Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Transition to Auschwitz

Ernst B. was a young general practitioner, just a few years out of medical school, when the war began in September 1939. By the following year, partly in response to the national patriotic enthusiasm surrounding early German victories, he began to develop an intense urge to enlist. As a young man, he felt, “I must take part,” but had difficulty doing so because wartime medical planners in his region had declared him essential. Then, during a chance encounter on a city street, a friend from his medical school told him, “Heydrich [chief of the Reich Main Security Office] is a good friend of mine, and I'll arrange that for you.” Dr. B. said that at the time he made no special distinction between the Waffen SS, in which the arrangement was to be made, and the army, except to consider the SS to be “like a good club.” Months later the call came, and he was sent for a period of basic training followed by special officers' training. He tended to dismiss this sequence as essentially an orientation program for medical officers within the Waffen SS but acknowledged that there was some discussion of SS ideology and focus on the SS as an élite group.

Because of a background in bacteriology, he was assigned to one of the Hygienic Institutes, considered “a normal medical-military command within the Waffen SS.” From there after interviews in which his ideological views were explored, he was transferred to the special concentration-camp division of the Hygienic Institute. His impression was that those so chosen were considered “ideologically steadfast … [and] reliable.” The high standing of his sponsor as a friend of Heydrich probably also played a part: when summoned to get his assignment from Professor Mrugowsky, the overall chief of all SS Hygienic Institutes, “I was a very small man but he received me as one of the inner circle … because of that [original] recommendation.” Mrugowsky paid him the high honor of assigning him to Auschwitz, telling him almost jauntily, “There you will find a good friend.”

Though Ernst B. had heard of Dachau “and maybe one or two camps in northern Germany,” he claimed to know nothing about Auschwitz and “nothing about the extermination of Jews” at that time. Certainly he was completely unprepared for what he encountered upon arriving in Auschwitz in mid 1943, his relative innocence attested to by the fact that he had with him his wife (who had joined him at a duty assignment not too far away just before his transfer). When driven through the camp in an open vehicle, they were shocked by what they saw: “Starving people working, … a great number of them, … everywhere guards …. Far off in the distance, a large fence …. It was very bad.”

They were taken to the office of Bruno Weber, the “good friend” Mrugowsky had promised him, a man Dr. B. had liked and respected as his superior at the first Hygienic Institute to which he had been assigned. After he and his wife had both expressed their horror at what they had  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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