Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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they did this, but it had to do with a mixture of fear and resentment of her superior (“[She had all the] advantages [of status and authority]. She should do it [the selections] herself”) and with frustration once more at being given this “responsibility” while her own medical side was cruelly destroyed (“We were not doctors at all .... We had no rights .... no drugs,... nothing.... We were like puppets”) When the superior finally located her two subordinates, Dr. N. said, “She was very angry ... [at] how we let her do this thing alone, and [she said]: ‘Do you think [it] is collegial to do such a thing?’”

Prisoner doctors used their connections with SS doctors to attempt every possible ploy to save people from selections. One prisoner doctor conveyed their combination of ingenious dedication (“We managed to conceal essential records and told patients to go to the bathroom”) and something close to futility (“In this way, even if we could not do very much, they perhaps had a chance or at least could die a more or less natural death”).

Friendly relations could also be cultivated with certain SDG noncommissioned officers, some of whom had been medical and theological students. A prisoner doctor described one who was considered especially decent and would say quietly, “It is likely that they will come [for selections] tomorrow.” Others could be bribed so that requests that they help arrange for numbers to be changed in life-saving ways would be accompanied by envelopes with money.

Dr. Henri Q. stressed the importance of humor, telling of a middle-aged French-Jewish dentist who kept “making jokes, laughing, and telling us stories”: “I told myself he was completely crazy.” He would say such things to Dr. Q. as “Dear Marquis, at five o’clock we are to have tea together,” making Q. wonder whether the dentist “did not realize what was going on here.” But, in retrospect, he helped the prisoner doctors “by telling his stories” — that is, by creating a consistent debunking alternative, however unreal, to the terrible actuality.
One cannot overemphasize the sea of death in which prisoner doctors lived. In addition to constant selections, there were, especially during the early days, punitive roll calls on medical blocks in which everyone, no matter how sick, was forced outside to the front of the block, either to stand at attention or, if unable to do so, to lie on the ground. Even in cold weather they were dressed only in underwear and were sometimes doused with cold water, resulting in many deaths. One had to carry on as though life could be continued: “Strange how everybody knew and did not know the everpresent proximity of death.”4 Together with the daily routine was constant talk (and evidence) of “going up the chimney.” Even as they committed themselves to the struggle to live, prisoner doctors could believe, as did Gerda N., “that the death sentence was given to all of us . . .[whether for] ... today or tomorrow.”

Threats and pressures from SS doctors could make that death sentence  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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