Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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ordinary inmate rather than be shot at the Black Wall. He also gave psychiatric testimony that similarly served the accused.

Wirths clearly felt most comfortable when dealing with actual medical matters, and Höss testified to his “constant struggle with the Construction Department because he always urged improvements and new construction in the medical facilities.” Wirths in fact devoted much of his time during 1944 to the planning and construction of a new SS military hospital. In September of that year, with the war completely lost and the Soviet armies not far away, there was a ceremony marking the opening of the hospital and Wirths was promoted to Sturmbannfüher, or major — the whole scene epitomizing the fantasy element in this claim to healing. But as Langbein observed, “It was a purely medical task and he was glad to do it.”11

Wirths conveyed an aura of moral scrupulousness: for instance, he alone among Auschwitz doctors kept to wartime food rations. He consistently took stands against brutality and random abuse of prisoners, was generally antagonistic to the ordinary criminals who took part in that abuse, and was much more sympathetic to Communist political prisoners such as Langbein, in whom he could sense the kind of integrity he respected.

The two men developed the kind of tie that Langbein spoke of as “deepen[ing] into a human relationship.”12 Indeed, a chief camp doctor or an otherwise prominent SS doctor was likely to develop a close relationship with a prisoner secretary, as in parallel situations in Buchenwald and Mauthausen. The necessary elements seemed to include an SS doctor who retained a kernel of medical humanity; official SS encouragement of a certain amount of medical help to prisoners to maintain a work force; a prisoner secretary who was intelligent, reliable, and in his own life morally or ideologically committed (often a Communist political prisoner); and German cultural ties between the two men. Bonds between chief doctors and prisoner secretaries could also be reinforced by their common capacity to adapt to bureaucracy.

Wirths’s conflicts and character traits made him vulnerable to influence from “a powerful personality” (in Dr. Tadeusz S.’s words) such as Langbein, and the latter consistently utilized the relationship to better the situation of inmates in general and of the Communist prisoner underground in particular. The relationship enabled Wirths to retain a humane sense of himself. Langbein and a few other inmates (including Karl Lill, who remembered the incident after the war) apparently had a sufficiently warm relationship with Wirths and his wife to come into their home in Auschwitz during the time the family was living there, and play “horsies” [Reitpferdchen] with two of their small children. Despite their very different situations, both Wirths and Langbein probably experienced a sense of shared struggle within a death-saturated environment.13

The emotional conflicts in Wirths we shall shortly discuss were clear to prisoners around him, as was his strong desire at times to leave the place. Langbein and others tried to dissuade him from doing so on  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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