|Prisoner Doctors: The Agony of
] tion on many counts. For one thing, since
only prisoner doctors were in direct touch with sick patients, especially
typhus cases, their cooperation was necessary to control epidemics in the camp.
As Ernst B. explained, before mid-1942 if several cases of typhus broke out in
a particular area of the camp, it was shut off . ... All inmates were
gassed (whether or not they showed signs of typhus) .... Then it was
disinfected, and one hoped it would work. But Dr. B. knew that prisoner
doctors used every available means to hinder the SS doctor in recognizing
... an epidemic and hid typhus cases or falsified diagnoses.
doctors sometimes more or less recruited prisoner doctors they thought would be
useful to them. For instance, Dr. Magda V., although very young and medically
inexperienced when arriving in Auschwitz in early 1942, was skillful with her
hands, impressed an SS doctor who saw her perform an emergency tracheotomy, and
was almost immediately made head woman prisoner doctor, a position of authority
she retained during her entire stay in Auschwitz.
Similarly, Dr. Peter
D., an accomplished otolaryngologist working in a small, outlying camp, saved
the life of a fellow prisoner by diagnosing his condition as acute mastoiditis
with extradural abscess (external to the brain membrane, the dura mater) and
operated on him with carpenters tools, the only instruments available.
This was, in Auschwitz, a dangerously illegal act. Nonetheless, when the SS
doctor in charge of the camp, Horst Fischer, found out about it, he quickly had
Dr. D. transferred to a large hospital at Monowitz and given a special ward of
fifteen beds for work on ear, nose, and throat cases, as well as appropriate
These prisoner doctors were recruited, first of
all, because the SS doctor needed to maintain actual medical work in the camp.
In addition, many of the prisoner doctors knew the German language; and their
knowledge was useful for certain kinds of reports and records, often false
ones, which could be more important than actual medical treatment. Their
recruitment could even depend on neatness. One prisoner doctor, for example,
was tested by the SS doctor Bruno Weber, head of the Hygienic Institute, for
his capacity to prepare an accurate, well-turned-out graph on the basis of
numbers derived from work in the laboratory. This prisoner doctor was inspired
to something close to perfection by the memory of a young Frenchman
who had been similarly tested and whose graph was a little fuzzy and had
a few smudges from erasures resulting in his rejection. A few
months later he was a Muselmann.2
But the most remarkable recruiting procedure of all was that of Dr.
Wanda J., whose ability as a surgical gynecologist and hospital organizer was
recognized while she was a prisoner at a different camp, and led to a visit
from Dr. Enno Lolling, overall head of concentration-camp medical services.
Lolling explained to her that she was to be transferred to Auschwitz under an
unprecedented arrangement in which her hair would not have to be shaved and she
would not have a number tattooed on her