|Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard
|I was able to learn a great deal about Dr. Wirths from a
wide variety of sources: from interviews with two close family members, with
other SS doctors who knew him in Auschwitz, and with prisoner doctors and other
inmates who had contact with him there; from his own writings, mostly in the
form of revealing letters he wrote to his wife and other family members from
Auschwitz, and a desperate autobiographical apologia he prepared just before
being taken into custody; and from various other SS records and trial
materials. Finally, Langbein in his writings and our talks together
has been an important source of knowledge about Wirths.
a Dutch documentary film has explored the chief doctors life and
Auschwitz activities on the assumption that he is a key figure for our
understanding of Auschwitz and of Nazi functioning in general.³ Wirths
provides the specter of a good man becoming a leading figure in a
project of unprecedented evil.
| Eduard Wirths was born in 1909 in a village near
Würzburg in southern Germany, the oldest of three boys. His father, a
stonecutter from a craftsman tradition, had developed a successful stoneworks
and become a notable figure in the area. Wirths senior had served as a medical
corpsman in the First World War, from which he emerged in a depressed state
with pacifist leanings, which were undoubtedly expressed in his (as one son put
it) making doctors of us all. (Another son also became a doctor,
and the third probably would have had he not died of cancer as a child.) This
strict and revered father had liberal views, which contributed to a family
atmosphere of humanism and democratic socialism.
Among the boys it was
Eduard who came most under the fathers influence in becoming meticulous,
obedient, and unusually conscientious and reliable traits that continued
into his adult life. He never smoked or drank and was described as
compassionate and soft in his responses to others.
was always a good student and apparently became a very good doctor. He did
special work in gynecology under a well-known professor, Hans Hinselmann.
Although he had shown talent as a surgeon, he settled into a general practice
in a rural area near his birthplace, partly out of the need to support a
family, having married the first and only woman with whom he was ever involved.
Drawn to nationalistic and völkisch ideas during his
student days, he joined the Nazi Party and the SA in 1933 and applied for
admission into the SS the following year. An ardent and idealistic National
Socialist,* he volunteered to serve in the Thuringian State Office for Racial
* Langbein points out that
Wirths had some initial difficulty with the Nazis because of earlier Social
Democratic sympathies. But there is no doubt about Wirthss subsequent