Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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“Euthanasia”: Direct Medical Killing 
“The Syringe Belongs in the Hand of a Physician”

That death generally occurred within twenty-four hours of the patient's arrival at the killing center. Under T4 policy, a doctor had to do the actual killing, in accordance with the motto enunciated by Dr. Viktor Brack, head of the Chancellery's “Euthanasia” Department II: “The syringe belongs in the hand of a physician.”54 Rather than a syringe, however, it was usually a matter of opening a gas cock.

There were six main killing centers — Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Grafeneck, Bernburg, Brandenburg, and Hadamar. Typically they were converted mental hospitals or nursing homes; at least one had been a prison. They were in isolated areas and had high walls — some had originally been old castles — so that what happened within could not be readily observed from without. “The unloading of the buses could be done in a way [so that] neither the screams of the patients nor any other occurrences could penetrate to the outside world.”55

Hitler himself is said to have decided upon the use of carbon monoxide gas as the killing method, on the so-called medical advice of Dr. Heyde. The decision followed upon an experiment conducted in early 1940 at Brandenburg, then being converted from a prison into a killing center. Killing by injection (using various combinations of morphine, scopolomine, curare, and prussic acid [cyanide]) was directly compared with killing by means of carbon monoxide gas. Karl Brandt, “a very conscientious man [who] took his responsibility very seriously,” requested the experiment; and he and Conti administered the injections themselves “as a symbolic action in which the most responsible physicians in the Reich subjected themselves to the practical carrying through of the Führer’s order.”56

The four or six injected patients (“six at the most”) “died only slowly,” and some had to be injected again. In contrast, the gas worked perfectly. The first Nazi gas chamber had been constructed under the supervision of Christian Wirth, of the SS Criminal Police, lent to the T4 staff. The arrangement included a fake shower room with benches, the gas being inserted from the outside into water pipes with small holes through which the carbon monoxide could escape. Present were two SS chemists with doctoral degrees, one of whom operated the gas. The other, August Becker, told how eighteen to twenty people were led naked into the “shower room”: through a peephole he observed that very quickly “people toppled over, or lay on the benches” — all without “scenes or commotion.” The room was ventilated within five minutes; SS men then used special stretchers which mechanically shoved the corpses into crematory ovens without contact. The technical demonstration was performed before a select audience of the inner circle of physicians and administrators of the medical killing project. Having been shown the technique, Dr. Irmfried Eberl, newly appointed head of the Brandenburg institution, took over “by himself and on his own responsibility.” Both Brack and  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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