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 Using the reading provided by Eric Katz, “The Nazi Engineers: Reflections on Technological Ethics in Hell″ Format: One page, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman or Arial font, 1” margins, and left-justified Your header should be one line at the top Use the first 2/3 of the page to briefly summarize in your own words the content, addressing the: -author’s thesis -what evidence the author used (specific sources) -and how the evidence informs his or her argument Finish the last 1/3 of the essay by explaining what ideas you find most insightful or valuable, and why 

The Nazi Engineers: Reflections on Technological Ethics in Hell

Eric Katz

Received: 19 May 2010 / Accepted: 31 August 2010 / Published online: 16 September 2010

� Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Abstract Engineers, architects, and other technological professionals designed the genocidal death machines of the Third Reich. The death camp operations were

highly efficient, so these technological professionals knew what they were doing:

they were, so to speak, good engineers. As an educator at a technological university,

I need to explain to my students—future engineers and architects—the motivations

and ethical reasoning of the technological professionals of the Third Reich. I need to

educate my students in the ethical practices of this hellish regime so that they can

avoid the kind of ethical justifications used by the Nazi engineers. In their own

professional lives, my former students should not only be good engineers in a

technical sense, but good engineers in a moral sense. In this essay, I examine several

arguments about the ethical judgments of professionals in Nazi Germany, and

attempt a synthesis that can provide a lesson for contemporary engineers and other

technological professionals. How does an engineer avoid the error of the Nazi

engineers in their embrace of an evil ideology underlying their technological cre-

ations? How does an engineer know that the values he embodies through his technological products are good values that will lead to a better world? This last question, I believe, is the fundamental issue for the understanding of engineering

ethics.

Keywords Engineering ethics � Nazi engineers � Holocaust � Ethics and technology

E. Katz (&) Department of Humanities, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, NJ 07101, USA

e-mail: [email protected]; [email protected]

123

Sci Eng Ethics (2011) 17:571–582

DOI 10.1007/s11948-010-9229-z

Introduction

Begin with this fact: engineers, architects, and other technological professionals

designed the genocidal death machines of the Third Reich. The death camp

operations were highly efficient, so these technological professionals knew what

they were doing: they were, so to speak, good engineers. As an educator at a

technological university, I need to explain to my students—future engineers and

architects—the motivations and ethical reasoning of the technological professionals

of the Third Reich. I need to educate my students in the ethical practices of this

hellish regime so that they can avoid the kind of ethical justifications used by the

Nazi engineers. In their own professional lives, my former students should not only

be good engineers in a technical sense, but good engineers in a moral sense.

In this essay, I examine several arguments about the ethical judgments of

professionals in Nazi Germany, and attempt a synthesis that can provide a lesson for

contemporary engineers and other technological professionals. How does an

engineer avoid the error of the Nazi engineers in their embrace of an evil ideology

underlying their technological creations? How does an engineer know that the values he embodies through his technological products are good values that will lead to a better world? This last question, I believe, is the fundamental issue for the understanding of engineering ethics. It is a question, perhaps, that is unanswerable.

One terminological clarification before I begin the argument. In this essay I use

the broad term ‘‘technological professionals’’ to refer to those professionals who

design, create, and use technologies, technological products, and technological

artifacts. Included in this class of professionals are engineers, architects, and specific

kinds of industrial managers. These professions are similar to the professions of

medicine and law, in that they not only employ specific technical expertise but they

also provide a significant social role and purpose. I do not include various types of

technicians who mainly deal with the operation, installation, and repair of

technological products.

The Nazi Doctors and the Concept of Doubling

First consider the Nazi doctors. Although physicians are not technological

professionals as I have stipulated them above, an analysis of the Nazi doctors

provides a useful starting point for an understanding of the possibility of moral evil

in technology. In his groundbreaking account of Nazi physicians, Robert J. Lifton

proposed the concept of ‘‘doubling’’ as a psychological explanation for the behavior

of the medical professionals associated with the worst aspects of the Third Reich:

the T4 euthanasia program, the coercive and inhuman medical experiments, and the

operations of the death camps (Lifton 1986). Lifton asks the question, how could

well-educated professional people act in such horrific and immoral ways, and his

answer is that they created for themselves two selves, two personalities, each of

which would control different aspects of their lives. For Lifton, what he calls

‘‘doubling’’ is ‘‘the division of the self into two functioning wholes, so that each

part-self acts as an entire self.’’ Thus ‘‘an Auschwitz doctor could, through doubling,

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not only kill and contribute to killing but organize silently, on behalf of that evil

project, an entire self-structure…encompassing virtually all aspects of his behavior’’ (p. 418).

Lifton differentiates doubling from the more common notions of ‘‘split’’

personalities and psychic numbing, by which the Nazi doctors could suppress their

feelings in relation to murder. The doubled personalities are holistic, in that they are

full functioning selves adapting for a year or more in an environment that is solely

organized around killing (p. 420). In short, nothing is being suppressed by the

doubling agent; rather the feelings and beliefs are being transferred to another fully

functioning self. Thus, the Nazi doctors were able to avoid guilt ‘‘not by the

elimination of conscience but by what can be called the transfer of conscience. The requirements of conscience were transferred to the Auschwitz self, which placed it

within its own criteria for good’’ (p. 421)—in this case, the basis of proper behavior

within the killing system of the death camp: e.g., ‘‘duty, loyalty to group,

‘improving’ Auschwitz conditions, etc.’’ Thus an alternative or doubled self can live

in a different world, an alternate reality, with its own set of rules and ethical

conduct. The Auschwitz doctor does not deny reality, for he is ‘‘aware’’ that he is,

for example, performing selections in the killing process, but he repudiates ‘‘the

meaning of that reality.’’ As an Auschwitz doctor, he does not believe that the

selection process is murder. In addition, his original self repudiates and disavows

‘‘anything done by the Auschwitz self’’ (p. 422). Through doubling then, the Nazi doctor is able to perform evil acts without believing or feeling that he is doing

anything wrong.

The key to this situation, in my view as a philosopher and not a psychiatrist, is the

establishment of a moral universe that is radically different from the moral universe

of everyday reality. This is the context in which Lifton’s doubled self will operate.

The doubled self does not perceive his actions as evil, because they are in agreement

with the standards of the new reality. Lifton claims that although each individual

Nazi doctor had his own style of doubling, ‘‘in all Nazi doctors, prior self and

Auschwitz self were connected by the overall Nazi ethos and the general authority

of the regime’’ (p. 425). Nazi ideology created a new reality. This is then more than

an issue in psychology; it is, rather, what we might call an issue in moral ontology.

The moral agent comes to believe in a radically evil universe as good. One must act

with self-justification in this radically evil context. Later I will return to the ideology

of the Nazi worldview as it performs this ontological function of creating a new and

evil reality for moral action—but now we must turn to the ideas and actions of

technological professionals in the Third Reich.

Albert Speer and Technological Neutrality: Rebellious Ethics

Consider Albert Speer, who began as Hitler’s architect and rose to the highest level

of the Nazi regime as Armaments Minister; eventually he was in charge of the entire

industrial system of Germany. As an architect, Speer is a technological professional,

similar to an engineer, and thus he provides a useful case for the study of Nazi

technological ethics. Speer was also the highest Nazi not killed during the war or

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executed after it; he was imprisoned, and wrote his memoirs (Speer 1970). This

personal history is an essential resource for examining the moral ambiguities of the

Nazi regime—even granting the fact that we must assume that everything Speer

wrote after the war was self-serving to a significant extent.

Speer endorses a position of technological neutrality as the explanation for his

evil acts. He claims that he was a pure technocrat unconcerned with ethical and

political tasks. In commenting on his lack of concern for the virulent anti-Semitism

of Hitler and the regime, he writes, ‘‘I felt myself to be Hitler’s architect. Political

events did not concern me…The grotesque extent to which I clung to this illusion is indicated by a memorandum of mine to Hitler as late as 1944: ‘The task I have to

fulfill is an unpolitical one. I have felt at ease in my work only so long as my person

and my work were evaluated solely by the standard of practical accomplishments’’’

(p. 112). Let us put aside the fact that in 1944 the supposedly ‘‘unpolitical’’ practical

tasks of Speer involved control of the entire wartime economy. The point is that

Speer is attempting to create a distinct technological and practical realm that can be

considered as separate from the realm of political and moral value. Technology is

morally and politically neutral. As only an architect, involved with the design and

creation of buildings, urban plans, and other artifacts, Speer cannot be concerned

with the political and moral value of the things he produces for the master he serves.

If we adopt Lifton’s perspective in our analysis of Speer’s technological ethics,

we can see a kind of doubling effect. Note in the quotation above that Speer only

feels at ease in his politically neutral work, as if he had a second technological self:

‘‘so long as my person and my work were evaluated solely by the standard of practical accomplishments.’’ But Speer’s rationalization goes well beyond the

existence of some kind of psychological doubling and into a critical evaluation of

the nature of the technological professions. In explaining how his managerial style

led to the renewed success of the armaments industry, Speer notes that he had

placed technical people in control of his various programs: ‘‘I exploited the

phenomenon of the technician’s often blind devotion to his task. Because of what

seems to be the moral neutrality of technology, these people were without any

scruples about their activities’’ (p. 212). It is not just Speer the architect who is

unconcerned with political and moral values; all technological professionals,

embedded in a world of neutral technological artifacts, are blind to the normative

dimensions of their work and their products.

In my previous work, I have claimed that Speer’s rationalizations are a prime

example of Langdon Winner’s account of the ‘‘traditional’’ view of the neutrality of

technology, viz., that in any normative analysis of technology the design and

creation of a technological artifact must be separated from its use (Winner 1986;

Katz 2005). I will return to that discussion in the conclusion of this essay. Here I

want to argue that the traditional view of the neutrality of technology is also an

example of moral ontology, i.e., the creation of a particular moral universe. By

making a clear and hard distinction between the design/creation and the use of a

technological artifact, we are essentially establishing two normative realms.

Obviously, there is only one physical artifact, but its meaning, and its subsequent

value, will be different when examined in the two different spheres of reality. From

the perspective of design, we will examine a gun, for example, in light of those

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various characteristics that make it an efficient gun—weight, balance, ease of use,

etc. But from the perspective of use, we will examine the gun in light of the

purposes and goals of the gun, and the attainment (or not) of those goals—shooting

a hunted animal, defense of a home, killing an enemy combatant, etc. There are two

different sets of meaning and value for the gun, for the artifact. Thus, two normative

realms are created when we adopt the traditional view of the neutrality of

technology; this is, again, an expression of moral ontology.

How do the Nazi engineers fit into this picture of moral ontology? The designers

of the crematoria ovens are a good example. The industrial furnace company of

Topf and Sons was a major developer of the efficient multi-person crematorium

ovens used at the SS controlled concentration camps. These ovens were originally

planned for the prisoners who died from ‘‘natural’’ causes—malnutrition, disease,

overwork, or punishment. As historians Jean-Claude Pressac and Robert Jan van

Pelt recount this story, beginning in the late 1930s, the design and construction of

the ovens for the camps were significantly different than crematoria furnaces built

for commercial funeral establishments (Pressac and van Pelt 1994). First, the ovens

lacked any conventional aesthetic features, since there would be no family of the

deceased to witness a ceremonial burning of the corpse. But more importantly,

innovations in furnace technology permitted higher capacity and more efficient

burns in the ovens, so that ovens could be designed to hold two or more bodies at the

same time. There was no need to preserve the integrity of the individual ashes; there

would be no bereaved family collecting the remains. Throughout the history of the

design and construction of the crematoria ovens that were eventually to be used at

Auschwitz and Birkenau, we find ever-increasing chambers for the incineration of

corpses, from two to three to a double-furnace with four chambers each. The more

efficient capacity for the ovens was a necessary requirement for the implementation

of the Final Solution. The increased capacity of the ovens meant that the SS could

handle the increased load of the direct killing operations.

From the perspective of the moral ontology of the traditional view of a neutral

technology the engineers who designed and built these ovens could focus solely on

the design problems with little or no regard for the ultimate uses of the artifacts.

Engineers from Topf and Sons even came to Birkenau to deal with technical

problems, such as the cracking of the smokestacks and uneven heat transference in

Crema IV. Beyond the furnaces, there were serious problems with the ventilation

and exhaust systems that were required for operational gas chambers. In all of these

activities, professional engineers from Topf and Sons or the SS used their best

technical expertise to create the necessary technological artifacts. These technical

professionals seem to be following the dictum of Speer that the technician has a

blind devotion to his practical task, without any concern for moral scruples.

Although Speer himself as far as we know had no connection to the Auschwitz

killing center or any of the other death camps—Speer was sentenced at Nuremberg

only for crimes related to the slave labor camp at the Dora-Mittelbau missile

works—he provides a defense of his actions, and implicitly a defense of the actions

of any technological professional involved in morally questionable projects. Speer’s

defense has two parts. First, he claims that in totalitarian political systems isolation

and secrecy prevent a technological professional from being aware of the

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applications of the technology (pp. 112–13). But in the second part of his defense

Speer cunningly refuses to use this isolation as exculpation for his guilt. Instead he

blames the traditional evaluation of technology as neutral. ‘‘It is true,’’ he writes, ‘‘I

was isolated. It is also true that the habit of thinking within the limits of my own

field provided me, both as an architect and as Armaments minister, with many

opportunities for evasion’’ (p. 113). Thus he claims that he should have known

about the evils of the Final Solution, and his moral failing is that he did not

overcome his self-imposed isolation from political events. Speer clearly accepts the

traditional view of the neutrality of technological artifacts by acknowledging that

one could simply think and act ‘‘within the limits of [one’s] own field,’’ that is, one

can ignore the political and moral realities of the technological project with which

one is engaged. He is morally guilty because he did not escape the limitations of his

technological thinking.

Legal scholar Jack Sammons has called Speer’s position the endorsement of

‘‘rebellious ethics’’ (Sammons 1992). According to Sammons, one adopts the

position of ‘‘rebellious ethics’’ when one claims that to be ethical one must rebel

against the expectations and practices of one’s profession. Indeed, for Sammons,

this ‘‘is the dominant paradigm for the ethics of our professions.’’ It means that ‘‘as

ethical people…we must stand apart from our professional roles in personal moral judgment of them’’ (p. 77). Clearly, this is the narrative that Speer tells us in his

memoirs. Sammons calls it the position of the ‘‘Pure Technician…the expert who is not accountable beyond his area of expertise. His technique, he claims, is morally

neutral and he asks to be judged only by whether his means are the most efficient

ones toward whatever end is given to him’’ (p. 79). But the role of the pure

technician leads to moral corruption, as we become consumed, as Speer and the

Nazi engineers, with the task at hand regardless of the human cost. The only way to

avoid this moral corruption, according to this paradigm, is to separate ourselves

from our profession: ‘‘we must consciously maintain a personal and psychological

detachment from our professional roles’’ (p. 80).

The position of rebellious ethics then is clearly connected to the moral ontology

that I have been developing here: there are two separate moral realms, and it is the

task of the ethical technological professional to avoid being captured by the realm of

moral neutrality. He can accomplish this by a kind of doubling, or re-asserting his

personal moral self in rebellion against the demands of his profession. But Sammons

rejects the paradigm of rebellious ethics, and with it, Speer’s defense of his moral

failure. For Sammons, Speer did not fail as a moral person because he failed to rebel

against his professional role; rather he failed as a moral person because he failed

in his professional role as an architect. It is a deeper integration with one’s professional role that can provide a person with the moral resources to resist the evil

practices of technology (p. 81).

What does this further integration mean? Sammons argues that the various

technological professions provide us with moral guidelines that are built into the

very nature of the profession itself. Architecture, for example, should be based on

the idea that we are constructing built environments for human beings to live fuller

and more creative lives, not buildings or cities that oppress and dominate the human

576 E. Katz

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spirit. Sammons notes that Speer’s only moments of ethical insight were when he

saw the morally evil directions of Hitler’s ideas about architecture:

As an architect, Speer began to see in Hitler’s obsession with huge

dimensions, his ‘‘violation of the human scale,’’ his lack of proportion, his

lack of concern for the social dimensions of architecture, his use of

architecture as only an expression of his strength, and the pomposity and

decadence of the style, a dictator bent on world domination for the sole

purpose of his own glorification (pp. 82–83).

Thus, for Sammons, architecture itself ‘‘offered Speer a truer perspective on Hitler;’’

it was in thinking about architecture that he could have developed the moral vision

to see what Nazism really was (p. 83). Speer then is not a Pure Technician who

failed as a moral agent because he did not rebel against the neutrality of technology;

rather he is a Failed Architect, and his moral failure is that he rejected the positive

human goals of his craft in the pursuit of money, fame, power, and self-glorification.

The good architect, as well as any good technological professional, must find within

the profession the moral principles that can provide the foundation to pursue one’s

technological goals.

Integration and Ideology in the Nazi Engineers

Regarding moral ontology, Sammons’s rejection of the model of rebellious ethics,

with its argument for the further integration of ethical and professional values,

suggests that there are not distinct moral realms. Technological practice and ethics

exist together in a unified worldview. But what if this unified moral ontology is

itself evil? The work of historian Michael Allen provides us with a disturbing

answer to this question (Allen 2002). Through his analysis of SS industrial policy,

he argues that among SS managers and engineers there was a convergence between

professional goals and political values. Nazi engineers believed that what they were

doing was good: there was no need to rebel against the pure technique of their

profession, nor was there a need to find another ground of value to resist the evils of

Nazism.

Allen’s claims are based on the lives of 39 members of the elite SS engineering

corps under the directorship of Hams Kammler, the Chief Engineer of the SS—a

number comprising two-thirds of the elite corps (p. 159). Here is the story of Kurt

Wisselinck (pp. 7–11), the Chief Factory Representative within the SS to the

German Workers Front or DAF, which had replaced all German labor unions once

the Nazi Party seized power. His mid-level managerial position was situated at the

confluence of several conflicting political power centers within the Third Reich: the

SS, the DAF, the WVHA (the SS Building Division), and thus we might expect that

the decisions Wisselinck made would tend to favor a particular bureaucratic

allegiance. But what Allen discovers instead is that Wisselinck acted according to

strict ideological principles, even when this ideology worked against the interests of

major constituencies. The primary example is Wisselinck’s handling of misconduct

at the SS Granite Works of Gross-Rosen. What was the misconduct? Not, one might

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suppose, that the prisoner-laborers were being worked to death; rather the problem

was that the clothing of the Jewish prisoners was not being distributed to SS

manager-trainees, and that one of the cooks was favoring the prisoners by giving

them extra potatoes in their rations. The extra potatoes, of course, could mean the

difference between life and death for the slave laborers, but more importantly, from

the perspective of the SS business operation, the extra rations would make more

efficient and productive workers. The managers at Gross-Rosen even complained

that Wisselinck’s presence was impeding the efficiency of the factory operations

(pp. 8–11).

Wisselinck did not care about the success of the business operations. For him, as

we learn in a memo he wrote to himself after his return from Gross-Rosen, the main

point was the furtherance of Nazi ideology. He wrote: ‘‘The business undertakings

of the Schutzstaffel [SS] are the best means to breathe new life into National

Socialist ideals, to let them become reality…Our example must spur other corporations forward to emulate us in order to see the growth of a happy, satisfied,

and happy Volk’’ (pp. 9–10). Wisselinck is emblematic of the professional manager and technocrat within the Nazi regime, where consensus was built because of a

shared ideology. The Nazi business and technical operations were efficient because

‘‘ideals, individuals, and institutions reinforced each other’’ (p. 11).

Allen considers five main ideas as the basis of the shared ideology of SS

managers and engineers (pp. 12–16): (1) the SS were the vanguard of a New Order

that would ‘‘remake Europe in its own image’’; (2) a commitment to the Führer or

leadership principle; (3) a commitment to producing authentic German culture and

values through the operation of business and technology, rather than a commitment

to profit or wealth (the latter goals were obviously ‘‘Jewish’’); (4) a fascination with

modern technological organization, as represented by Fordism and Taylorism; and

(5) biological racism and anti-Semitism. Whether these five principles are the sum

total of the SS Nazi ideology is, of course, not the issue for me. Historians can

debate the precise number of Nazi ideals and their relative importance. For my

argument, it is only necessary to acknowledge that something like this set of

principles existed as the basis of a Nazi worldview. Taken together, these principles

form a coherent ideology, and indeed, as I indicated above, the basis of a distinct

moral ontology.

What this means is that the members of the Nazi SS engineering and

management corps shared a set of overarching values that informed all of their

decisions and actions. As Allen writes: ‘‘Ideology facilitated operations precisely

because the maintenance of consensus never needed to be a heated topic of daily

declarations and contention. It had become a matter of their collective identity as

engineers of the New Order’’ (p. 164). In short, these technological professionals

believed in what they were doing. In Allen’s wonderful description, they ‘‘were

the model citizens of a murderous regime’’ (p. 5). The Nazi ideology was their

moral stance regarding the world. Thus there was no need for the psychological

process of doubling; their personal worldview and the Nazi worldview were

identical. This conclusion has important implications for the ethical evaluation of

technology.

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Conclusions: Normative Values and the Engineering Project

We have reached a very dark place. Let me review the argument before I arrive at a

conclusion. When we consider the actions of technological professionals in the Nazi

regime, we are drawn to the traditional view that the creation of technological

artifacts is ethically neutral, and that only the use of these artifacts should bear a

normative analysis. This view of technology can provide a Nazi engineer with a

rational basis for the disavowal of guilt, and indeed, for a declaration of moral

purity. It is almost identical to the psychological process of doubling which Lifton

claims to have discovered in his analysis of the Nazi doctors, or to the model of

rebellion against the ethics of the Pure Technician that Speer (belatedly) espouses in

his memoirs.

Sammons has suggested that the correct alternative to rebellious ethics or

Lifton’s doubling is the further integration of personal and professional morality,

rather than its separation. The technological professional should embrace the ethical

foundations of his profession, for in those principles the professional can find the

resources to resist the unethical or destructive forces that may corrupt or subvert his

ideals. Architecture creates built environments for the betterment of human life;

engineering creates technological artifacts for increased efficiency, comfort, and

convenience. But what if the engineer or technician does not see the cultural and

political forces that guide the profession in a particular historical context as a

corruption or subversion? What if the architect sees coherence between the political

values of a murderous regime and the ideals o

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