| At Nuremberg, doctors were tried only limitedly for their
involvement in killing, partly because its full significance was not yet
In Auschwitz, Nazi
doctors presided over the murder of most of the one million victims of that
camp. Doctors performed selections both on the ramp among arriving
transports of prisoners and later in the camps and on the medical blocks.
Doctors supervised the killing in the gas chambers and decided when the victims
were dead. Doctors conducted a murderous epidemiology, sending to the gas
chamber groups of people with contagious diseases and sometimes including
everyone else who might be on the medical block. Doctors ordered and
supervised, and at times carried out, direct killing of debilitated patients on
the medical blocks by means of phenol injections into the bloodstream or the
heart. In connection with all of these killings, doctors kept up a pretense of
medical legitimacy: for deaths of Auschwitz prisoners and of outsiders brought
there to be killed, they signed false death certificates listing spurious
illnesses. Doctors consulted actively on how best to keep selections running
smoothly; on how many people to permit to remain alive to fill the slave labor
requirements of the I. G. Farben enterprise at Auschwitz; and on how to burn
the enormous numbers of bodies that strained the facilities of the crematoria.
In sum, we may say that doctors were given much of the responsibility
for the murderous ecology of Auschwitz the choosing of victims, the
carrying through of the physical and psychological mechanics of killing, and
the balancing of killing and work functions in the camp. While doctors by no
means ran Auschwitz, they did lend it a perverse medical aura. As one survivor
who closely observed the process put the matter, Auschwitz was like a
medical operation, and the killing program was led by doctors from
beginning to end.
We may say that the doctor standing at the ramp
represented a kind of omega point, a mythical gatekeeper between the worlds of
the dead and the living, a final common pathway of the Nazi vision of therapy
via mass murder.