Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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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.

In 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.

SS 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  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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