|Prisoner Doctors: The Agony of
| 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
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.
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.
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