Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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[founda…] tion was lacking because they were starving to death.” And, we may add, because the same patients helped one day would be sent to the gas chambers another day, or else utilized to keep the killing structure functioning. This is what Dr. B. called the “schizophrenic situation,” by which he meant ostensible efforts to heal and help in the midst of the fundamental Auschwitz mission of mass killing.

Nazi doctors, Dr. B. tells us, “lived like lords,” because “everything that amounted to actual work was done by the inmates.” This “good life” gave them additional incentive to participate in selections, especially since the alternative, should they have strongly requested a transfer, would probably have been the Russian front, where their lives would have been in extreme danger.

That “good life” included elegant demeanor, especially from the standpoint of inmates (“SS doctors were extremely well dressed, . . . distant gentlemen, who did not touch an inmate,” according to prisoner doctor Henri Q;), and an encompassing presence in the camp (“They, managed the situation . . . at the infirmary ... selections, ... at the station ... the crematoria .... They were everywhere”).

These legitimaters not only of “medical” triage-murder but of medicalized Auschwitz killing were aided in their function by their sense that all Jews were already condemned. What Dr. Magda V. said of Mengele applies more generally to SS doctors: “It didn't matter to him [whether he selected someone or not] because he thought that sooner or later they're going [to the gas chamber] .... For him I think we ... were just dead anyhow.” Another survivor similarly called the whole process, “only a play”: that is a staged drama in which “we were all there to be killed: The question was only who was to be killed first.”

For the SS doctor, efficiency in selections became equated with quarantine arrangements and the improvement of actual medical units, all in the service of keeping enough inmates able to work and the camp free of epidemics. Within that context, the SS doctor inevitably came to perceive his professional function to be in neither the killing nor the healing alone, but in achieving the necessary balance. That healing-killing balance, according to the SS doctor Ernst B., was “the problem” for Auschwitz doctors. From that standpoint, as he further explained, the principle of “clearing out” a block when there was extensive diarrhea — sending everyone on it to the gas chambers — could be viewed as “pseudo ethical” and “pseudo idealistic.” Dr. B. meant that such a policy in that environment could be perceived by the doctors themselves as ethical and idealistic in that they carried out their task to perfection on behalf of the higher goal of camp balance.

Detoxifying language contributed to this self-deception. As Dr. Jacob, R. explained, SS doctors were surely cruel in sending people to the gas chambers but “never admitted it”: “They called it going on a transport back to camp.” Another prisoner doctor suggested how far this kind of euphemism contributed to a pervasive atmosphere of denial:  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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