|involvement of physicians was viewed as the most shameful
of all Nazi behavior.
When we think of the crimes of Nazi doctors, what
come to mind are their cruel and sometimes fatal human experiments. Those
experiments, in their precise and absolute violation of the Hippocratic oath,
mock and subvert the very idea of the ethical physician, of the physician
dedicated to the well-being of patients. I shall examine those human
experiments from the standpoint of the regimes medical and political
Yet when we turn to the Nazi doctors role in Auschwitz,
it was not the experiments that were most significant. Rather it was his
participation in the killing process indeed his supervision of Auschwitz
mass murder from beginning to end. This aspect of Nazi medical behavior has
escaped full recognition even though we are familiar with photographs of
Nazi doctors standing at the ramp and performing their notorious
selections of arriving Jews, determining which were to go directly
to the gas chamber and which were to live, at least temporarily, and work in
the camp. Yet this medicalized killing had a logic that was not only deeply
significant for Nazi theory and behavior but holds for other expressions of
genocide as well.
In this book I will examine both the broad Nazi
biomedical vision as a central psychohistorical principle of the
regime, and the psychological behavior of individual Nazi doctors. We need to
look at both dimensions if we are to understand more about how Nazi doctors
and Nazis in general came to do what they did.
extremity of Auschwitz and related Nazi murder renders it close to unreality. A
distinguished European physician, who had struggled with Nazi brutality for
forty years first as an inmate of Auschwitz and other camps and then as
an authority on medical consequences of that incarceration said to me
very quietly at the end of a long interview, You know, I still can't
really believe that it happened that a group of people would round up
all of the Jews in Europe and send them to a special place to kill them.
He was saying that the Auschwitz other world is beyond belief. The
wonder is that there is not an even greater tendency than actually exists to
accept the directly false contention that Nazi mass murder did not take place.
Also at issue for us here is the relationship of Nazi doctors to the
human species. Another Auschwitz survivor who knew something about them asked
me, Were they beasts when they did what they did? Or were they human
beings? He was not surprised by my answer: they were and are men, which
is my justification for studying them; and their behavior Auschwitz
itself was a product of specifically human ingenuity and cruelty.
I went on to tell this survivor of the ordinariness of most Nazi
doctors I had interviewed. Neither brilliant nor stupid, neither inherently
evil nor particularly ethically sensitive, they were by no means the demonic
figures sadistic, fanatic, lusting to kill people have often