Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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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 Grese’s 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- 16).

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.

In their 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 R’s 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 case].”*

Peter D. and other prisoner doctors told of Fischer’s 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.”   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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