Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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repeatedly said that “the selections during the war with his own people in connection with emergency care — who got care and who didn’t — that these were much more problematic” than selections in Auschwitz.

Duty arrangements for selections were simple enough.* The chief doctor (Wirths) provided the names of physicians — and later of pharmacists and dentists — under his jurisdiction to the ranking noncommissioned officer of the medical unit (usually a top sergeant [SS-Stabsscharführer] or a technical sergeant [Oberscharführer]) and ordered him to make up a duty roster for ramp service. The rosters included the doctor with primary responsibility for the selections on a particular day as well as a back-up doctor. The latter was supposed to be present, but was by no means always there, especially toward the last phases of the gassings in 1944. Rosters had to be signed by Wirths and posted one week in advance. Similar rosters were prepared for the ramp duty of medical corpsmen, including Desinfektoren who were the only ones permitted to handle the gas.

When the commandant’s office was notified of the arrival of a transport, it immediately informed the SS medical division. That office in turn notified the physician on duty as well as the highest-ranking noncommissioned Desinfektor and the responsible people in the motor pool, from which the ambulance or other vehicle (usually bearing the Red Cross sign) was sent. This careful set of internal arrangements ensured that the selections from the standpoint of SS doctors and personnel, were conducted in an orderly and proper fashion — that is, according to regulations.† That controlled orderliness extended to the functioning of the Jewish Sonderkommando in the crematoria, who were coordinated closely with this medical structure.

Each selection was greatly influenced by instructions from above concerning the relative number of arriving Jews to be killed or permitted to survive. In general terms, policy was set in Berlin by higher SS officials, including Himmler himself. But decisions were also greatly influenced by Auschwitz deliberations between the chief physician and the commandant. Overall there was a basic conflict between the police arm of the SS which considered itself responsible for the annihilation of all Jews; and the economic arm of the organization, which responded to the increasingly desperate wartime need for productive slave labor. Wirths and other doctors saw themselves as essentially in the second group because, in addition to performing selections, their task included maintaining the health of these slave laborers, at least to the degree of enabling them to work. But SS doctors could take the opposite view as well, claiming that overcrowding and extremely poor hygienic conditions could lead to devastating epidemics. They would therefore insist that fewer arrivals be admitted to the camp; that, in effect, a greater percentage of them be
* These were discussed by a former inmate who had worked closely with Wirths, and by Dr. B.

† The term frequently used to describe this is ordnungsgemässer Ablauf (“proper course”).  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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