Doctor’s apology for Auschwitz comparison rebuffed

Dr Paul Bauert. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

AN Australian medical expert has been accused of inadequately apologising after implying refugees on Manus Island and Nauru are worse off than Holocaust victims who were sent to be gassed at Auschwitz.

Interviewed on Sky News about the independent medical review panel to assess medical transfers of asylum seekers from offshore detention, Dr Paul Bauert, a member of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) federal executive and a human rights advocate, was trying to explain the stress experienced by detainees.

Bauert, director of paediatrics at Royal Darwin Hospital, attempted to paraphrase a theory developed by Dr Viktor Frankl, an eminent Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, about the relationship between purpose in life and ­suffering.

Bauert said the worst psychological harm to Manus and Nauru detainees was “the lack of any end to what is going on … A lack of certainty. And this more than anything causes severe mental health damage”.

Drawing a comparison with Auschwitz, he added, “Even those that finally knew they were about to be condemned to the gas chamber, at least found some sense of relief in knowing what was happening.”

Describing Bauert’s observation as “a callous disregard of both the facts of history and the still raw memories and feelings of Holocaust survivors”, Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) co-CEO Peter Wertheim slammed his description of Auschwitz as “totally false” and lodged a complaint with the AMA.

Auschwitz inmates, said Wertheim, “were kept in a carefully planned state of illusion, uncertainty, disorientation and terror right up to the time the sealed doors closed them in to the gas chamber and the hydrogen cyanide Zyklon B pellets were poured through the vents”.

“In the name of compassion for asylum seekers, Dr Bauert has trampled upon the feelings and memories of Holocaust survivors and demonstrated an appalling lack of understanding of the nature and extent of the traumas they endured. He should apologise unreservedly.”

Bauert later stated, “The words I used did not convey the complexity of what [Frankl] wrote. My deep apologies for causing offence. Auschwitz was a humanitarian disgrace.”

However, while the AMA welcomed Bauert’s new statement, the ECAJ called for the medical body to repudiate their board member’s “attempt at an apology”.

Bauert “referred to Auschwitz as ‘a humanitarian disgrace’, again likening it to his view of detention centres on Manus and Nauru”, said Wertheim, adding the doctor should apologise for his “utter incomprehension of and insensitivity towards what Holocaust survivors went through”.

PETER KOHN