Individual and mass behavior in extreme situations


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Abstract

After three years the author reports his observations of prisoners in Dachau and Buchenwald (concentration camps) in 1938–1939. The purposes of the camps were (1) to break individuals into docile masses, (2) to terrorize and discourage group opposition to Nazism, (3) to train Gestapo men in methods of breaking human spirit, and (4) to study effects of the worst conditions of cruelty and slavery. As an ego defense the author used his training to study personality changes of himself and others in adapting to extreme hardships. Criminals and politically educated internees withstood the shock best, whereas middle class internees disintegrated. Ego defenses were varied and extreme, with split personalities practically universal. The author outlines the Gestapo methods of destroying group spirit, developing childishness in internees, and preventing martyrdom. New prisoners were aggressive to friends and guards, interested in escape and in keeping their personalities intact. Old prisoners lost interest in world affairs, tried to keep peace in camp, feared adjusting to life outside of camp, and identified themselves with the Gestapo. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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