Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Prisoner Doctors: The Agony of Selections 
experienced in the camp: And we have seen how favored treatment as a doctor could be accompanied by pain and guilt concerning murdered family members (see pages 167-69).

Until called on to practice in this way as doctors, many prisoners had been as subject to murder, brutality of various kinds, and extreme humiliation as any other inmates, sometimes even more so. Dr. Alexander O. described to me how, when he was at first put together with about twelve other doctors in a Kommando assigned to demolition work, he came upon a large ditch that had served as a toilet and was filled with fecal matter: “As doctors it was our special privilege to empty this enormous ditch, to demolish the toilet shack and clean up, but to do so camp style — that is, not with pumping tools but with our hands.” Others, while ostensibly serving as prisoner-block physicians were assigned, as one of their main functions, “to transport cadavers — there were ten, twenty, thirty of them each morning in front of each barracks — to the cadaver depot.”

The improvement brought about by the new chief physician, Eduard Wirths, included the utilization of political prisoners who in some cases had experience of medical work in Dachau and other camps, but also a more professional SS medical contingent: the SDG corpsmen and among them the Desinfektoren who had been trained for both healing and killing. As an aid to combatting epidemics, the Hygienic Institute (see pages 304-5) was also brought to Auschwitz at about that time, and was to provide employment for knowledgeable prisoner physicians — “many famous professors from Prague and from Budapest and from everywhere,” as the SS doctor Ernst B. put it.

But the greater number of prisoner physicians had to work on hospital blocks where, under the control of SS doctors, they were more vulnerable to being drawn into selections.

Some came to the medical blocks first as patients and learned quickly about medical selections, sometimes by going through them. Even when sent to work on these medical blocks, they were technically registered as patients, so that I. G. Farben could avoid paying for them as workers. And the first exposure to a medical block, when checking in as a patient, could take on the characteristics of a prisoner-doctor initiation rite. The Czech doctor Jacob R. told me, “I saw from the collecting room of the patients, the loading of the corpses in the cellar of the hospital — the way they were handled like logs. [It was] my first impression of what Auschwitz really was.”

A working assignment as a doctor, especially for a Jewish inmate, could literally elevate one from the dregs of Auschwitz to a situation of special privilege. Dr. Michael Z., who spent two months on a Kommando carrying dirt back and forth in his jacket (“Always running and all the time there were capos who beat up on us”), was transferred to a new block, which “was reserved for the Prominenz [“celebrities”], for the V.I.P.’s, for the capos, for the block chiefs.” When Dr. Z. became ill with typhus, he was protected from selections for a while by a colleague; and even when that  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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