Dr. Felicjan LOTH
Between 1939 and 1944, the Pawiak prison in Warsaw processes over 100,000 prisoners, of whom 37,000 get murdered, 60,000 sent to concentration camps, and only a tiny fraction released. Doctor Felicjan Loth, 29, a first-rate surgeon, was arrested in February 1941 for helping organize an underground med school. Loth undergoes a default beating-and-recovery procedure, but then, instead of KL Auschwitz or a mass grave just outside the city, he is assigned to the medical personnel.
German security police don’t give a damn about the wellness of the inmates, but the Gestapo and prison staff are only qualified to handle the beating part of the beating-and-recovery procedure, and need someone qualified to get the prisoners ready for next beating. Which is a very thin rationale for a doc. Loth also has to keep typhus under control and treat wardens for VD, and in return gets slightly better food and much better treatment. Still, his day-to-day is hell. Because of impossible choices that go with the job.
Such as when they bring in a woman and her teenage daughter, caught with a radio transmitter, and put them in separate cells. They’re all black and blue from the first interrogation, but they’ve said nothing. So far. The word from the resistance outside is keep it that way. The mother, repeatedly tortured and unable to take more, hangs herself in her cell. The girl knows she’s next and overdoses on painkillers. Loth is ordered to save her, so that they can make her talk.
He can’t help making an interesting observation: "Despite his wisdom, Hippocrates did not predict the Gestapo."
Then, there’s this young man with a badly fractured leg. Loth’s aligned bone fragments, inserted pins, put the limb in splints, and three days into the recovery decides that the injury’s healing well. Eight days into the recovery, the Gestapo decide to shoot the patient. When Loth goes to recover the pins and splints, the man already knows. They don’t speak and only stare at each other, but the man understands the devices will be of no use to him in a grave.
Loth removes them with sweaty, trembling hands, and when he’s done, the young man shakes his hand. Neither says a word.
Loth helps hundreds of people. He treats that bank manager who cut both his wrists in custody, and requires complicated surgery and amputation of his left hand, but lives. He saves a female doctor he knew before the war, who swallowed expired cyanide the moment she was brought in. He performs a complicated surgery on a man with a gunshot wound in his belly, nursing him for weeks until he recovers. If only so many cases weren’t hopeless.
The banker dies in Auschwitz, the woman doctor is shot into a mass grave, and the Gestapo beat the names of dozen resistance people out of the man with the belly wound.
But there’s more to Loth’s job than hopeless cases. Screening new arrivals for diseases, Loth intercepts evidence that could incriminate them or expose resistance members. He helps smuggle messages, identify Gestapo informers and plan escapes. He doctors medical histories and fakes epidemics to halt transfers to camps. He infects volunteers with typhus because hospitals in the city are easy to escape from. He treats Jews, entitled to no treatment, against German orders.
He gets released on 31 July 1944, and the next day, an uprising breaks out in Warsaw. Loth jumps right in and joins one of the insurgent hospitals. After forty months of treating Gestapo victims so that they could take more Gestapo abuse, this is different. It’s free people getting hurt on the battlefield of their own free will because they want some payback for all these victims. Hippocrates would approve. For Hippocrates, it would be a no-brainer.
Loth survives the uprising, but loses both parents and sister, also doctors, to the bombs the Germans drop on another insurgent hospital. After the war, he reunites with his wife, sets up and runs a pediatric trauma clinic in Warsaw, and performs some pioneer surgeries. In 1982, almost forty years after this photograph was taken, he dies respected and revered, having devoted his life to saving other lives.
His is the only life he's ever sacrificed.
(The girl caught with a transmitter? Loth made her well, and she convinced the Gestapo she knew nothing about the radio. They put her in KL Auschwitz and Ravensbrück, but she survived the war and passed away in 2012.)
The photo below is of a man sitting on a park bench and stroking a mutt. But what looks like a park bench is on the grounds of German Security Police and Security Service prison, called Pawiak, in occupied Warsaw, and the man is an inmate, as well as physician treating other inmates. Only the dog is just a dog.
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