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Press review »

Was doctor Wladislaw Dering a hero or was he a criminal?

Newsweek Polska

30-08-2010 / MF

Was doctor Wladislaw Dering a hero or was he a criminal? “Newsweek” got to some shocking testimonies. Some claim that the Auschwitz prisoner-doctor saved their lives, others accuse him of brutal crimes.

In the Block 21, which served as a camp hospital, a German doctor was performing testicles removal operation on prisoners. It was a part of an extensive scale eugenics experiment. The operating room, in which the cruel treatments were performed was not heated. Prisoners stood in a line and one after one were subjected to the monstrous procedure: they had an anasthetic injection in the spine, were put on a table, and had their testicles cut out. Patients were conscious and aware for the whole time. The German doctor, together with Polish prisoner-doctor were joking. After some time, the German doctor was being replaced by his assistent.

Files concerning Wladislaw Dering, e.g. protocols of testimonies submitted shortly after the war by witnesses from Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Israeli are still in IPN (Institute of National Remembrance). For some of the witnesses, Dering was a hero who was smuggling medicines to the camp and saving prisoners from gas chamber. Others picture him as monster, who served the reich too zealously.

Wladislaw Dering, born in 1903, before the war was well known Warsawian gynecologist and obstetrician. After the september’s defeat he was acting in the underground as the chief of health service in TAP (Secret Polish Army) but the organisation was soon destroyed by the Germans. In the summer 1940 Dering ended up in Auschwitz and got the camp number 1723. He was one of the first who got to cavalry captain Witold Pilecki’s underground camp resistance. In the same time he quickly got Germans trust. The article author did not mention about testimonies of Pilecki, where he spoke that it was intentional and was to seve their underground activity. Pilecki claims that the best way to have Germans trust was to "scold" other prisoners aloud. Besides, Dering took the work of a doctor in the camp. After some time, he became the main surgeon in the blocks 21 and 28 and at the end, the chief of the camp hospital.

Meanwhile, the chief of SS, Heinrich Himmler was trying to discover a quick, reliable and cheap mass scale sterilization method to make future biological exterminations of whole nations possible. Rudolf Hoss, Auschwitz commendant got an order to transfer Jewish prisoners for the research. The experiments were taken by German doctors, among others: Carl Clauberg and Horst Schumann. Dering, as IPN archives indicates, was their assistant.

Many testimonies incriminating the doctor survived. They concerned mainly the sterilization operations on completely healthy women and men. According to a witness, Dering himself told that he performed 17 thousands of operations in the camp, 16,5 thousands of which were experimental. He was also accused of killing prisoners with phenol injected in their hearts and participation with selections of prisoners before sending them to gas chamber.

However, other witnesses, mainly connected with the underground activity claim that keeping the position by doctor Dering was substantial for the resistance and that thousands of people owe their lives to the doctor. Witnesses say about illegally performed, life-saving operations, about providing anti-typhus injections, and about hiding endangered prisoners in hospital rooms. Moreover, he was helping the camp’s conspiration network to get rid of spies and German informers.

Wladislaw Bartoszewski claims that it is impossible to determine a strict and unquestionable line between heroism and crime in the case of a prisoner like doctor Dering. "He was standing in front of terribly hard dilemmas everyday. Whom to save? The one, who was in pain, or the one, who had a chance to survive? (...) To carry out SS order or to refuse because of some moral issues and to bring capital punishment on his own head? It cannot be unambiguously settled by any human court" – claimed in his interview, published four years ago "Wywiad rzeka", Bartoszewki, Auschwitz prisoner number 4427.

Dering left Auschwitz in 1944. In agreement with Polish underground, who saw him as a future witness of Nazi genocides, he signed German volkslist and was ordered to work in a private clinic in Chorzow. In 1945 he left Poland and got to general Wladislaw Anders’ corps which stationed initially in Italy and then in Great Britain. In January 1947 Poland demanded giving Dering in but England refused the extradition. The "Newsweek" columnist does not write that Dering’s briefcase was created in the same time, when his coassociate and AK hero, cavalry captain Witold Pilecki was tried and eventually death sentenced in 1948. The British judiciary had reason to suspect that the witnesses’ testimonies were fabricated.

However, as Filip Gańczak says, this line of defense proves not to be so effective today. In his opinion, it is clear on the example of the trial of John Demjaniuk, who as an Ukrainian in the Red Army got to German captivity. There, he was enlisted by SS officers and served as an overseer in Nazi’s camps. His defenders, however, do not quote the argument that the alleged "Iwan Grozny" had a choice between his own death and cooperation with murderous occupants.

As Gańczak emphasizes, Dering’s case became an opportunity to propaganda campaign against London expatriates. Dering was introduced as "fanatical nationalist and anti-Semite", who "cut stomachs and kidneys out of healthy people" in Auschwitz.

Dering stayed in Great Britain and was accepted to Polish Society of Former Political Prisoners in London. He was working as a doctor in Somalia afterwards. He died in the middle of 60s. When in 1958, Leon Uris, American writer with Jewish origin published his book "Exodus" in which Dering was introduced as a war criminal, the doctor suited him of defamation, and won.

Would the verdict be different if the court had access to Dering’s files in IPN? – wonders the author of the article.

Source: Filip Gańczak, Władysław Dering, doktor z Auschwitz, „Newsweek Polska” , 23 sierpnia 2010.

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