The BBC’s Horizon program profiles Bettelheim. The documentary goes back over his period in the concentration camps and his psychoanalytic work with autistic children.
The best way to understand the terrorization under which one lived was the situation when a friend of one was killed mercilessly, purpose in front of one’s eyes and one couldn’t do anything. This was one for the tremendous conflicts. Should one try and help a friend, and be likely killed; or should one not, and have to live with the fact that one didn’t come to the rescue. This was probably one of the most demoralizing experiences in the camp, to me personally.
He describes a particular situation:
A group of prisoners had xx against the Gestapo. The SS men ordered them to dig some ditches and to lay down in them, and then ordered another group of prisoners to shovel dirt on them and suffocate them. The prisoners, out of fear for their own lives, obeyed the order without any resistance, and began to shovel dirt on the prisoners. But before they were suffocated the SS men ordered the prisoners to be killed to get out of the trenches, and ordered those who were willing to kill their comrades to lie down in the trenches, and now those who were first to be murdered had to shovel dirt on them. Which they did only because these people had been willing and ready to murder them.239 Bruno Bettelheim Documentary Horizon 1986 Part 1 of 2