Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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to be achieved by “harmonizing” with fellow SS officers and men as well as with significant inmates. While Ernst B. found most other SS doctors disappointing as people (much less than the élite, in terms of intellect and family background, he had expected), two of them took on special meaning for him: Weber, in ways already mentioned; and Josef Mengele, whose name Dr. B. brought up spontaneously as “the most decent colleague [anständigste Kollege] that I met [there],” a relationship we will return to. In addition, B. was impressed by a nonmedical SS officer, who ran Auschwitz agricultural operations in a way that B. thought was fair and saved lives, providing him with a model of how one could work in Auschwitz constructively and “differently” from most others.*

To become an “insider” among prisoner physicians, he made systematic efforts “to make contacts, to meet people, and to overcome the barrier” between them and himself. His method, as recorded in the epigraph to this chapter, was in the Auschwitz context nothing short of sensational.

Within a few weeks, he felt he had gained the confidence of this prisoner group, felt accepted by SS colleagues, and found himself becoming reasonably comfortable in the camp in general. But that comfort was shattered after about six months by a request from Wirths that B. begin to perform selections. Wirths could not order him to do so (“I was not his subordinate”) but, as chief doctor, could and did apply considerable pressure on him to comply. This was the summer of 1944, when enormous numbers of Hungarian Jews were arriving, making it virtually impossible for the relatively small number of camp doctors to handle all of the selections. B. had the impression that the camp commandant suggested that some of the selections function be taken over by his own nonmedical officers but that Wirths insisted the process remain medical and turned to the Hygienic Institute ordinarily outside of his jurisdiction, as the only source of additional available doctors. Wirths was successful in persuading Weber to select. But B., when repeatedly approached by Wirths, gave a series of reasons for refusing: that he had too much work, found it incompatible with his assignment, and simply could not — was unable psychologically to — do it. He illustrated the last reason by telling Wirths, “I ... observed it [selections] and ... could stand it for only half an hour [and then] had to vomit” — to which Wirths replied, “That will pass. It happens to everyone … Don’t make such a fuss about it.”

When the pressure mounted to the point where Dr. B. felt he might not be able to maintain his resistance, he abruptly boarded the night express to Berlin to seek out Mrugowsky, and told him he was simply unable to
* SS Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Joachim Caesar had a degree as an agronomist. According to Dr. B., Caesar had been close to Himmler, but as the result of a disagreement over SS methods had been sent to Auschwitz as “ironic punishment.” Nonetheless he was put in charge of all agricultural operations at Auschwitz, which, as Langbein says, was a position of great importance to Himmler.¹   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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