|AUSCHWITZ: THE RACIAL CURE
|those selected, and once I even stole before the eyes
of the camp doctor . . a pile of... reports from which the numbers for the
gassing list were supposed to be taken.7 But mostly, like all selections, those in the
camp proceeded inexorably.
On two occasions entire camp populations the
Czech family camp and the Gypsy camp were, in effect, selected for the
gas chambers. These were not selections in the usual sense: there was no doctor
dividing people into those who died and those who lived.* But there was in each
case a high-level order (from Berlin) for the annihilation of a specific group
of thousands of people which had previously been kept intact. The events were
perceived in the camp as large-scale selections.
It is likely that
doctors were involved in these decisions, considering the health problems posed
by these family camps particularly the Gypsy camp, which was described
by many as a quagmire of starvation and disease to a degree exceptional even
for Auschwitz. Certainly, when the order did come from above, doctors were key
figures in conducting the mass killing.
Consider the following
description by a former prisoner then part of the Sonderkommando
and therefore a close witness of these events of the first of two mass
annihilations of the Czech (Jewish) family camp, which took place on 8 March
1944 and claimed (according to Wolken) 3,792 men, women, and children. The
Nazis had utilized the Czechs most of whom arrived in September 1943
from the model ghetto at Theresienstadt for extensive propaganda
campaigns, including the careful creation of a documentary film radically
falsifying camp arrangements all this associated with a rumor that the
camp was under the protection of the International Red Cross. But, in carrying
out the killing, the SS realized that inmates there had been in Auschwitz long
enough to recognize what was happening, and therefore treated them with great
and overt brutality:
[In the dressing room of the crematorium]
people's blood-stained and battered heads and faces proved that there was
scarcely anyone who had been able to dodge the truncheon blows in the yard.
Their faces were ashen with fear and grief . . . . Only a few days ago had
Lagerführer [Johann] Schwarzhuber promised them, on his word of
honor as an SS leader, that they and their families would be going to
Heydebreck [an I. G. Farben plant] . . . . Hope and illusions had vanished.
What was left was disappointment, despair, and anger.
They began to bid
each other farewell. Husbands embraced their wives and children. Everybody was
in tears. Mothers turned to their chil- [
* But doctors could arrange
to save a few people (see pages 232-33).