Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Prisoner Doctors: The Agony of Selections 
That degree of cooperation could save the lives of at least the relatively healthy patients. 
But the problem then was, as Dr. Jacob R. put it, “becoming part of the system — this was the most troubling thing.” Dedicated to trying to help people, he told me with characteristic sadness and honesty of “the practice which haunts me all the time — which I have never spoken about . . . the practice of selections of ... prisoners ... unable to work.” He went on to describe how certain patients would be very weak and show no improvement after days of hospitalization: “So sooner or later they would be [recognized as] unable to work — and we were unable to help. So they went off . . . to the gas chambers — controlled [selected] by the SS doctors. And we had to decide who he [the SS doctor] would see.” The dilemma for prisoner doctors was how much to become a part of the system (in Dr. R.’s words); how much to cooperate in selections. When requested or ordered by SS doctors to make lists of patients, prisoner doctors would often consult with one another to try to come to a common position — usually a compromise in which they would agree to limited cooperation (listing obviously emaciated patients) while struggling to save those they could.

They also had disagreements with each other, which, according to Dr. Lottie M., could be difficult to discuss candidly because of resulting feelings of pain, conflict, and anger toward one another. Thus, prisoner doctors were pressed by their Nazi medical rulers into a moral dilemma which, however resolved, had to result in a sense of guilt: one could save lives only by contributing to Auschwitz selection policies; one could avoid that involvement only by refusing to exercise one’s capacity to save lives.

Pressures from Nazi doctors could cause prisoner doctors’ behavior toward one another to swing from solidarity to silence to contention: So convoluted could matters become that one prisoner doctor's not helping out with a selection could be experienced by another as a form of betrayal. Dr. Gerda N., for instance, told me how she and a colleague served under their Jewish doctor friend and superior, who generally protected her two younger colleagues. They, in turn, would cooperate with her when she conveyed to them Mengele’s orders for identifying sick patients: “We ... tried to select the ones which were likely to die in a day or two.” But on one occasion, she herself was particularly agitated and told them, “You have until tonight to give me ... twenty-five people who have to be selected,” because Mengele had demanded this. “And if you don’t do it, he said he will shoot us.” At that point, Dr. N. and her friend “broke down” and “decided to stop it [their cooperation],” and hid themselves until well past the deadline. Dr. N. was not clear exactly why  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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