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.  
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 wife’s 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 Mengele’s virtues began to reveal the extent of his own Nazi involvement. His stress on the “rationality” of his and Mengele’s 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  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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