Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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“A Human Being in an SS Uniform”: Ernst B.  
that the impression was strong enough for B. to embark upon a real search. We can say that the illusion (as it probably was) and the dream were insistent assertions of Ernst B.’s humanity, and of his discomfort and guilt at being part of the Auschwitz machinery. In their questioning of his personal camp reality (“It can't be possible that you stand here …. How can you belong to those people? That can’t be you”), they expressed his resistance to succumbing, or at least to succumbing completely, to the very “Auschwitz mentality” he was in the process of discovering. At the same time, they charted his transition from ordinary man to Auschwitz doctor.

His second lesson was the direct confrontation with the way in which SS doctors functioned, or what he called the Auschwitz “system of treatment”:  
The SS doctors … supervised the work of the prisoner doctors, … mainly … seeing that the work was done economically. In other words, the person … who cannot be expected to work any longer will be selected for the crematorium. It was a terrible shock to me to see this procedure …. Each day, whenever one went through the camp, one saw … groups that had been sorted out [selected] … [and] were waiting for the truck to depart [for the crematorium].
Dr. B. made clear to me that these two sets of images (of a victimized Simon Cohen swallowed up by the death factory and of groups. of inmates who had been selected by his own colleagues and subjected to the same fate) were part of a profound psychological shift. The nature of that shift, of the Auschwitz transition period, was reflected in his analogy of the slaughterhouse (in which one first experiences horror but after a time adapts sufficiently to enjoy one’s steaks [page 197]). For him as for others, heavy drinking was a central element in the process of numbing and usually took place at the Officers’ Club, to which Weber regularly accompanied him, introducing him to other officers “and above all the … doctors with whom [he] had to work.” Under alcohol, Dr. B. could express doubts about Auschwitz to which his drinking partners responded with statements of nonresponsibility and resignation (see page 196). The doubts themselves, as he explained further, were “romantically [melodramatically] overplayed” (mit Romantik überspielt) — fantasies of escape rather than serious moral questioning. When drinking heavily, for instance, “I could think of nothing other than, ‘How did I come to be here? … How can I … go to Switzerland with my wife and four children?’” Then “one drank even more” toward a state beyond any thought: “And the next day one was very sober and kind of realized that what one had thought about the previous night was in a practical sense impossible.”

His transition was aided by his strong desire to cease being an “outsider” and to become, as soon as possible, an Auschwitz “insider” — a goal  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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