Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account

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Book: Read Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account for Free Online
Authors: Miklos Nyiszli
Tags: Medical, History, Biography & Autobiography, Holocaust
prescribed number of prisoners had to be present and accounted for. It sometimes happened that when they were overworked, the kommando whose job it was to transport the dead in wheelbarrows failed to pass by for several days. Then the dead had to be brought to each inspection until the transportation kommando finally arrived to take charge of them. Only then were their names crossed off the muster list.
    After all I had learned, I was not sorry to have acted boldly and tried to better my lot. By having been chosen, the very first day, to work as a doctor, I had been able to escape the fate of being lost in the mass and drowned in the filth of the quarantine camp. 1
    Thanks to my civilian clothes, I had managed to maintain a human appearance, and this evening I would sleep in the medical room bed of the twelfth “hospital” barracks.

    At seven in the morning: reveille. The doctors in my section, as well as the personnel of the hospital, lined up in front of the barracks to be counted. That took about two or three minutes. They also counted the bed-ridden, as well as the previous night’s dead. Here too the dead were stretched out beside the living.
    During breakfast, which we took in our rooms, I met my colleagues. The head doctor of barracks-hospital number 12 was Dr. Levy, professor at the University of Strasbourg; his associate was Dr. Gras, professor at the University of Zagreb; both were excellent practitioners, known throughout Europe for their skill.
    With practically no medicines, working with defective instruments and in surroundings where the most elementary aseptics and antiseptics were lacking, unmindful of their personal tragedy, unconscious of fatigue and danger, they did their best to care for the sick and ease the sufferings of their fellow men.
    In the Auschwitz KZ the healthiest individual was given three or four weeks to collapse from hunger, filth, blows and inhuman labor. How can one describe the state of those who were already organically ill when they reached the camp? In circumstances where it was difficult to forget that one was a human being, and a doctor besides, they practiced their profession with complete devotion. Their example was faithfully followed by the subaltern medical corps, which was composed of six doctors. They were all young French or Greek doctors. For three years they had been eating the KZ bread made from wild chestnuts sprinkled with sawdust. Their wives, their children, their relatives and friends had been liquidated upon arrival. Or rather, burned. If by chance they had been directed to the right-hand column they had been unable to stand up under the ordeal for more than two or three months and, as the “chosen,” had disappeared into the flames.
    Overcome by despair, resigned, apathetic, they nevertheless attempted, with the utmost devotion, to help the living-dead whose fate was in their hands. For the prisoners of that hospital were the living-dead. One had to be seriously ill before being admitted to the KZ hospital. For the most part they were living skeletons: dehydrated, emaciated, their lips were cracked, their faces swollen, and they had incurable dysentery. Their bodies were covered with enormous and repulsive running sores and suppurating ulcers. Such were the KZ’s sick. Such were those one had to care for and comfort.

IV
    I STILL HAD NO CLEARLY DEFINED JOB. During a visit around the camp in the company of a French doctor, I noticed a sort of annex jutting out from one side of a KZ barracks. From the outside it looked like a toolshed. Inside, however, I saw a table about as high as a man’s head, built of unplaned, rather thick boards; a chair; a box of dissecting instruments; and, in one corner, a pail. I asked my colleague what it was used for.
    “That’s the KZ’s only dissecting room,” he said. “It hasn’t been used for some time. As a matter of fact, I don’t know of any specialist in the camp who’s qualified to perform dissections, and I

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