Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 319  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
“A Human Being in an SS Uniform“: Ernst B.  
Auschwitz reactions was “I had done something wrong, especially in relation to my wife.” He was referring to the fact that his insistence upon joining the military, which she had opposed, had taken him to Auschwitz, even though “I really hadn’t wanted what I had ended up doing.” After their bizarre arrival there to “it took half a year before I met with [her] again” — because of duty requirements and, one suspects, a certain ambivalence about seeing her. About Auschwitz activities, he told her, “I have nothing to do with the whole business — am only in this institute.” And in fact, “I never told her the full truth.” As he began to see her more frequently — he and Weber arranged for him to spend a week at home every two or three months — he “had a good feeling and a bad feeling.” He wanted to see his wife and children (“I was of course very happy, to be there”) but was aware of a feeling of guilt (“I ... hoped to make things good again”). He felt the need to keep his wife and Auschwitz separate.

He described extreme “inner resistance” to the thought of her visiting him there (“I never would have considered the idea”). During those first days when they were there together, she asked questions about the camp and was given some of the usual fictions (in such a large place it was inevitable that many people died, so that a crematorium was needed, and the smoke was due to the fact that it was not working properly); and although over time she inevitably learned much of the truth, he did not wish to expose her to “a closer look at things.” Upon returning from each visit, he was also troubled by the “contrast” Auschwitz presented to the peaceful family scene, creating in him strong feelings of “how lucky one could be not to be stationed there.”*

In 1944, one of their children died a crib death at the age of eight months. Dr. B. described his wife’s reaction as one of “great shock,” but his own as less intense because he had seen little of the infant, and since “the future did not look very bright … dying as a baby might not be so tragic.” But he added that it also could be a “reasonable indication of what was to come” — possibly an indirect way of expressing the sense that they were being punished, perhaps by God, for Auschwitz.

Dr. B. associated thoughts of his wife and children with his inclinations to help inmates, but he attributed those inclinations even more to his “bond" (Verbindung) with his parents, especially his father. He spoke of the latter’s “life of integrity” and “refus[al] to make any concessions” of a kind that would have improved his financial situation. And then Dr. B. expressed an additional thought: “If they both [his father and mother] were to find out that I had come to do these criminal acts [zu kriminellen
* One prisoner doctor remembered what he thought to be a visit of Ernst B.’s wife: “She was an attractive young woman who greeted us when passing with ‘Good day’ [Guten Tag — an extremely polite greeting in Auschwitz] but otherwise avoided areas where we were.” Either he was referring to B’s initial arrival or she actually made a visit that B. did not remember or care to discuss. In any case, this prisoner doctor thought that B. was sufficiently buoyed by seeing his wife that he began painting soon afterward.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 319 Forward  Next Page