Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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he did not feel capable of performing selections, and wished to leave the camp, was met with a cool declaration that “according to a ‘Führer order,’ service in a concentration camp was considered front-line duty, and that any refusal was considered a desertion” (see pages 393-94).³

Pressure and meritorship could combine, as in the case of Franz Lucas who, known to have a certain reluctance to select, was taken to the ramp by Wirths and Mengele and more or less shown how to go about things. Lucas apparently tried several ploys, including feigned illness, to avoid selecting; and even after complying, his kindness and medical help to prisoners led to a dressing down and an eventual transfer.4

In general the evidence suggests that Wirths preferred persuasion to threat; but that a doctor could, if sufficiently determined, avoid performing selections without repercussions — though only if he expressed his reluctance as inability rather than defiance. There were a few accounts of noncommissioned officers who broke down in response to ramp duty. While Wirths in one case was reputed to have raged and screamed and insisted that during the fifth year of the war, one could not afford “sympathy with such sentimentalities,” such men were generally given different duties. Official attitudes varied and Wirths is even said to have responded to an SS doctor’s reluctance to select with the comment: “Finally, a person with character.”

Whether he said exactly that, he fiercely retained his prerogatives regarding medical control of selections. Dr. B. reported, for instance, that during the crisis of the Hungarian transports, when a camp commander learned that there were too few doctors to perform all of the selections. required and offered to assign some of his own people Wirths replied firmly, “No that is my responsibility. I don’t want anyone else doing it.”

After describing selections as having so permeated Auschwitz routine as to become “like the weather.” Dr. B immediately added “like a snowstorm” so that “when it is there one is unable to think about it,” thereby suggesting that selections were not a calm but an agitated fact of life.

The socialization of SS doctors to Auschwitz killing was enhanced by the camp’s isolation from the world outside. The connecting medical figure with outside authority was Enno Lolling, who came frequently to the camp from his Berlin office and was essentially incompetent and a heavy drinker. Ernst B had the impression that Lolling ’s superiors preferred not to know too many details about the camps, and that there was a general policy of “screening them off” from regular SS units. Camp doctors perpetuated the isolation by their reluctance, in Dr. B’s phrase, to let others “see their cards.” The result was, as he put it with only partial exaggeration, that “a concentration camp [became] a totally self-contained entity, absolutely isolated from everything — especially Auschwitz.”

Doctors assigned there, then, had limited contact with anything but Auschwitz reality. They became preoccupied with adapting themselves to that reality, and moral revulsion could be converted into feelings of discomfort, unhappiness, anxiety, and despair. Subjective struggles could  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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