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Chapter XXII: The Psychological Interpretation of Culture and History

The Human Body versus Pathogenic Microorganisms
Richard A. Koenigsberg
The Body Is the Hero

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It is astonishing to realize that what the Nazi’s did grew out of a systematic body of thought. Even more astounding is to recognize that the ideas that led to the Holocaust were based on biological concepts.

To say, “systematic body of thought” does not imply truth. Nor does it imply rationality. Nor does it imply “goodness.” It simply means that there was a logic underlying what the Nazis did. The logic of the Holocaust grew out of a fantasy put forth by Hitler and other Nazi leaders. This fantasy revolved around the idea of Germany as an organism—a real body politic suffering from a potentially fatal disease.

Heinrich Himmler presented Nazism as a life and death struggle between Germany and the Jewish “plague bacillus.” This struggle belonged to the “natural course of life on the planet.” It was a “law of nature.” Either Germany would defeat the bacteria—and the nation would live; or Germany would succumb to the Jewish disease, and the nation would die. This, essentially, was the vision put forth by Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and other Nazi leaders. The Nazi revolution was a struggle unto the death—between a healthy German body and pathogenic Jewish microorganisms.

In The Body is the Hero (1976), physician Ronald Glasser presents a view of human existence not unlike the view of the Nazis: life as a struggle between the human body and pathogenic microorganisms.

Despite all our human fantasies of grandeur and dominion, Glasser explains, the “real struggle has always been against bacteria and viruses.” In the battle for species survival, it has always been “our immune system that has sustained us and allowed us to endure.”

Each person’s red blood cells contain antibodies against another person’s red blood cells—if their red cells are a different type than one’s own. But why are the antibodies there? The answer, Glasser says, is “strictly chemical.” It has nothing to do with reason or sense, but rather with “blindness and struggle.”

The immune system has “no recognition of our human concerns.” It follows its own ways—as it always has—going after any chemical surface it reads as different. The immune system, Glasser explains, works “entirely at the level of physics and chemistry.”

Himmler said that the Final Solution was the “fulfillment of a heavy task.” The struggle against Jewish bacilli, he felt, was unavoidable. It was a “law of nature.” Once having reached the conclusion that the struggle between bacteria and human beings was unavoidable—that it was a “law of nature”—there was no escape from one’s responsibility. The German nation could no more resist killing Jews than human beings can resist killing pathogenic microorganisms.

At the Wannsee conference in 1942, Nazi chief Reinhardt Heydrich and other high-ranking Nazi officials met to determine the fate of 11 million European Jews. Their files contained voluminous statistics on the precise number of Jews in every country under Nazi occupation. With fanatic determination, they plotted to kill every single Jew in every single country. It was imperative that not a single Jew remain alive. Why such thoroughness?

Glasser explains that

Our battles against microbes have never been a war of percentages; every microbe that enters our body has to be destroyed, not 98% of them or 99, but 100%. It has to be total war; not one single enemy can be left alive. Just one survivor, by continuing to grow, would eventually mean death, and so all have to be eliminated.

Perhaps the monumental scope and utter ruthlessness of the Final Solution grew out of the fantasy of Germany as a body with an immune system—that was acting to destroy Jewish bacteria. It was necessary to wage “total war” so that not a single enemy could be left alive. If even a single bacterium survived, it would multiply, divide and proliferate, thus spelling death for Germany.

The Final Solution, it would appear, grew out of the Nazi’s conception of Germany as a body possessing an immune system. Like any organism with an immune system, the German body politic would react—automatically—to destroy cells identified as foreign or not-self. Jews were such alien cells that the German organism had to destroy—so that the nation would survive.