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Chapter XX: The Psychological Interpretation of Culture and History

“Germany Has an Immune System”
(Part II of Genocide as Immunology)
Richard A. Koenigsberg
Hitler, we have seen, spoke about the German nation as if it was an organism—a real body politic. In Mein Kampf (1923), he plaintively poses the question:
Could anyone believe that Germany alone was not subject to exactly the same laws as all other human organisms?

What was the “law” to which Hitler referred? I hypothesize that he was pointing to the biological mechanism of the immune system, which recognizes what is “self,” and rejects everything that is “not self.” Jews were identified as “not self” cells within the German body politic. It was necessary, therefore, that they be destroyed or eliminated—just as any other organism rejects not-self cells.

The metaphor of the German nation as a body with an immune system appeared regularly in the rhetoric of leading Nazis, Alfred Rosenberg stated that the spirit of the German race needed to “assimilate everything racially and spiritually akin” and to “eliminate and suppress everything foreign.”

Heinrich Himmler declared that “alien blood lines had merged into the German people.” Yet again and again the people had the strength to “sift out and cast aside what did not belong to us.”

In a lecture on June 20, 1939, Professor Fischer Rector of the University of Berlin, said the following:

When a people wants to preserve its own nature, it must reject alien elements, and when these have already insinuated themselves, it must suppress them and eliminate them. The Jew is such an alien and, therefore, when he wants to insinuate himself, he must be warded off. This is self-defense. I reject Jewry with every means in my power.

According to Robert Lifton (1988), an influential manual by Rudolf Ramm of the medical faculty of the University of Berlin proposed that each doctor was no longer to be merely caretaker of the sick but was to become a "physician to the Volk" and a "biological soldier." Dr. Johann S. spoke to Lifton with pride about the principle of being "doctor to the Volkskorper ('national body' or 'people's body')."

Ramm's manual specified that a doctor was to be an "alert biological soldier" living under "the great idea of the National Socialist biological state structure." It claimed that "National Socialism is in accord with the biology of man."

Physicians, Lifton says, could thrill to this message. Dr. S., for instance, described joining the Party immediately after hearing Deputy Party Leader Rudolf Hess say, at a mass meeting in 1934, that "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology."

The thrilling message of Nazism, then, was that Germany was a real body functioning according to biological laws. Nazi doctors were responsible for the immune system of the national organism. Their task was to identify non-functioning, foreign or destructive cells dangerous to Germany's health.

Lifton observes that the physician was to be concerned with the health of the Volk even more than with individual disease and was to "teach persons to overcome the old individualistic principle of the 'right to one's own body'." It was to the larger organism, the body politic, that the Nazi movement was devoted.