Arts and Humanities


When examining the Holocaust, there are a great number of different facets and ways to go about learning about that part of history. One aspect of the Holocaust that has a great deal of information to look at is the medical implications. This could be looking at the actual medicine that occurred in the concentration camps, including medical experiments, to the SS men and prisoners that were appointed as doctors in the camps, to so much more. This paper will focus on the doctors that worked in the concentration camps, both SS men and prisoners. First, SS doctors will be examined, looking closely at what their specific duties were, their motivations towards why they performed said duties, and how they felt about and coped with their duties; with special attention being paid to Dr. Josef Mengele and his actions in Auschwitz. After examining the SS doctors, prisoner doctors will be looked at, specifically their duties and how they coped and survived both psychologically and physically; including how it affected some doctor’s lives after the Holocaust was over. A few specific cases of prisoner doctors will also be looked at, three prisoners that took different mindsets and ways of coping after being appointed doctors. There are a number of questions that can be looked at regarding both the SS doctors and prisoner doctors in the concentration camps. The four main questions focused on in this paper are What different duties did the SS and prisoner doctors have from each other?, What motivated the Nazi doctors who made selections and tortured prisoners with so called medical experiments, and how did they rationalize their behaviors?, How did prisoners who were forced to practice medicine in the camps cope with their duties?, and How did these prisoner doctors survive psychologically and physically, and how did it effect their lives after the concentration camps? SS doctors’ main duty was the job of making selections of who would live and work in the concentration camps and who would die. They also had duties such as working on the actual euthanasia tasks, as well as checking on patients in the infirmaries and other places. These SS doctors were motivated mainly by anti-Semitism, as well as gaining data to help German armies in different situations they may find themselves in. Some of these doctors expressed guilt during and after their time in the concentration camps, however this was according to what they said, not how they actually felt. Prisoner doctors, on the other hand, had duties ranging from procuring medications and tools to help with patient care to even working alongside SS doctors that recruited them to help with what they were doing. Prisoner doctors had trouble working with the healing-killing paradox that was present in the concentration camps and keeping their medical values while keeping people alive only to work and later watching them be killed. These doctors found different methods of coping merely to stay alive in a camp that was filled with death. There were not many cases of doctors surviving the liberation of the concentration camps examined, but those that did survive suffered psychologically and physically. While it is impossible to adequately compare prisoner and SS doctors because their roles in the concentration camps were so different, this will all be examined in greater detail in the sections that follow.