Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 318  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
because he was an “outsider” they could talk more readily to him about their families than they could to their fellow prisoners — again a dubious claim but one that says something about the terrain Dr. B. inhabited in Auschwitz. And he had proof of that shared terrain in warm letters from inmates received after the war.

One reason he could adapt so well was that his assignment there kept him separate from the killing process, which is partly why he could say that “we are pulling the wrong string” in talking so much about the killing: more “in the foreground for … doctors is the problem of starvation.” But even that could be overcome “if one had … or at least believed … one had a task to fulfill and friends for whom … one could do something … good.”

He did describe moments when misery, which usually “one would overlook a lot,” would be suddenly revealed by “a certain, special glance” of a prisoner that would break through one’s “protective cover” (Schirm; literally “umbrella”), and one would feel “the experience of misery or despair in such a situation.” He added that, just as small details move one in connection with beauty, so do “small idylls” of a negative kind, and then “one has to become very active” to overcome the feeling. Yet his Auschwitz dream recurred: “To me the most dreadful thing during the whole time … was again and again the look of this very good friend,” of Simon Cohen who probably was a hallucination. That periodic self accusation was absorbed by and perhaps served a function in, his relatively comfortable overall adaptation. What he derived in particular from his relation to prisoner doctors was suggested in a phrase in a handwritten letter he sent to me, the only one in English, concerning his relationship with the older prisoner professor who had served as mentor to Delmotte: “I adored [the professor] as a father and I believe he also accepted me as a son.” Allowing for Dr. B.’s possible exaggeration, we are nonetheless struck by these two young SS doctors looking to a Jewish prisoner professor as a father figure and possibly experiencing a measure of sibling rivalry in the process. That the feeling was reciprocal was confirmed by warm letters from former prisoner doctors, including those from the professor himself. After reading one of them to me, Dr. B began to muse about “the duty to stay in Auschwitz” and his capacity “to feel quite comfortable there.” He spoke of having in the camp an active sense of the “special calling in me to be a physician.” This statement represents his own relationship to the Auschwitz schizophrenic situation; it could have been made by no other Nazi doctor. 
Dr. B.’s Family: “I Never Told Her the Full Truth” 
Ernst B.’s relationship with his wife and young children was crucial to his Auschwitz life, but indirectly and from a distance. One of his first  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 318 Forward  Next Page