|Prisoner Doctors: Struggles to Heal
|of the notoriously cruel camp overseer Irma Grese. There
was even a confrontation between the two SS officers when Klein called Dr.
Lengyel out from a punishment roll call on a Sunday in order to bring her
medications for patients, and succeeded in his purpose despite Greses
angry declaration: Do not forget, Doctor, that I give the orders
here!¹ Yet Klein was the same Nazi medical ideologue who had
compared killing Jews to getting rid of a gangrenous appendix (see pages 15-
There was one remarkable SS man not a physician but an SDG
non-commissioned officer named Wilhelm Flagge who was associated by the
prisoners only with healing. Flagge was always gentle and helpful with
patients, constantly countering the influence of a cruel chief guard, Hanna
Bormann (who would claim they were feigning illness in order to avoid work), by
insisting on the autonomy of the medical division (as Dr. Lottie M. remembers):
You have no authority in here. It is my area. I say they stay. The
fact that other SDG personnel inserted the gas and gave the phenol injections
intensified inmates gratitude toward Flagge.
degradation, prisoner doctors could be extraordinarily moved by the slightest
expression, of humanity emanating from their Nazi masters, and especially from
Nazi doctors. Dr. Erich G. remembered with almost mythic intensity a brief
encounter with a German doctor in the camp: [He] shook hands with me.
[He] was really human. And Dr. Gerda N. similarly spoke of a cherished
memory of a very young German doctor whom she encountered after
being evacuated from Auschwitz to another camp, and who asked to see the very
sick children on her ward: I suddenly saw in his eyes ... tremendous pity
. . . . He pitied those children who were there so sick without real treatment
[and] he pitied me.
Medical teaching and learning patterns
provided some of the most paradoxical aspects of these relationships, where the
mentors were the prisoner slaves Jewish, Polish, and German prisoner
doctors and the students were their jailer masters. For instance, when
the SS doctor Horst Fischer, impressed with Dr. Peter Rs surgical skills,
decided to transfer him to the large Monowitz hospital and provide him with
instruments and beds for his patients, the arrangements did not stop there. Dr.
D. was required to let Fischer know whenever he planned to operate, because
Fischer insisted upon being there and in fact scrubbing (the term.
for the disinfection procedure one follows as part of a surgical team) and
assisting in the operations. Dr. D. remembered Fischer as a doctor who
wanted to learn ... [and] was interested ... in everything [pertaining to the
Peter D. and other prisoner doctors told of
Fischers involvement in a situation of psychiatric learning as well. A
Polish professor of psychiatry,
* But Dr. D. had to be
careful with his assistant: once, when congratulating Fischer upon successfully
completing his first mastoid operation under Peter D.s supervision, the
former replied angrily, You make fun of me as if I were a mere
student And D. commented to me, I have to say that, apart from his
SS side, he was a real human being.