|Introduction to Part II
|SS doctors ordered and supervised, and sometimes themselves
carried out, direct killing of debilitated patients by means of phenol
injections into the bloodstream or heart given on the medical blocks (chapter
14). These injections were most extensive during the early years of Auschwitz
(1941-43) prior to the full development of the gas chambers. They were usually
performed by medical technicians or brutalized prisoners, who served as
surrogates for the doctors. SS doctors had similar responsibility for another
group of phenol injections ordered by the Auschwitz Political Department
(actually the Gestapo) for what were known as hidden executions:
the killing of such people as Polish political prisoners or occasionally German
military or other personnel condemned to death for various reasons. Doctors
also attended other executions of political prisoners usually by
shooting in order to declare the victim officially dead.
connection with all of these killings, doctors signed false death certificates,
attributing each death of an Auschwitz inmate or an outsider brought there to
be killed to a specific illness (cardiac, respiratory, infectious, or
whatever). Those Jews selected for death at the ramp, never having entered the
camp, required no death certificates.
SS dentists, who worked closely
with doctors and also performed selections, were in charge of supervising
prisoner work Kommandos in pulling out gold teeth and fillings of dead
Jews after they had been gassed.
SS doctors (according to Höss)
were supposed to perform abortions on alien
(fremdvölkisch) women found to be pregnant. Whether or not that
category was meant to include Jewish women (as opposed to their being in a
separate category of their own), abortions were performed on them in secret by
Jewish prisoner doctors when it was learned that a diagnosis of pregnancy in
Jewish women meant immediate gassing.
In the case of official corporal
punishment (for instance, whipping), SS doctors were required both to sign
forms attesting to the physical capacity of an inmate to absorb such
punishment, as well as to be present while it was administered.
doctors also consulted actively on determining how best to keep selections
running smoothly making recommendations, for example, about whether
women and children should be separated or allowed to proceed along the line
together. They also advised on policies concerning numbers of people permitted
to remain alive, weighing the benefits to the Nazi regime of the work function
against the increased health problems created by permitting relatively
debilitated people to live.
Doctors technical knowledge was also
called upon with regard to the burning of bodies, a great problem in Auschwitz
during the summer of 1944, when the arrival of enormous numbers of Hungarian
Jews overstrained the facilities of the crematoria, so that bodies had to be
burned in the open.
Selections, the quintessential Auschwitz ritual,
epitomized and maintained the healing-killing paradox. The first selections
performed by the