|AUSCHWITZ: THE RACIAL CURE
|certainly is a painting.18 Allowing for retrospective exaggeration and
fantasy, there is the reliable consistent impression of a man on the ramp at
home with his task, with both fierce adherence to the rules and almost casual
|On the Hospital Block
| On the hospital blocks he could also be flamboyantly
casual and comfortable in his selections activity. Dr. Lengyel called him a
selections specialist who could show up suddenly at any hour,
day or night,
when we least expected him.19
According to one prisoner doctor, he had no problems not with his
conscience, not with anybody, not with anything. For, as Dr. Magda V.
said, he was absolutely convinced he was doing the right thing.
Prisoners would march before him with their arms in the air, Dr.
Lengyel tells us, while he continued to whistle his Wagner
or it might be Verdi or Johann Strauss. It was a mannered detachment:
like an automaton, a gentleman carrying out indifferent
functions,20 and (according to Dr. Marie L.)
in German, sachlich [meaning businesslike,
According to Dr. L., he, would change
signals (thumb up instead of thumb down) to indicate those being sent to the
gas chamber. And he always bordered on sadism: He had a special kind of
even joking, that bastard! More overtly, there are many
stories of his striking people with his long riding crop, in one case running
it over tattoos on the bosoms of Russian women, as a Polish woman survivor
described, then striking them there, while not at all excited
casual, just playing around a little as though it were a little
Most of all his ward selections were done with relentless
conscientiousness and responsibility. It mattered to Mengele that,
among people he thought should be selected; every last one be tracked down
like a bloodhound was the way another survivor put it.
One might expect that someone so intent upon absolute personal control
would disdain the involvement of prisoner doctors in selections, but that was
not the case. Mengele encouraged or demanded their participation and by so
encompassing them broadened rather than diminished his own control Dr. Marek P.
stated that Mengele would not listen to the Polish doctors at all and Dr. Magda
V., who became skilled at handling SS doctors, said of Mengele, I
dont think that for a moment I could manipulate him, ever, ever.
Among inmates on the medical blocks, Mengele inspired both intense
up-close observations and the most elaborate fantasy, or combinations of both.
People focused on his eyes: he was a very bad person,
and you saw
in his eyes,
brown and bloodshot, according to one
survivor; or he violated the principle a woman survivor described having
learned from her mother, that whoever has nice eyes has a nice