|A Human Being in an SS
Uniform: Ernst B.
|with such troubling matters as Jewish persecutions, his
early SS training, and some of the more sordid details of the Auschwitz
transition period. Nonetheless, his rendition of Auschwitz in that first
interview was remarkable in detail, candor, and psychological atmosphere.
Though I was not without a certain restraint, the tone of the interview was
friendly. Later my assistant who did the interpreting expressed his amazement
at how two people like Ernst B. and myself, whose lives had been so
antithetical to one another, could communicate so well at a first meeting.
Because of Dr. B.s continuing enthusiasm I was able to schedule a
second day-long interview later the same week. He then made clear his
wifes reservations about our meetings, having to do with her association
of Auschwitz with his subsequent imprisonment and her sense that the interviews
could cause him subsequent harm. She in fact made two appearances during the
interview, in which she expressed these feelings and more. During one she said
haltingly in English, I am not against you just against
Auschwitz.. And a short time, later, with B. absent, having been called
away briefly to see a patient she again came in, lit the Advent candles on the
Christmas tree (it was the third Sunday of Advent), and more or less lingered
in the room without saying anything. My assistant and I had the impression that
she wished to draw us into a modest religious ritual, a kind of spiritual
communion; but although there was beauty in the scene, framed as it was by a
wooded landscape at dusk in the distance, I was aware of my own sense of not
being at all ready for an experience of communion with her at that moment.
That second interview was the longest and most detailed of the five.
Notable was Dr. B.s willingness to expose increasingly his vulnerability
and conflict: in connection with the Delmotte episode and his bad
conscience toward the other SS doctor, and his Auschwitz dreams with
their element of self-condemnation.
The third interview was an
important turning point. He began by complimenting me on the clarity of case
studies in a book I sent him in response to his request to see earlier work of
mine. But he then emphasized how people were likely to reconstruct past events
in a way that was favorable to them. He made clear he was referring to himself,
and was telling me, in effect, that I should not accept what he told me about
his Auschwitz experiences as the full or only truth. He was struggling for
candor and perhaps at the same time expressing a new version of one of his
consistent themes: that Auschwitz was so complex and paradoxical that it was
not really graspable or recoverable to memory.
But now his insistent
return to Mengeles virtues began to reveal the extent of his own Nazi
involvement. His stress on the rationality of his and
Mengeles discussions of the far reaches of SS ideology was part of a new
emphasis on the extent to which he, Ernst B., really belonged to that group of
SS doctors. I could sense he was penetrating further into the Auschwitz
atmosphere as he coolly delineated ways in which SS doctors would help with
technical problems. As he stressed the Auschwitz