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.  
Now it was I who became tense, as I found myself appalled by what I was hearing and aware of my declining sympathy for this man, who had been a hero to people in Auschwitz who most needed him. But toward the end of the interview, he spoke positively about our whole sequence of meetings, because “through specific questions one is forced to fully think something out” and “in speaking about it, it becomes clear.” I came to believe that he had experienced a certain relief at making a stronger representation of his earlier Auschwitz self, perhaps better able to do so because he was outside of his house and on more or less neutral ground. Probably a more important factor was the expectation that this would be our last interview. Earlier he had gone quite far toward collaborating with me as a critic of Auschwitz and the Nazis, and thereby expressing his postwar German (non-Nazi) self. But that became increasingly difficult for him to do as he dug more deeply into the Auschwitz experience with a continuing candor that he himself required for his own psychological struggles. In that sense his own conflicts might have been as important as his wife’s objections in bringing about his increasing resistance to the meetings. But he had at the same time become involved with them and me, and his candor in conveying his resurrected Auschwitz self was something of a last gift in the form of potential insight.

He also offered to respond to written questions I could send him by mail. But when I did, he failed to carry out his promise, eventually writing to explain that not only was he distracted by other things but that the simplest question, to be answered truthfully, required an elaborate delineation of the Auschwitz schizophrenic situation. Moreover, he found that impossible to do when “not … in personal contact during [that] conversation ” — that is, when not in a face-to-face interview situation. Still clearly involved in the exchange, he agreed to see me one more time during my next visit to Germany.

We talked in a hotel room, and the impersonality and unconnectedness of such rooms could have been a factor in the freedom and intensity of his responses. He went still further in pressing the “logic” of the mass killing, though he remained evasive in answering the question whether most Nazi doctors really favored Auschwitz mass murder. Nor was it fully clear where he stood on the issue: he had frequently declared himself against that policy, but now an element of himself seemed able at least to go along with it. In general he seemed to speak still more from within the ideology of the time, reasserting his, relationship then to the internal SS Auschwitz structure. Yet he was also more active than ever in associations and a continuous rush of information and insight. That was his final “last gift.”

Now that we were really parting, he had more aggressively asserted his claim to be his own man, no longer bound by what he took to be requirements of our interviews or of my approval. I too was more aggressive in vigorously probing many issues initiated earlier, no longer concerned about the danger of losing him for future interviews. We had, both made  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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