Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Dr. Auschwitz: Josef Mengele 
In talking about his friend, Dr. B. made clear that Mengele came to Auschwitz with a special aura because he arrived more or less directly from the front (“because he was wounded”) and because he apparently chose Auschwitz: asked to be sent there because of the opportunities it could provide for his research. We now know that, upon Mengele’s being sent to Auschwitz, Verschuer applied for and received from the German Research Society, (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinshaft) financial support for his student’s work there.*

What did Mengele actually do in Auschwitz? Some prisoners thought him unimportant there and have wondered at his later notoriety. A former SS man, for instance, who spent more than four years with the Political Department testified that among the SS doctors he knew he had never encountered Mengele and in fact had “never heard [his] name … during the whole time I was in Auschwitz.”11 And Dr. Jacob R. told me, as did a few other prisoner doctors, that Mengele did not seem exceptional: “At the time I just saw him as one of the many SS doctors.” But more frequent was the opposite impression, expressed by Dr. Henri Q., that Mengele was a key Auschwitz participant “whose role was very important, more than that of the others” — and who was seemingly ubiquitous: “He had a reputation, it was a name that was heard the most. He was everywhere. He was seen the most  often — the others were less prominent — which means he was the most active among them.” That quality of being "everywhere," and everywhere active, was at the heart of Mengele’s impact in Auschwitz and of his mode of being in the camp.

He also committed real crimes, murderous crimes, direct murder. The Frankfurt Court, in indicting him for extradition, spoke of “hideous crimes” committed alone or with others “willfully and with bloodlust.” These crimes included selections, lethal injections, shootings, beatings, and other forms of deliberate killing. And this list was distilled conservatively from the testimony of hundreds of survivors. But by the SS’s standards at Auschwitz, Mengele was an admirable, indeed outstanding, medical officer. In recommending him for promotion in August 1944, Eduard Wirths spoke of his “open, honest, firm … [and] absolutely dependable” character and “magnificent” intellectual and physical talents; of the “discretion, perseverence, and energy with which he has fulfilled every task … and … shown himself equal to every situation”; of his “valuable contribution to anthropological science by making use of the scientific materials available to him”; of his “absolute ideological firmness” and “faultless conduct [as] an SS officer” ; and of such personal qualities as “free, unrestrained, persuasive, and lively” discourse that rendered him “especially dear to his comrades.”12 Allowing for excesses in any
* Mengele arrived in Auschwitz on 30 May 1943, and the grants were approved on 18 August 1943. The confirmation described the work for one grant obscurely as concerning “specific albuminous matter” (spezifische Eiweisskörper); the other was to study “eye color.” Verschuer later wrote that the work had “the authorization of the Reichsführer SS (Himmler) and consisted of “anthropological examinations”; further, “blood tests are sent to my laboratory”.10
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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