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

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

Chapter Three
PHYSICIANS AS KILLERS IN NAZI GERMANY
Hadamar, Treblinka, and Auschwitz

Henry Friedlander

IN THIS ESSAY I deal with physicians who personally committed crimes, not with their mentors, those physicians and scientists who furnished the ideological framework and provided the necessary cover for these crimes, and who can be considered Schreibtischtäter (bureaucratic, or desk killers). To repeat: I am here concerned with physicians who murdered human beings, thus leaving out those who committed lesser crimes such as, for example, compulsory sterilization, although most graduated from the lesser to the larger crime.

Various myths have been created to explain the role of physicians in Nazi killing operations. Some authors dealing with Nazi medical crimes have ascribed to physicians as a group a unique commitment to serve humanity and have thus viewed their participation in these crimes as a particularly egregious fall from grace.1 But physicians are professionals no different in their commitment than chemists, engineers, or historians. They wanted to raise their income, advance their careers, and share the world-view of their colleagues. To demystify them and their profession, I use the term “physician,” in German, Arzt, to describe them, instead of the term “doctor,” common in the Englishspeaking world.


The T4 Killings: The Killing Wards

The killing operations of the Nazi regime commenced as it started World War II in the winter of 1939–1940. The first victims were the

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