Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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he was.” Mengele’s beauty, she was saying, and her capacity to detach that beauty from his actions, provided magic sustenance.

Mengele fed his legend by dramatizing murderous policies, such as his drawing a line on the wall of the children’s block between 150 and 156 centimeters (about 5 feet or 5 feet 2 inches) from the floor, and sending those whose heads could not reach the line to the gas chamber. One survivor theorized that this preoccupation with height had to do with Mengele’s own relatively short stature.

One prisoner doctor thought him “deranged” after having witnessed Mengele’s rage upon hearing that an arriving group consisted of psychiatric patients and nurses. Rage at Jews’ surviving the Nazi “euthanasia” policy of killing mental patients could have been enough to explain this action but one suspects a more general attitude toward all things psychiatric.

Inmates who were not subject to his deadly whims could gain perspective on the man. One prisoner doctor said that Mengele “existed in a paradise of illusions”; and another prisoner, observing Mengele in the SS doctors general office where “I didn’t have to be afraid of him,” went on to say “I didn't notice any special elegance in him.”

But noting his energy and vitality, inmates saw him as a man who thrived in Auschwitz. One wrote that “Dr. Mengele had the air of a man who took great satisfaction in his work and was pleased with his calling”23 This observation is consistent with that of Ernst B., the SS doctor, who said that he never talked with his friend about inner conflicts because “Mengele had no problems.”

We can put the matter another way and say that Mengele’s harmony with Auschwitz rendered him unique unto himself, sui generis, as a former prisoner tells us: “You see a handsome, tall man coming. Do you know if he is a doctor or not a doctor? You know it is Mengele, nothing else.”
A man who assumed Mengele’s level of omnipotence was inevitably seen at times as a savior. Contributing to this image were his whimsical decisions to let people live, as well as his insistence that those judged young and strong enough to work stay in the correct line even when they resisted doing so. A typical account was that of a woman of twenty-five resisted was directed to the right but when Mengele turned away, “got back to my mother’s side” (on the left), was observed by Mengele and sent to her original line only to once more “run to my mother’s side,” and once more be sent back by Mengele. Only he, and not the person in question, could decide upon death; and to be granted life in the face of one’s own insistence (however inadvertent) upon remaining with the doomed could be perceived as a godlike form of rescue.

Or on a medical block, precisely because Mengele was so cold and unyielding, the few occasions when he responded to a plea were rendered almost mythic. One survivor, for instance, believed that in the case of people who were “young and beautiful, maybe a spark … of human being
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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