Life Unworthy of Life: Racial Phobia and Mass Murder in Hitler's Germany

By James M. Glass | Go to book overview

EIGHT
TABOO, BLOOD, AND PURIFICATION RITUAL

As objects of the Kultur-group's phobia, the Jews found themselves invested with images of contamination. Reading this process on a political level, the phobia coalesced as a new historically constructed taboo, the theme of defilement and abjection taking on a powerful medical and cultural authority and replacing older, cruder anti-Semitic imagery. A new language of public morality and historical explanation emerged. The taboos on touching Jewish flesh reinforced the sense of boundary between good and evil. Fear of defilement, generating increasing vigilance, became essential to the Kultur-group's sense of its own health and purity. "It is as if the skin, a fragile container," Julia Kristeva writes, "no longer guaranteed integrity of one's 'own pure and clean self.'"1 Therefore, from a group psychological perspective, more aggressive actions had to be undertaken to protect the culture's boundaries from attack, containing and killing potential contaminants of the culture.

The psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden makes a similar point. In paranoid situations of perceived or experienced threat, the individual may experience "his surface (which in a sense is all there is of him) as a hard crust or armor that protects him against unspeakable dangers."2 If the fear is unnameable, it will soon enough acquire names; it may even come to be represented by a set of ideological injunctions that various groups in the culture (such as the professions) believe to be true and binding.

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