Medicine and Medical Ethics in Nazi Germany: Origins, Practices, Legacies

By Francis R. Nicosia; Jonathan Huener | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
Criminal Physicians In The
Third Reich
Toward a Group Portrait

Michael H. Kater

WHAT IS THE MEANING of “criminal”? The Oxford Universal Dictionary defines this adjective as “of the nature of or involving a crime, or a grave offense.”1 How can this definition be applied to a professional group such as German physicians between 1933 and 1945? If we accept that the offense be in violation of our currently adopted value system, then we are talking less about crimes in a wider, universal sense, than about those generated specifically and exclusively by physicians as a corporate group.

After targeting physicians in the Third Reich as our group of doctors, and employing profession-specific criteria, we can identify the standards governing two major categories of analysis: first, political association, and, second, professional-ethical conduct. I believe it is possible to find a critical mass of evidence to make the case that physicians in Nazi Germany displayed a proclivity for, first, political and, second, ethical wrongdoing. Whether it is possible to construct from this evidence a group portrait of evil doctors that decisively determined the legacy of German medicine for a large part of this century is perhaps more difficult to assess, but the attempt must nevertheless be made. I shall return to this problem later.

Examining the first category, political association, we find German doctors in the Third Reich to have been culpable to a large degree. These doctors had the choice of belonging, without compulsion, to a number of National Socialist organizations, the four most important of

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