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From a careful review of history, The Third Reich has always been of great significance due to its effect on European countries. Notably, studies have been done to examine how the genocide occurred and the impacts it has on society today. Needless to say, the genocide was a medical-oriented mass murder. 1
From an analytical perspective, one can argue that The Third Reich would not be of much significance if there were no medicine and doctors present at that time. Evidences have revealed that health practitioners played an immense role in the euthanasia program.2 Notably, they did not just execute this heinous act to other races but also to their own people as well. It is within this framework that this essay aims to identify the role of professional class (doctors) in the Third Reich.
A comprehensive study of the role played by medical professionals in the Third Reich has proved to be a sensitive and delicate task. There were myriads of major atrocities which were committed. It is definite that most of the evidences have been exaggerated or even totally dismantled. ‘Social Darwinism’ dominated the continental Europe towards the close of the 19th century.3 This theory assumed that human beings are like animals and they fight for their survival.
Since human beings are rational and social beings, it happened that they did not compete as individuals. Nations were the basic units of existence.4 It is only the fittest nation which was expected to survive. The Germans were determined to propagate the principles of Social Darwinism at every available opportunity.
For instance, Alfred ploetz came up with the aspect of race hygiene while Ernst Haeckel considered the killing of weak folks. Due to the influence of Hitler, Fritz Lenz came up with the concept of inequality of persons with different racial backgrounds.5
Medical professionals continued with the same trend of racism. Hoche and Binding decided to summarize the civil missions by introducing in more specialized criteria of advancing their ideologies. They proposed that the extinction of less influential members of the society would aid the expansion of Third Reich.
The medical professionals were very dominant in the racial cleaning process. When they embraced social Darwinism and anti-Semitism, they turned the whole matter in to a medical issue. Hitler initiated a culture of referring to Jewish people using medical terms. Some of the terms included disease, parasite, pathogen as well as scientific names such as bacillus6. The medical sector was indeed behind this form of maltreatment.
They felt that the Germans were under the threat of the Jews. Actions against the Jews were perceived to be defensive. In order to enhance the ability of the Germans in the struggle to survive, laws which forbid marriages between Jews and Aryans were passed.7 This was referred to as the “Law for the protection of the German blood and marriages.”8
German medics promoted the belief that the cure for patients was not integrated into the general healing of the nation. They adopted the idea of maintaining a healthy stock of Germans who were genetically homogenous. Their decisions were after the preventing contamination of the German people.
Due to the fact that the doctors had incorporated ‘racial hygiene’ into their work, politics were highly influenced by their practices. An era came when the medical field was significantly politicized while the political outcomes in the nation were extremely influenced by medical practices. 9
in order to maintain the ‘purity’ of the German people and to avoid a mix up with inferior blood, sterilization was done. This happened after Hitler came to power in January 1933.10 There was a law which prevented the spread of the genetically diseased children. The law provided that non German individuals were to be sterilized after being examined by medical experts. An involuntary sterilization of 400000 people was done. 11
An estimate shows that over 100000 women were forced to procure abortion. These abortions were directed and carried by German gynecologists. Doctors were given a mandate to continue eliminating the off springs of the ‘scientifically unqualified’ population.12
In 1939, secret medical departments were started. These were tasked with the duty of executing the euthanasia program.13 The program was a deal whose chief objective was to get rid of children whore suffering from the Down’s syndrome, idiocy, hydrocephaly or any other abnormality.14
Medical physicians in these secret departments were directed to continue protecting the (then) ‘sovereignty’ of Germans. The program was an important tool for navigating the deaths of many people. Many psychiatric patients were peacefully killed. Psychiatrics therefore started getting worried that if the trend was to continue then their field of specialization would become inactive.
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The input of medical professionals was pivotal in this program. ‘Action T4’ which was the headquarters of the program was under a strong medical team composed of 50 professional doctors.15 It was clear that the psychiatric fraternity was to lose their work. Patients in psychiatric centers were also given lethal injections. Others were starved to death. The largest percentage of victims was transported to the T4 center.
They were poisoned and cremated immediately.16 In line with this, the Action T4 which entailed an organization run by a group of fifty physicians lured psychiatrist patients to be interviewed through questionnaires.17
Thereafter, they were to be referred to urgent euthanasia whereby they were taken to numerous centers and subsequently gassed as well as cremated while others were exterminated through lethal injections. The brutal actions executed at T4 centers were more of a medical institutional strategy for committing murder and a true evidence to claim that doctors piloted the Nazi war.18
This program was a very bloody activity. Medical practitioners in different sectors were displeased by what was going on. Hitler decided to discontinue it in 1941. His action was probed by the opposition. The general population and the elite in society strongly went against this program. On the other hand, medical professionals started protesting.
However, the program did not come to an immediate halt. This was as a result of the emergence of a group of medics who were totally devoted to continue with their mandate on a personal basis. They continued carrying out the secret program but they rebranded it later as Wild Euthanasia.19 This was simply a series of concealed medical murder.
The significant role of doctors in the Third Reich kept on changing. This happened together with the continuous assimilation of doctors from their medical practices. The technical know-how and experience obtained from the Action T4 center grew gradually in the personalities of doctors.20 This was a base for the advancement of the agenda of pinning off all the Jews who were in the growing Reich. It culminated into the medical killings of Jews and non-Aryans.21 The plan was initiated and monitored by diagnosticians.
An immediate and open strategy was passed. The ‘inferior’ persons were supposed to accept leaving for the East. Those who remained were executed or exploited as laborers. Medical doctors were given the duty of carrying out the selections. They ensured that the killings were done under trained guidance.
A generation of medical doctors who believed to work for a noble course also emerged. It included general physicians, laboratory specialists and pathologists. For the ‘best interest of the German nation’, these doctors were mandated to violate humanitarian medical ethics.22 They did harmful experiments on the human ‘objects’ in course of their studies. They ended up killing many non Germans. This was referred to as the higher aim of safeguarding the Third Reich.23
It is evident that the medical profession was very resourceful in regards to the propagation of the Third Reich wave. Although there has been no successful introspection into the relationship between German medicine and the Third Reich sovereignty, history proves to be a reliable informer. One of the issues which remained unexhausted was the lack of self-criticism in the (then) Third Reich medical profession.
Scholars argue that analyzing the role of a professional class in Third Rich is difficult and quite delicate.24 However, trying to understand what was happening during the war is important to ensure that such issues do not emerge in future. This is due to the fact that the professionals themselves were the major perpetrators of the murder cases.25 It is also imperative to note that examining the case the Third Reich has significance due to the fact that it can assist in emphasizing the need for doctors to adhere to medical ethics.
It is apparent that medicine as a sensitive field of study has core values and principles that every doctor should observe for the well being of any community. For instance, any medical doctor is expected to be responsible in saving a life regardless of racial indifferences. Besides, the German biomedicine is one of the most sophisticated professions yet it ruined its reputation for applying medical ethics against the society.26
Studies have shown that there exist profound arguments and dilemma on the strength, nature and relevance of medical ethics in Germany. Besides, sophisticated development in science and technology confronted and went against medical ethics in numerous ways and this sparked the rise of Nazism Programs in Germany
For this reason, evidences have shown that medical experts in Germany accelerated the spread of the Nazi movement that eventually resulted into human destruction. Needless to say, the operation began slowly and finally culminated into a genocide and establishment of numerous social classes.
It is factual that doctors did not merely provide a scientific rationale but also legitimized the concepts of racial homogeneity and eugenic exploitation of the inferior people. Most of the medical intellectuals used their depraved research to ensure that minor races were doomed to death in various ways.
It is definite that during the genocide, medical experts aimed to kill and eliminate a certain racial group. In this case, they introduced euthanasia program that consisted of various practices.27 The practices which they used were meant to exterminate the lives of people who were felt not worth surviving such as Jews. Moreover, studies have shown that the operation was conducted by a specialized medical department.
It is factual that that the operation was meant to act as a death sentence to Jews since predominant psychiatrist patients were rendered victims.28 In fact, more than 80% of psychiatrist patients were disposed to the extent that the medial experts wondered whether there were enough patients to keep their specialty alive.29
In addition, it is important to note that doctors played a significant role in emphasizing and making some decision that made the medical ethics to be questioned.30 From a careful review of literature, it is evident that none of the callous practices would have been successful if doctors did not support the Nazis.31
In this case, doctors actively participated in adopting the theory of Social Darwinism. Notably, just like animals survive on the basis of their fitness, doctors argued that the purest nation would eventually survive better. In this case, they spearheaded the concept of racial hygiene all over Europe, a factor that resulted into killing of weaker races.
Historical reviews have shown that a physician by the name Fritz Lenz came up with the concept of racial prejudice that probed Hitler to bind with the idea of exterminating lives that were perceived to be unworthy..
Needless to say, it is vital for doctors to consider the impacts of negating medical ethics that affect the masses. This is due to the fact that some of them have adverse effects and can cause more harm than good. For instance, during this time, many doctors adopted medical terms that were meant to spearhead racial prejudice.
In addition, just like Hitler used to refer to Jews as “bacillus”, it influenced medical practitioners to consider them as a threat to the pure Germans.32 In this case, medical professionals maintained the belief that healing the nation was more vital than curing patients.33 Therefore, they opted to maintain genetic homogeneity.
To achieve this, research has shown that they first adopted racial ideas and incorporated them into the medical field.34 An empirical argument by scholars states that although the profession was not politicized, politics in Germany were medicalized35. At this point, it is arguable that the operation of racial hygiene was entrusted to doctors.
Furthermore, medical doctors practiced involuntary sterilization to ensure that German people were not contaminated with those who had inferior blood.36
In line with this, medical professionals voluntarily participated in formulating laws that dictated that people with physical challenges were to be identified, examined and sterilized.37 Consequently, genetic health courts emerged and ordered people to be sterilized.38
Statistical evidences have shown that almost all the medical doctors were involved in the operation. In line with this, more than 50,000 women were forced to undergo abortion.39 Nevertheless, this generated an economic burden, a factor that made the experts to look for alternative means of enduring racial hygiene.
That notwithstanding, the Action T4 was succeeded by the Final Solution.40 Evidence has revealed that those who took over this operation were the qualified experts at T4. This process entailed mass killing through natural decimation by exploiting them in numerous ways. However, they the strategies used were medically selected and only doctors were involved.41
Additionally, research has shown that doctors were considered to be more important in the Nazi society. For instance, a doctor by the name Mengele was referred to as the “angle of death”.42 This portrayed the evidence that the Nazi society gave much importance to medical doctors in Germany and they were even ranked high in the army.
From a careful analysis of literature, one can argue that doctors helped the Nazi society.43 Needless to say, it is evident that the position held by doctors was utilized to do more harm to the victims of the war as opposed to the case if they never participated.
To sum up, it is apparent that the German biomedicine was largely responsible for the emergence and spread of the Nazi Programs. In addition, racial hygiene was one of the operations that were very extensive whereby physicians organized and took over the position as professional leaders.
Therefore, one can argue that the holocaust could not have taken place were it not for the role played by the medical experts. This is due to the fact that doctors used numerous strategies to exterminate the lives of inferior people, a factor that expanded the Reich.
For instance, the T4 Action and Final Solution were some of the major strategies designed to kill prisoners, the insane group and people with psychiatric problems. Besides, doctors participated in formulation and implementation of policies, programs and decisions that were meant to enhance racial hygiene. For instance, they embraced the theory of Social Darwinism which perceived Jews as weak and unworthy to live.
Barondess, Jeremiah. “Medicine against society: lessons from the Third Reich.” JAMA. 276, no 20 (1996):1657-1661.
Boozer, Jack. “Children of Hippocrates: Doctors in Nazi Germany.” Sage Journals 450, no1 (1980): 83-97.
Hudson, Lee. “From small beginnings: The euthanasia of children with disabilities in Nazi Germany.” Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 47, no. 8 (2011): 508- 511.
Jonas, Michael. “Can One Go Along With This?” German Diplomats and the Changes of 1918-19 and 1933-4.” Journal of Contemporary History 47, no. 2 (2012): 240- 278.
Micozzi, Marc. “Murderous medicine: Nazi doctors, human experimentation, and typhus.” The New England Journal of Medicine 354, no. 15 (2006): 1655-1681.
Robert, Lifton. “Medicine and Collaboration Under Hitler — The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton / Racial Hygiene by Robert N. Proctor / Doctors Under Hitler by Michael H. Kater and others.” Canadian Journal of History 26, no. 3 (1991): 479- 509.
Rodwin, Marc. “Conflict in managed care.” New England Journal of Medicine. 332, no.9 (1995):604-607.
Thornton, Larry. “Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor; Medicine and Power in the Third Reich – By Ulf Schmidt.” Historian 71, no. 2 (2009): 431-432.
1Jeremiah Barondess, “Medicine against society: lessons from the Third Reich,” JAMA. 276, no 20 (1996):1657.
2 Ibid p. 1658
3 Michael Jonas, “Can One Go Along With This?” German Diplomats and the Changes of 1918-19 and 1933-4,” Journal of Contemporary History 47, no. 2 (2012): 245.
4 Lifton Robert, “Medicine and Collaboration Under Hitler — The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton / Racial Hygiene by Robert N. Proctor / Doctors Under Hitler by Michael H. Kater / and others, “Canadian Journal of History 26, no. 3 (1991): 460.
5 Larry Thornton, “Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor; Medicine and Power in the Third Reich – By Ulf Schmidt,” Historian 71, no. 2 (2009): 431.
6 Marc Micozzi p. 1655.
7 Michael Jonas p. 271.
8Larry Thornton p. 432.
9Marc Micozzi p. 1655.
10 Michael Jonas, p. 251.
11 Larry Thornton p. 431.
12 Lee Hudson, “From small beginnings: The euthanasia of children with disabilities in Nazi Germany,” Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 47, no. 8 (2011): 509.
13 Ibid., p. 511
14 Ibid., p. 510
15 Michael Jonas p. 265.
16 Ibid., p. 266.
17 Ibid p.606.
18 Jeremiah Barondess, p.1661.
19 Lee Hudson p. 511.
20 Marc Micozzi p. 1655.
21 Lifton Robert p. 509.
22 Marc Micozzi, p. 1670.
23 Lifton Robert p. 500.
24 Ibid p.1659
25 Ibid p.1661.
26 Jack Boozer, “Children of Hippocrates: Doctors in Nazi Germany,” Sage Journals 450, no1 (1980): 83.
27 Jeremiah Barondess. p. 1661.
28Marc Rodwin, “Conflict in managed care,” New England Journal of Medicine. 332, no.9 (1995):604.
29 Ibid p. 605.
30 Jack Boozer, p. 84.
31 Ibid, p.85
32 Ibid, p.86.
33 Jeremiah Barondess, p.1660.
34 Rodwin Marc, “Conflict in managed care,” New England Journal of Medicine. 332, no.9 (1995):605.
35 Jack, Boozer, p. 86.
36 Ibid p.87
37 Marc Rodwin, “Conflict in managed care.” New England Journal of Medicine. 332, no.9 (1995):604.
38 Ibid, p. 606.
39 Jack, Boozer, p.-90.
40 Marc Rodwin., p.606.
41 Ibid, p.607
42 Ibid, p.608
43 Ibid, p.609