The Jewish Doctors of the Camps and Ghettos

June 20, 2019 | Mike Cummings
About the author:

Born in the Polish city of Lodz, Esther F. received her medical training in France and returned to her hometown in 1933. After the outbreak of World War II, she and thousands of other Jews were confined to the Lodz ghetto to work as slave laborers or die of starvation. She was among numerous Jewish physicians whom the Nazis deemed useful, as Mike Cummings writes:

Esther survived four-and-a-half years of cold, hunger, and fear in the Lodz ghetto. . . . She worked in a hospital and for the ghetto’s emergency medical service, caring for the injured and sick. There are references in Esther’s testimony, [recorded on video in 1991], about official measures intended to preserve the lives of ghetto doctors—specifically orders to perimeter guards not to shoot people wearing medical insignia, and efforts to transfer additional doctors from the Warsaw ghetto. This suggests “that doctors had value to German officials as possible preservers of their labor force,” noted Sarit Siegel, [who is researching the subject].

Supporting the labor force was not the ghetto doctors’ only function; [they] also served to minimize the risk of transmission of epidemics from the ghetto inhabitants to the populations beyond the ghetto’s boundaries.

[In addition], Nazi officials required Jewish doctors to perform medical examinations on people on deportation lists to determine whether they would be sent to a forced-labor camp or to Chelmno, an extermination camp located about 30 miles northwest of Lodz . . . .

When the Germans closed the ghetto in 1944, Esther was sent to Auschwitz, and from there to a forced-labor camp in Guben, Germany, where she tended to the Jewish slave laborers there:

Esther . . . kept two sets of records: one that recorded patients’ actual condition, which she kept hidden, and another that concealed the degree of their illness, which she would provide to a German doctor who oversaw her work. “The majority had tuberculosis and I didn’t know if [the German doctor] should know it,” Esther said. The deception potentially saved people’s lives because German health officials may have dispatched tuberculosis patients to their deaths.

After liberation, Esther went to Sweden, where she tended to other survivors, and thereafter settled in New York, where she married and worked as a pediatrician.

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