The ceremonies of a functioning democracy are important to preserve.

As was the pretense of the medical model.


Killing with Syringes: Phenol Injections

But then instead of doing it for medical purposes, it was for killing…It was very much like a medical ceremony…They were so careful to keep the full precision of a medical process – but with the aim of killing. That was what was so shocking. 

– Auschwitz prison doctor

The most medical of all Auschwitz killing methods was the phenol injection, which was institutionalized during the relatively early phases of Auschwitz. A patient was brought to a treatment room and there administered a drug by a physician or (in most cases) his assistant, who wore a white coat and used a syringe and needle for the injection. In camp jargon, ther were the active verb spritzen (“to inject, squirt, spray”), the passive verb abgespritzl (“to be injected off,” or killed), and equivalent noun forms meaning “syringing” and phenoling”.

Phenol injection also became standard procedure for secret political murders, whose victims included Auschwitz inmates as well as people brought from the outside to be killed in this way. As Dr. Jan W. put it, “The Political Department could issue orders for prisoners [in both of the preceding categories] to be executed on the hospital grounds, and the responsibility for carrying out the order rested with the SS physicians.”

The Injection Procedure

Initially, phenol was injected into a victim’s vein, maximizing the medical aura of the entire procedure. A Polish non-Jewish prisoner doctor, Marek P., vividly described how deadly injections were given in the same hospital room where he routinely assisted with surgical operations:

This time there was a table prepared with syringes. The phenol was in a bottle. There was cotton – everything you needed for an injection. There was also alcohol, as with ordinary injections – and rubber tourniquets. There was just one table…and the right hand [of the victim] was put out in a kind of support table [to hold the arm steady], as with a regular intravenous injection, [and] the rubber tourniquet on the arm to apply the pressure to make the vein visible – all in the usual way…[Josef] Mengele [who performed this killing] then rubbed alcohol on the spot, just under the elbow, that he was using for the injection, and then injected the phenol…He did it as though he were performing regular surgery.

The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, Robert Jay Lifton, Basic Books. 1986, p. 254-8.


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