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. 
 
Friendship with Mengele 
 
How much he was one of them is revealed in his relationship to Mengele, which leads us to the heart of Ernst B.’s own moral and psychological ambiguity. During our first interview, while discussing the intensity of his involvement in Auschwitz to the point of his not acting on an opportunity to leave, he spontaneously said to me, “I had very good contact with Mengele. Have you ever heard the name Mengele?” And that was when he declared, “I really must say that he was the most decent colleague I met there.” During our five interviews together, over a two-year period, Dr. B. retreated not an inch from that startling judgment. He always warmed to the subject, intent on correcting what he took to be widespread misunderstandings about, the man and what he represented in Auschwitz. It was wrong to talk about Mengele as the “typical SS doctor,” B. insisted; rather, Mengele was “the exception,” separate from the older group long associated with the camps, independent in attitude, and “on principle opposed to the system of the, concentration camps.” B. pictured Mengele, Weber, and himself as having much in common: Weber critical of the extermination of the Jews; Mengele equally critical of the extermination of the Polish intelligentsia; and B. becoming aware that Mengele’s “general evaluation of the camp was quite similar to [B.’s own].”

Dr. B. and Mengele had much else in common — as doctors in their early thirties with a similar upper-middle-class family background, and as Bavarians with traditional antipathy to Prussians. More than that, Dr. B. remembered Mengele as “helpful,” “a really fine comrade” (sehr kameradschaftlicher; literally, “very comradely”), and admirable in his open expression of “outspoken antipathies and sympathies [for people].”

When I brought up the question of Mengele’s human experiments, B. sprang to the defense of his friend: human experiments were “a relatively minor matter” in Auschwitz; children (who made up most of the twins Mengele studied) had little chance to survive in Auschwitz,but Mengele made certain they were well fed and taken care of; Mengele sought a better diet for patients on medical blocks and fought the corruption that siphoned off their food; wild rumors and fantasies developed about Mengele because he worked in a special room that others were forbidden to enter. And when I asked B. whether he would change his views if I presented him with extensive evidence of Mengele’s practice of occasionally sending one or both twins to the gas chamber, B. answered unhesitatingly in the negative “because under the conditions of Auschwitz one must always say that Mengele’s experiments were not forms of cruelty.” In defense of Mengele, he repeatedly invoked the “conditions of Auschwitz” or the “Auschwitz atmosphere.” That is, since one had the opportunity to perform “kinds of experiments that could not be made in a normal world,” Mengele “did just the type of scientific research that was possible under the specific conditions of the camp.” Moreover, Mengele “assured” his friend that he “most [B.’s emphasis] carefully prevented them  
 
THE NAZI DOCTORS:
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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