|organizing principle of the work, and I came to suspect the
relevance of that reversal for other genocidal projects.
Much has been
said about relationships of perpetrators and victims, and such relationships
had considerable importance in Auschwitz and elsewhere. But I have found it
essential to make the sharpest differentiation between the moral and
psychological situation of members of the two groups. Whatever the behavior of
either, prisoners were in the situation of being threatened inmates while Nazi
doctors were threatening victimizers. This clear distinction must be the
beginning of any evaluation of medical behavior in Auschwitz. Jews were the
main object of Nazi genocide and therefore the main victims of Nazi doctors.
But my concerns in this book also include non-Jewish Auschwitz inmates such as
Poles and political prisoners and Russian prisoners of war; and also mental
patients in Germany and occupied areas victimized even more directly by Nazi
As I reached the end of this work, many people asked me what
it had done to me. My answer usually has been, A great deal,
followed by a change of subject. The truth is that it is still a little early
to tell. One cannot expect to emerge from a study of this kind spiritually
unscathed, all the more so when ones own self is the instrument for
taking in forms of experience one would have preferred not to have known about.
But the other side of the enterprise for me has been the nourishing human
network, extending throughout much of the world, within which I worked.
Survivors were at the heart of it, and they provided a kind of anchoring. But
the network included colleagues, students of Nazi genocide, Germans committed
to confronting the Nazi era, young assistants some of whom I have known
over years, and others I met for the first time so many in all of these
categories that I must list them at the end of the volume. Sharing an
enterprise such as this vivifies old friendships and, in the most immediate and
powerful ways, creates new ones. A compensation perhaps for my very limited
knowledge of languages involved (German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and French)
was the breadth of this nourishing network that took shape.
I have been
aware for decades of Albert Camuss insistence that we be neither victims
nor executioners, that we avoid institutions and actions in which these two
categories come into being. But I have a new understanding of what he meant.
Camus in fact learned his original lesson from participating in the anti-Nazi
underground. It is hardly necessary to point out how often the advice is
ignored. But I would at the same time insist that we are capable of acting on
it, however imperfectly capable of learning from carefully examined past
evil. I undertook this study, and now offer it, in that spirit of hope.