Chapter XV

THE C CAMP, WHICH WAS SITUATED near the Czech Camp, was composed of Hungarian Jewish women, often as many as 60,000 at a time, in spite of the daily shipments to distant camps. It was in this heavily overpopulated camp that the doctors one day discovered among the inmates of one of the barracks the symptoms of scarlet fever. By Dr. Mengele’s order that barracks, as well as those on either side of it, was quarantined. The quarantine lasted only a short time: from morning till evening, hardly twelve hours. At dusk trucks arrived to embark the inmates of these three barracks to the crematoriums. Such were the efficacious methods employed by Dr. Mengele to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.

The Czech Camp and C Camp had already felt the effects of Dr. Mengele’s battle against the outbreak of epidemics. Fortunately, the doctors assigned to these barracks quickly sized up Dr. Mengele’s method for stemming contagion. And from then on they were careful not to reveal any cases of infectious diseases to the SS medical authorities. As often as was possible they went so far as to conceal the sick person in a corner of the barracks, and cared for him as best they could with the meager resources at their disposal. They avoided at all costs sending the sick to the hospital, since the SS doctors checked all patients there and the appearance of a contagious disease meant the liquidation both of the barracks where the disease had originated and of the neighboring barracks as well. SS medical language called this method “the intensive battle against the spread of infection.” The results of that struggle were always one or two truckloads of ashes. . . .

After such precedents, the bodies of two women were brought to me from the B Camp hospital. Dr. Mengele had sent them to me for autopsy. As usual, I received files at the same time which contained detailed medical information on the deceased. In the column headed “diagnosis” I noticed, respectively, the terms “typhoid fever” and “heart failure.” The two mentions were followed by question marks.

I am not one usually given to pause and weigh the pro and con before acting. I decide quickly and act quickly, especially when it is a question of an important decision. The results are not always brilliant. The fact that I had ended up here in the crematoriums was the result of a snap decision.

Once again I made up my mind quickly. I could not send Dr. Mengele, in the report on my autopsy, a diagnosis of typhoid fever. The description of the victim’s illness was full of loopholes. The diagnosis was accompanied by a question mark. The doctor was obviously unsure of himself in the matter. The autopsy would determine whether or not his judgment had been correct. That was why the two bodies had been sent to me.

I performed the autopsy. The small intestine in both bodies was in an ulcerous state characteristic of three-week-old typhoid. The spleen was also swollen. Beyond all shadow of a doubt, both cases were victims of typhoid fever.

Dr. Mengele arrived as usual about five o’clock in the afternoon. He was in a good humor. He came over and questioned me, full of curiosity as to the results of my autopsies. The two bodies were lying open on the table. The large and small intestines, as well as the spleens from both bodies, were washed and placed in a container, ready to be examined.

I gave him my diagnosis: inflammation of the small intestine with extensive ulceration. I expounded for Dr. Mengele’s benefit the ulcerated state of the small intestine during the third week of typhoid fever, and compared it to the ulcerations which arise during the inflammation of the same organ. I drew his attention to the fact that the swelling of the spleen often accompanied inflammation of the intestine, and that as a consequence it was not a question of typhoid fever, but a serious inflammation of the small intestine, probably caused by meat poisoning.

Dr. Mengele was a race biologist and not a pathologist. So it was not difficult to convince him that my diagnosis was correct. However, to be mistaken annoyed him. Turning to me he said: “If you want my opinion, doctors who are guilty of such crass errors would be more useful to the KZ as road workers than as physicians. Poor diagnoses like these could cause any number of unnecessary deaths.”

He took the affidavits and files, but before putting them in his briefcase, added a note in the margin. “Make the women doctors responsible,” I read over his shoulder. I sincerely regretted having so wronged my innocent female colleagues, for their diagnosis was excellent. Perhaps they would now lose their jobs and end up performing heavy labor; if Dr. Mengele carried out his threat, I would have been the cause of it.

According to medical customs as practiced outside the barbed wire I had certainly acted unethically, and was fully conscious of my guilt. I had wronged two or three innocent people. But to what lengths might Dr. Mengele have gone in his fight against epidemics, and what might have been the number of victims, if I had acted differently?

The next day, however, I received comforting news concerning the fate of my colleagues. Dr. Mengele had reprimanded them, but had let it go at that. The women doctors stayed on their jobs. Subsequently many bodies were sent to me, with their medical records, but the diagnosis column was never filled out. I preferred it that way. Dr. Mengele’s indignation concerning the supposed error in diagnosis nevertheless continued to prey on my mind for several days. To find so much cynicism mixed with so much evil in a doctor surprised me, even in the KZ. He was no ordinary doctor, but a criminal, or rather, a “criminal doctor.”

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