Chapter V

DR. MENGELE WAS INDEFATIGABLE IN the exercise of his functions. He spent long hours in his laboratories, then hurried to the unloading platform, where the daily arrival of four or five trainloads of Hungarian deportees kept him busy half the day.

Unceasingly the new convoys marched off in columns of five, flanked by SS guards. I watched one come in and line up. Although my vantage point was at some distance from the tracks and my view obstructed by the maze of barbed wire fences, I could still see that this convoy had been expelled from some fair-sized city: the prisoners’ clothes were smartly tailored, many were wearing new poplin raincoats, and the suitcases they carried were of expensive leather. In that city, wherever it was, they had managed to create for themselves a pleasant, cultured way of life. And that was the cardinal sin for which they were now paying so dearly.

Despite his numerous functions, Dr. Mengele even found time for me. A cart, drawn by prisoners, drew up before the dissecting room door. The transportation group unloaded two corpses. On their chests the letters Z and S (Zur Sektion), marked with a special chalk, indicated that they were to be dissected. The chief of Barracks 12 assigned an intelligent prisoner to assist me. Together we placed one of the bodies on the dissection table. I noticed a thick black line across his neck. Either he had hanged himself, or been hanged. Taking a quick look at the second body, I saw that death had here been caused by electrocution. That much could be deduced from the small superficial skin burns and the yellowish-red coloration around them. I wondered whether he had thrown himself against the high-tension wires, or whether he had been pushed. Both were common in the KZ.

The formalities were the same, whether it was a case of suicide or murder. In the evening, at roll call, the names of the deceased would be scratched from the muster list, and their bodies loaded onto “hearses” for transportation to the camp morgue. There another truck would pick them up, at the rate of forty to fifty a day, and bear them to the crematorium.

The two bodies Dr. Mengele had sent me were the first I had been given to examine. The day before, he had warned me to work on them carefully and do a good job. I planned to carry out his orders to the best of my ability.

A car pulled up. In the barracks the command “Attention” rang out. Dr. Mengele and two senior SS officers had just arrived. They listened as the barracks leader and doctor made their reports, then headed straight for the dissecting room, followed by the F Camp prisoner-doctors. They arranged themselves in a circle around the room, as though this were a pathology class in some important medical center and the case at hand a particularly interesting one. I suddenly realized that I was about to take an examination, and that this was the jury before me, a highly important and dangerous jury. I also knew that my fellow prisoner-doctors were keeping their fingers crossed for me.

No one present knew that I had spent three years at the Boroslo Institute of Forensic Medicine, where I had had a chance to study every possible form of suicide under the supervision of Professor Strasseman. I realized that, as prisoner-doctor A 8450, I had better remember now all that Dr. Miklos Nyiszli had formerly known.

I began the dissection. I proceeded to open first the skull, then the thorax and finally the abdominal cavity. I extracted all the organs, noted everything that was abnormal, and replied without hesitation to all the numerous questions they fired at me. Their faces showed that their curiosity had been satisfied, and from their approving nods and glances I surmised that I had passed the examination. After the second dissection Dr. Mengele ordered me to prepare the statement of my findings. Somebody would stop by to pick it up on the following day. After the SS doctors had left I conversed a while with my fellow prisoners.

On the following day three more bodies arrived for dissection. The same public appeared, but this time the atmosphere was less tense, for they knew me and had seen my work. Those present took a more lively interest, made a number of astute and provocative comments, and on certain points the discussion grew quite animated.

After the departure of the SS doctors, several French and Greek doctors paid me a call and asked if I would instruct them in the technique of lumbar punctures. They also requested me to grant them authorization to try the operation on some of the bodies given me, a request I readily granted. I was deeply moved to find that, even inside the barbed wire fences, they continued to manifest such an interest in their profession. They attempted the puncture and after six or seven tries at last succeeded, then withdrew, quite pleased with their afternoon’s work.

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