Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 219  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
Prisoner Doctors: The Agony of Selections 
[vehe…] mently, then and later, against any cooperation with SS doctors tended to have made their own adaptation, their own quid pro quo which had to include a measure of such cooperation.

The ultimate healing-killing paradox within which prisoner doctors lived was their recognition, at some level of consciousness, that as their capacity for healing increased (with the general improvement of medical and living conditions in Auschwitz), the gas chambers and crematoria were achieving their maximum function. Dr. Jacob R. had that paradox in mind when he contrasted (in the epigraph to this chapter) his own relatively favorable treatment (“nearly like a human being”) with “the reality of the camp.” Although he himself, according to later testimony, helped many fellow inmates medically and spiritually, he nonetheless expressed the moral dilemma of prisoner doctors. At one point, he said, “We could keep our values — basic values — our medical values,” but another time: “The whole set of values [for prisoner doctors] was completely changed. One really didn’t know what was right or wrong.” To different degrees and in varying ways, both of his observations were true.

Dr. Ernst B. gave the SS doctor’s point of view on how the latter needed help from the prisoner doctor even to perform “good” selections (that is, kill the weak and retain the relatively strong for working): “He [the SS doctor] personally treated absolutely no one .... How should he know on his own that he is selecting correctly? He can’t. So he is dependent upon the chief of the prisoner physicians.”

An SS doctor who “wanted to do it the easy way," Dr. B. further explained, would say to that ranking prisoner physician, "I need a list of one hundred people tomorrow." A reluctant prisoner physician would be encouraged by the SS doctor to pass along the requirement to a prisoner colleague, or the SS doctor might himself approach a different prisoner doctor he knew to be more compliant. "If he thought he had received a ‘good list’ so that ... he could say, . . . when they were marching past, ‘Those are really the worst,’ he would continue to go about things that way. But if he considered himself to have received a ‘bad list,’ he would either turn to a different prisoner doctor or take the attitude, ‘Next time I'll do it myself.’”

Another kind of SS doctor — whom Dr. B. described as “the self-confident, responsible, ideologically absolute SS-firm type” — would check the patients’ records, have them appear before him, and take over the entire process himself. But even that kind of SS doctor was likely to draw prisoner doctors into the process in some degree by asking them about the physical status of patients. In practice, SS doctors might go about matters a little more indirectly, seeking as much cooperation as possible from prisoner doctors in locating the weaker patients and making decisions. Prisoner doctors could find indirect ways of resisting some of these pressures, and avoid the dangerous position of becoming a specific target for an SS doctor’s anger. A man with a sensitive conscience, Dr. Jacob R.  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 219 Forward  Next Page