Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Psychiatric Transfer: “White Coats and SS Boots”

Transportation arrangements were a caricature of psychiatric transfer. The organization created for this function, the Common Welfare Ambulance Service Ltd. (Gemeinnützige Krankentransport, or Gehrat),* sent out “transport lists” to the hospitals from which it was to collect patients; issued instructions that patients were to be accompanied by their case histories and personal possessions as well as lists of valuables held for them; and specified that those patients for whom lengthy transport could be dangerous to their lives should not be transferred (a show of medical propriety and an actual means of avoiding the awkward situation of a patient dying en route).

SS personnel manned the buses, frequently wearing white uniforms or white coats in order to appear to be doctors, nurses, or medical attendants. There were reports of “men with white coats and SS boots,” the combination that epitomized much of the “euthanasia” project in general.51

To hide patients from the public, bus windows were covered with dark paint or fixed curtains or blinds The destination of the buses was specifically kept secret from the medical staff of the institution from which they were loaded and of course from the patients themselves. SS guards on the buses carried special documents enabling them to pass unchallenged through all checkpoints. The initial practice of taking patients directly to the killing centers was after some time discontinued in favor of “observation institutions” or “transit institutions” — often large state hospitals near killing centers — where patients spent brief periods before being sent to their deaths. These observation institutions, which were suggested by Heyde and may have enhanced scheduling arrangements, provided an aura of medical check against mistakes while in fact no real examination or observation was made.52 In addition they seemed to have been part of an impulse toward bureaucratic mystification that further impaired the autonomous existence and the traceability of a patient and to a considerable extent of his or her family as well.

The bureaucratic mystification was furthered by letters sent to the family first notification of transfer because of important war-related measures and then a second letter upon the patient’s reaching the killing center announcing his or her safe arrival and adding that at this time Reich defense reasons and the shortage of personnel brought about by the war made visits or inquiries of any kind impossible, although the family would immediately be informed of changes in a patient’s condition or in the visiting policy. The second letter was signed, with a false name, by either the killing doctor or the chief of the killing center. The third letter, sent — under a false name by the Condolence-Letter Department — just days or perhaps weeks later, was a notification of the patient’s death53
* A related Common Welfare Foundation for Institutional Care handled financial arrangements.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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