practiced by German/Nazi doctors. The author was able to interview nearly 30 Nazi doctors and many others in putting together this narrative.
I thought it was a great book, i mean it was crazy, sad, and gross at some points but well written. I never thought about doctors being Nazis, well unless they were mad scientist doctors, which some pretty much were...
I'm not sure how to rate a book like this. I used it for my research paper and it made me sick. There are so many horrors in this book. It was good for research though and that's why it gets 5 stars.
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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.
More about Robert Jay Lifton...
Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'Brainwashing' in China Hiroshima in America: A Half Century of Denial Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World Who Owns Death?: Capital Punishment, the American Conscience, and the End of Executions

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