|A Human Being in an SS
Uniform: Ernst B.
] ant physician, Dr. B. acted out a host of
frequently encountered German polarities having to do with defiance and
submission, romanticism and science, distant vision and pragmatic task.
Whatever B.s (and his countrymens) journeys through Christianity,
traditional utopian thought, and nationalistic movements, it was finally the
Nazis who provided the path to revitalization along with a way of balancing, or
at least absorbing, those polarities. He developed an impressive talent for
maneuver on behalf of group acceptance and standing, but the hunger for
connection could overwhelm him, as in his insistence upon sharing the
transcendent national experience of war and victory.
Once in Auschwitz,
his powerful need for group affiliation could hold him there, and he
characteristically sought reliable connection with inmates no less than
colleagues. But when asked to do selections, he could resist the kind of
doubling that would have been necessary for that task. While we cannot be
certain how, psychologically, he was able to do that, he probably called forth
elements of the affirmative as well as the integrative inclinations within his
self-process. The first, the group need, could well have helped him in a
paradoxical fashion: more fluid than fixed in his style of connection, he was
probably less bound than others to the kind of absolute loyalty and obedience
that would have carried him over the threshold of doubling into the selections.
At the same time an aspect of integrity (modeled on his father originally
perhaps, but now his own), having to do not only with nondissembling but also
with decency, help, and healing, had become part of his self-process. His
Auschwitz dreams reflected that humane dimension and kept him aware of it in
opposition to the ethos of the camp.
To be sure, he called upon the
hierarchical support of his institute, and stressed, as one had to, his
personal inability to meet the requirements without contesting the
objective validity of ideological orders and the call of loyalty to obey
them.³* In that act he called forth both his talent for group
maneuver and his ideal of integrity of the self.
this way did not mean giving up Nazi affiliations, as we know; but it did mean
that his doubling in Auschwitz need not be as great as that of other doctors:
his Auschwitz self, however, allowed him to adapt to shared SS requirements in
that murderous environment; while his prior, more humane self, reinforced by
frequent contact with his wife and children, remained reasonably intact. Unlike
most other Nazi doctors, he could remain essentially a physician-healer and, in
that sense, may have been partly correct in saying that his medical calling
contributed to his decency toward prisoners.
That achievement was
admirable, even extraordinary. Yet Auschwitz has continued to confuse him over
the years, and we now have a better idea why. By not doing selections, he
separated himself from the camp
* One could also effectively
agree with an order but raise appropriate practical objections, or just say
nothing and evade the order.