Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 387  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard Wirths 
patients. He also improved conditions on the medical blocks, extended the work of Polish prisoner physicians who had been in Auschwitz for some time, and began to permit the large numbers of arriving Jewish physicians to do medical work as well. All this was consistent with overall SS policies of maintaining a work force in Auschwitz; and Langbein found it possible to appeal to Wirths on policies that could save lives by presenting a case “from a purely medical point of view.”7

For instance, he persuaded Wirths to take steps to end the fatal phenol injections by pointing out that they made it impossible to maintain anti-typhus medical measures because prisoners, becoming fearful of the sick block, avoided it even when afflicted and thereby infected others (see page 257). Once convinced, Wirths had the two people most responsible for the injections transferred from the medical block: Entress, the SS physician who ordered most of them; and Klehr, the noncommissioned officer who performed more of the injections than anyone else.8

Wirths was also protective of prisoner doctors and other prisoners doing medical work. On one occasion he was heard to castigate Irma Grese, the notorious woman SS officer, with the words “Do not beat my people!” when he found her whipping a prisoner who worked on the medical block. And when a prisoner chief of Block 10 insisted upon beating other prisoners, Wirths not only removed her but gave unprecedented authority to the Jewish prisoner doctor he had appointed to run the medical block.9

Wirths exercised his medical autonomy in a confrontation with the Auschwitz Gestapo head, Maximilian Grabner. Grabner’s Political Department maintained a prison in the basement of Block 11, periodically had inmates shot at the “Black Wall” in the courtyard between blocks 11 and 10, and would then officially report those victims as having died of some illness in the infirmary. Upon learning of this system (with Langbein’s help), which considerably elevated the recorded death rate in the medical blocks, Wirths got angry and declared, “The Political Department has to take responsibility for its own dead.” Since it turned out that Entress and Klehr had again been part of the arrangement, especially through Entress’s close connection with the Gestapo, their transfer helped solve this problem as well. The matter emerged during Konrad Morgen’s celebrated SS investigation of Auschwitz corruption (see pages 138-39): the judge backed Wirths since killings at the Black Wall, unlike those in the gas chamber, were not considered legal. Morgen also supported Wirths in opposing Grabner’s urging that pregnant Polish women be killed. In these struggles against Grabner and other Auschwitz enemies, Wirths anchored himself in medical propriety but at the same time scrupulously adhered to rules and regulations.10

Wirths used his medical authority in other ways to save lives. At Gestapo trials held in Auschwitz, he frequently testified to the medical capacity of an accused, usually a Polish civilian, to perform useful work, thereby arguing for the prisoner to be allowed to enter the camp as an  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 387 Forward  Next Page