Chapter XVI

ONE MORNING DR. MENGELE SENT FOR me to report immediately to the F Camp commander. I was happy enough to go, for it would give me a chance to get away from the depressing atmosphere of the crematoriums for a few hours. I knew that the walk would do me good too, for I had little opportunity to exercise. And after the smell of the dissecting room and crematoriums I looked forward to getting a bit of fresh air. Besides, this visit would give me a chance to converse with my F Camp colleagues, who had welcomed me so warmly when I had first arrived in the KZ. I prepared for the trip by filling my pockets with precious medicines and several packages of cigarettes. I did not want to return empty-handed to my former “home,” i.e., to hospital-barracks 12.

I left by the iron gate of the crematorium, where the guards noted my number, then headed in the direction of F Camp, without hurrying, the better to enjoy even this short walk. I passed beside the barbed wire fences of the women’s camp, the “FKL,” where thousands upon thousands of women prisoners were walking to and fro among the flimsy shacks that passed for barracks. All the women looked alike, and all, with their shaved heads and tattered clothes, were repulsive. I thought of my wife and daughter, of their long curly hair, of their stylish clothes and tasteful manner of dressing, of the long hours they used to spend discussing these all-important, feminine problems. Three months had already passed since our separation on the unloading platform. What had become of them? Were they still alive? Together? Were they still in the women’s section of the Auschwitz KZ, or had they perhaps been sent to one of the Third Reich’s more distant camps? Three months is a long time. But three months in the KZ was longer still. Nevertheless, I had a feeling they were still at Auschwitz. But where? In this complicated labyrinth of barbed wire, which fence was theirs? Everywhere I looked I saw nothing but a vast network of barbed wire, concrete pillars, and signs forbidding entrance or exit. The KZ was nothing but barbed wire; the whole of Germany was encompassed by barbed wire, itself an enormous KZ.

I reached the F Camp gate. The entrance was guarded by the Blockführerstube. A soldier and an SS noncom with the face of a brute were on duty. I proceeded to the guardhouse window, pulled up the sleeve of my suitcoat and, in accordance with prescribed procedure, announced my number: A 8450. As I pulled back my sleeve, the wristwatch Dr. Mengele had given me authorization to wear, since I needed it for my work, became visible. To keep such an object was one of the KZ’s most heinous offenses. With the speed and fury of a famished tiger the SS noncom jumped to his feet and came running from the guardhouse.

“Who in the devil do you think you are, wearing a wristwatch!” he shouted in a raucous voice. “And what business do you have coming here to F Camp?”

A three months’ stay in the crematoriums was a school that left its mark. Without losing my temper, without even batting an eyelash, I answered him in a quiet voice.

“I am here because Dr. Mengele sent for me,” I said. “But if it’s impossible for me to get into F Camp, then I’d better return to the crematorium and let Dr. Mengele know by telephone.”

The name “Dr. Mengele” worked like magic. Just hearing it uttered was enough to make most people tremble. My noncom grew tame in less time than it takes to tell. In an almost fawning manner he asked me just how long I intended staying inside the camp.

“You see, I have to record the information,” he added apologetically. I looked at my watch. It was ten o’clock. “I shall stay until 2:00 P.M.,” I said. “By then my business with Dr. Mengele will certainly be finished.” To punctuate my sentence I took a package of cigarettes from my pocket and handed him a few. Obviously pleased with the gift, he spoke to me in an almost friendly manner, and even went so far as to intimate that he would be most happy to see me on my next visit.

There was no denying it, the name “Dr. Mengele,” the mention of the crematorium, and the ostentatious display of cigarettes had made a strong impression on the SS slave. Now I was certain of being able to spend at least an hour or two with my former friends. But first to find out why Dr. Mengele had sent for me.

I entered the camp commander’s barracks and waited in the outer lobby till the clerk asked me my business. I told him. He pointed to a door at the opposite end of the room. I crossed to it and entered a well-furnished study. The walls were covered with graphs and charts which showed what the population and composition of the camp had been during various periods of its existence. Prominently displayed in an ornate frame I noticed an enormous photo-portrait of Himmler, with his pince-nez set delicately on the bridge of his nose.

Three people were seated in the room: Dr. Mengele; Hauptsturmführer Dr. Thilo, head surgeon of the KZ; and Obersturmführer Dr. Wolff, director of the General Medical Service. Dr. Mengele informed Dr. Wolff, whom I had not previously met, that it was I who performed the autopsies in the crematoriums.

“Most interesting,” Dr. Wolff said, stroking his chin. “Dr. Mengele has told me of your work. I am especially interested in pathology, Doctor, and would already have looked in on some of your more delicate cases if lack of time had not prevented me.”

I waited for what was to follow.

“At the present time,” he continued, “I am engaged in a scientific study of some importance. But to round it out I will need your help. That is why I asked Dr. Mengele to have you come over here today.” He paused and then went on: “As you know, diarrhea is extremely common in the camp, and 90% of the cases prove fatal. I know all there is to know about the prognosis and evolution of the disease, for I have made thousands of examinations and kept very accurate notes. But my work is imperfect, for, besides clinical observations, a scientific study requires a pathological report on a sufficient number of dysentery cases to be conclusive.”

I began to see the light. Dr. Wolff was also engaged in research. In the midst of the stench and smoke of the crematoriums, he too wished to profit from the hundreds of thousands of human guinea pigs available in the KZ, many of whom had been reduced by dysentery to an unbelievable 60 or 65 pounds. Through the dissection of a large number of bodies he hoped to discover the internal manifestations of dysentery still unknown to medical science.

Dr. Mengele wanted to solve the problem of the multiplication of the race by studying the human material—or rather, the twin material—that he was free to employ as he saw fit. Dr. Wolff was searching for the causes of dysentery. Actually, its causes are not difficult to determine; even the layman knows them. Dysentery is caused by applying the following formula: take any individual—man, woman, or innocent child—snatch him away from his home, stack him with a hundred others in a sealed box car, in which a bucket of water has first been thoughtfully placed, then pack them off, after they have spent six preliminary weeks in a ghetto, to Auschwitz. There pile them by the thousands into barracks unfit to serve as stables. For food, give them a ration of mouldy bread made from wild chestnuts, a sort of margarine of which the basic ingredient is lignite, thirty grams of sausage made from the flesh of mangy horses, the whole not to exceed 700 calories. To wash this ration down, a half liter of soup made from nettles and weeds, containing nothing fatty, no flour, no salt. In four weeks, dysentery will invariably appear. Then, three or four weeks later, the patient will be “cured,” for he will die in spite of any belated treatment he may receive from the camp doctors.

According to Dr. Wolff, at least 150 bodies would be needed for the chapter of his study devoted to the pathological aspect of the question. Dr. Mengele interrupted the conversation.

“By performing seven autopsies a day,” he said, “you should be able to finish the required number in approximately three weeks.”

I did not agree. “I’m sorry, gentlemen,” I said, “but if you want the job to be accurate and well done—of which I have no doubt—then I can perform only three autopsies a day.” After some discussion we finally agreed on this point and, with a cursory nod, I was dismissed.

I paid a call on my colleagues stationed in barracks-hospital number 12. They were overjoyed to receive the medicines I had brought, and contentedly smoked the cigarettes I handed around. Their faces and words betrayed symptoms of fatigue and discouragement. The Czech Camp’s sudden and tragic end had had a strong effect on them. Little by little the hopelessness of their situation was overwhelming them, as it had overwhelmed me, but with this difference: my realization had not come little by little, but all at once—the moment I had stepped across the threshold into the crematorium.

I did my best, however, to encourage them, exhorting them to persevere. I described the military situation to them in some detail, and showed how, day by day, it was evolving more and more favorably for us all. Since I read the paper every day I was able to back up my statements with concrete facts. We parted with a round of warm handshakes. In the KZ, the expression “To take leave of a friend is to die a little” took on an added meaning.

In any event I left them feeling that I could say, without fear of boasting, that I have a strong character, for in my own impossible situation I still managed to encourage others to persevere. . . .

Obersturmführer Wolff’s former patients, all dead of dysentery, passed in succession beneath the scalpel. I had already finished the first thirty autopsies and was recording the results of my observations. In each case the mucous of the stomach was inflamed, which resulted in a burning, or rather a complete withering of the glands that secrete chloric acid in the stomach. A lack of gastric juices renders digestion impossible, but increases fermentation proportionally.

My second observation concerned the inflamed condition of the small intestine, which was accompanied by a thinning of the intestinal walls. My third observation related to the most important digestive juice of the small intestine, the bile, which is indispensable to the proper assimilation of fats. Opening the liver, I found, instead of a greenish-yellow secretion, an almost colorless liquid which scarcely affected the material still in the intestine and which, in any case, was quite incapable of performing its digestive function.

My fourth observation had to do with the inflammation of the large intestine, which had resulted in a withering, a thinning and an excessive fragility of the intestinal walls, which were about as thick and as strong as cigarette paper. In fact, they were no longer digestive tubes but sewers, through which everything flowed, from one end to the other, in the space of a few minutes.

Such, in outline form, and reduced to a language any layman can understand, are the principal conclusions of my autopsies. The job I had been assigned was in reality monotonous, devoid of any interest whatever. The bacteriological tests were probably being conducted in the village of Risgau, situated about three kilometers from the crematoriums, in the “SS Army’s Institute of Hygiene and Bacteriology.” There, the renowned Professor Mansfeld, who held the chair of Bacteriology at Pecs Medical School, was in charge of the work.

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