Memoria [EN] Memoria [EN] Nr 45 (06/2021) | Page 20

(no. 16465), one of the five organisers of the prisoner revolt during the execution on 28 October 1942, the officer was imprisoned in the bunker of block 11 and shot at the Execution Wall on 3 March 1943.

Michał Wójcik refers to an account by a former prisoner, Stanisław Głowa (no. 20017), deposited at the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), that Alfred Stössel killed around 4,000 prisoners with phenol injections, which is certainly exaggerated many times over, while Dr Dering killed about 1,000 prisoners, which is entirely untrue. However, these figures are not confirmed by any other sources.

The book's author did not acquaint himself with Dr Dering's memoirs, which are kept in the Archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Dering writes: "In the afternoon Schumann returned to the infirmary with the Chief Physician Entress and they summoned me to the Arztzimmer - the doctor's room; Entress, as my immediate superior, informed me that by order of the Chief Commandant he was placing the operating room and all the staff at the disposal of Dr Schumann, who was to carry out "special" tasks here. Schumann then spoke up. "I wanted to take into account your childish prejudices and not force you to be obedient, which is absolutely required of you in the camp. You have seen that with my surgical technique, the entire task would have taken too long. I am a venereologist and have no intention of becoming a surgeon. The Chief Commandant has ordered you to perform these surgeries under my direction. It will be to the benefit of the camp, which needs the workforce of young Jews, and to the patients themselves, who will return to their work after a week's stay in the infirmary at the latest".

During these surgical procedures, victims of criminal experiments had their testicles removed, irradiated by X-rays and subjected to further medical examinations.

On the subject of prisoner doctors being forced by SS doctors to perform castration procedures, one can read in Dr Dering's memoirs: "I instantly assembled those interested in the surgical block, i.e., two fellow surgeons - Dr Jan Grabczyński from Cracow and Dr Zbigniew Sobieszczański. I invited several senior doctor colleagues, including Prof. Jan Olbrycht from the Jagiellonian University, Maj. Dr Rudolf Diem from Warsaw, Dr Władysław Fejkel from Cracow, Dr Leon Wasilewski from Poznań, among Jewish doctors, Dr Samuel Steinberg from Paris and non-physicians, engineer Adam Kuryłowicz from Warsaw. I outlined the demands of the Germans and the possible consequences for everyone, both patients and doctors, in the event of opposition. I waited for everyone to speak up, as it was not just about me, but about the whole hospital team, as well as over eighty patients. No one dared to protest, as they considered it too risky. The arguments of my colleagues generally coincided. Professor Olbrycht, the most senior in age and rank, as a forensic doctor, and therefore one who deals with medicine and law took

a stand that was unanimously accepted as the group's consensus opinion. According to the professor, we are in exceptional conditions at the camp, and contrary to all international, human and divine laws, eighty-eight people who are deprived of their sexual glands unilaterally by irradiation using X-rays are at risk of losing their lives if we refuse to take samples or entire destroyed glands via a surgical procedure. Waving aside any legal point of view, our duty under the existing camp conditions is to save human life at all costs. His opinion, accepted by the group, was: remove destroyed glands, which are practically inactive after exposure to "X-rays" and therefore of no importance to the body, and in certain - admittedly rare - cases, posing a threat of possible cancerous tumours, even undesirable. On the other hand, we are saving eighty-eight young lives with unilaterally preserved healthy sex glands, which will ensure a full sexual life. Furthermore, in doing so, we do not risk the danger of penalties, which may include death, for the hospital staff". 

At this point, it is worth pointing out that these were threats that the camp Gestapo could carry out at any time. Failure to carry out the SS physicians' orders could have ended tragically, something the prisoner physicians were fully aware of when they decided to perform castration procedures, as several Polish physicians from the camp infirmary had been shot previously at the Death Wall. As an example, one can mention Dr Czesław Gawarecki (no. 14825), Dr Julian Kozioł (no. 11379), or Dr Wilhelm Türschmid (no. 11461, as well as Dr Stefan Żabicki (no. 11016). The latter died in the courtyard of Block 11, uttering the words "Long live Poland."

The legitimacy of the decision taken at the time by Dr Władysław Dering and the other doctors is defended in the memoirs of a dentist, Prof. dr hab. Janusz Krzywicki, a former Auschwitz prisoner (no. 74593), who states: "We must realise that refusing to carry out an SS functionary's order involved facing the dangers of block 11 with all its consequences. These procedures, which cast a bad light on the surgeons, had to be carried out. Therefore, the surgeons saved the lives of many rascals by performing these procedures lege artis, which otherwise would have been performed by SS doctors, or perhaps even by SDG non-commissioned sanitary officers, without regard to whether the patients being operated on would even survive. The Nazi "scientists" must have these tissues for ascertaining and confirming the effectiveness of the sterilisation of men and women X-rayed using the Siemens X-ray bomb installed in the Birkenau women's camp infirmary. After all, there was a large all-female nursing staff composed of Slovakian Jewish women."

According to preserved camp surgery registers from hospital block 21, about 180 such operations were performed between 10 September 1942 and 15 January 1945. SS physicians performed 14 as lead surgeons, while prisoner physicians performed the remaining procedures, about 165 as lead surgeons. During this period, 164 cases are listed in the surgery registers as casus explorativus, of which ten women had the procedure described as ovariecotomia sinistra (removal of the left ovary). 

 Dr Dering performed one hundred and thirty castration procedures himself or as an assisting surgeon. From the registers mentioned above, it can also be established that Dr Dering conducted about eighty castration and sterilisation procedures as the lead surgeon, while Dr Jan Grabczyński (no. 83864) carried out about seventy such procedures as the lead surgeon and Dr Zbigniew Sobieszczański (no. 77022), performed the least, about fifteen.

The moral evaluation of Dr Dering's actions and responsibility for the things he did on the orders of SS doctors - as with many other choices made by prisoners in the camp world - is highly complicated and multidimensional.   

Władysław Bartoszewski (no. 4427), whose life was saved by Dr Dering and Dr Edward Nowak (no. 447) in KL Auschwitz, said the following about Dering: "Each day, he was confronted with horrible dilemmas. Whom to save? The one suffering or the one who stands a chance to survive? (...) To carry out the orders of an SS man, or refuse for moral reasons and condemn himself to death? It is something no human court can conclusively adjudicate."

Michał Wójcik undertook such a conclusive decision in writing that Dr Dering became "the closest collaborator of the perpetrators", and therefore by speculation, a murderer. Even in testimonies that negatively assessed Dr Dering, no one who spoke or wrote about him had so far dared to make such an accusation.

In one of the subsequent chapters of his book, entitled "Let the Future Pass Its Judgement", Michał Wójcik tries to convince the reader that the uprising and struggle for the liberation of the prisoners of KL Auschwitz, for which, in his opinion, Józef Cyrankiewicz, the leader of the left-wing resistance movement in the camp, even implored, was denied by the Home Army because, allegedly: "Political considerations stood in the way: the conviction that the resistance movement in the camp was controlled by left-wing factors, 'Jews and internationals'! They simply do not deserve help. Because their reason of state is not synonymous with the Polish national interest".

In reality, an armed attack on the German garrison of KL Auschwitz by the Home Army could only have taken place in the event of a general uprising in the occupied Polish territory or an attempt by the SS men deserting the camp to murder all the prisoners. Neither of these situations occurred, which is why an earlier attack on the SS garrison was not attempted since such an action stood no chance of success given the overwhelming advantage of German forces.

Dr Henryk Świebocki wrote on this subject and proved it, among others, in the IV volume of an extensive monograph on the Oświęcim camp, entitled "Auschwitz 1940-1945. Crucial issues from the history of the camp" (Oświęcim 1995) but Michał Wójcik did not familiarise himself with this work because he does not refer to its findings either in the text of his book or in the footnotes included therein. He also did not refer to the other four volumes of this monograph when writing about the Sonderkommando rebellion at KL Auschwitz-Birkenau on 7 October 1944, nor did he make use of Danuta Czech's findings on this subject in her published "Calendar of Events in KL Auschwitz" (Oświęcim 1992).

The history of the tragic rebellion of the Sondekommando Jews, to which Michał Wójcik devoted a great deal of space in nearly ten further chapters of his book, is presented objectively by the author in the light of numerous memoirs and accounts of former KL Auschwitz prisoners, both Jews and Poles, especially members of the Sonderkommando. The reader cannot be indifferent to the content of these chapters and the magnitude of the crimes described in them, including the tragic situation of the Sonderkommando prisoners forced to incinerate the corpses of victims murdered in the gas chambers of KL Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which is downright horrifying.

Michał Wójcik is primarily concerned with the sensational description of the events presented, without paying much attention to the reliability of the narrative in terms of detail. Several factual errors can be noted here. For example, the director of the Auschwitz Museum in the 1960s was a long-time Auschwitz prisoner, Kazimierz Smoleń, and never Janusz Gumkowski, the director of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland. Prisoner Olszyński (no. 39230), who was shot at the Death Wall on 28 October 1942, was not called Bruno, but Bolesław. Mieczysław Morawa, who participated in the test run of the crematorium ovens in Birkenau in March 1943, was not nineteen years old at the time, but twenty-three (he was born on 19.03.1920). The execution of the four Jewish female prisoners hanged on 6 January 1945 did not take place between blocks 1 and 2 in KL Auschwitz I but on the site of a complex of 20 buildings erected on the grounds adjacent to the main camp as part of its expansion plan, which envisaged the construction of over 50 new buildings.

Once again, it is essential to point out what Michał Wójcik fails to explain so precisely: the Jews of the Sonderkommando were convinced that as direct witnesses to the genocide, they would soon be murdered by the SS, and so made an attempt to revolt and flee the camp. Unfortunately, several hundred of them died. The tragic story of the revolt clearly shows what the consequences of a general uprising in the camp would have been without armed support from outside. The prisoners could not count on such support due to the weakness of the Silesian Area of the Home Army and not because of any ideological prejudice, anti-Semitism or passivity. Furthermore, one has to admit that the commander of the Silesian Area, Zygmunt Janke alias "Walter", whom Michał Wójcik cites (mistakenly referring to him as the commander of the Silesian District of the Home Army), is right that: "the prisoners actually had a greater chance of survival without carrying out such an attack".

Michał Wójcik's book should be classified as non-fiction. Although it presents authentic figures and events, its description is sometimes based on randomly collected historical material, very freely interpreted, particularly the section of the publication on the history of KL Auschwitz.

The author partially adopted the narrative technique and fictionalisation of events from scientific texts, and links the story with footnotes, which are often selectively chosen, and do not allow the reader to thoroughly check the veracity of the presented facts that Michał Wójcik additionally interprets rather subjectively - as is particularly visible in relation to the figure of Cavalry Capt. Witold Pilecki and one of his closest associates, Dr Władysław Deringa.