|Prisoner Doctors: Struggles to
| doctors were more likely to be saved by one another. Dr.
Erich G. told of a colleague, now a lecturer in biology in Eastern Europe, who,
when in Auschwitz, lost his motivation to live and would certainly have died
except for two interventions on the part of prisoner colleagues. On one
occasion, G. himself grabbed his friend after spotting him walking toward the
electric fence; and on another, a third colleague took him from a group of
people selected for the gas chamber (the depressed man had sought the
selection), gave him a slap in the face, . . . hauled [him] away, and he
survived. That mutual expectation of support could carry over from
Auschwitz to postwar life, as in the case of another colleague G. helped save
after the latters health had deteriorated so far he was almost a
Muselmann. Years later, this man, then ill and working in the same
medical department as G., came to him and said, Please save my life the
way you did in Auschwitz.
Another aspect of Auschwitz healing.
was the necessity for prisoner doctors to falsify diagnoses in order to prevent
patients from being selected for death. Dr. Michael Z., for instance, told how,
when working in the bacteriological laboratory of the Hygienic Institute,
I often gave false results because when there were cases of Koch bacilli,
... tuberculosis, ... [or] malaria, [if I did not report] negative results, ...
it was automatically the gas chamber ... .[So] I took it upon myself, when I
knew it was an inmate, to give a result that would not harm him. Again,
Z. and other prisoner doctors took advantage of the SS doctors ignorance
and distaste for sick inmates. For example, prisoner doctors (when working on
the hospital block) would diagnose actual typhus cases as flu, knowing that
these patients were dirty and full of wounds, sores, and that the
SS doctors would not come near them: Then it was easy to tell them [the
SS doctors] stories.
But at other times, saving lives depended
upon struggling to establish the true diagnosis as when SS doctors
wrongly diagnosed typhus in people whose fever was actually due to pneumonia.
Dr. Rudolf Vitec testified about one such situation, when he was unable to
prevent these misdiagnosed patients from being sent to the gas chamber, and was
himself transferred to a corpse-carrying detachment for remonstrating with SS
Also necessary was for prisoner doctors to learn to
refuse certain requests, as well as the proper way to refuse. Dr. Z. resisted
the ultimate threat to his healing identity the strong suggestion on the
part of a prisoner functionary that he give lethal phenol injections. Dr. Z.
insisted, I do not know how ... and what I do not know how to do I cannot
do. He had apparently sensed (correctly) that inability rather than
opposition was the attitude that enabled one to resist without dire
In order to remain healers, prisoner doctors had to
exploit SS doctors antagonisms and rivalries. Dr. Wanda J. believed that
she was able to put together good hospital facilities on notorious Block 10