Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 393  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard Wirths 
any Aryans and insisted that the medical blocks be set up to prevent that from happening. His concept of the "correct" was probably involved here no less than his ideological anti-Semitism.

His bureaucratic integration also undoubtedly contributed to his typhus experiments. Langbein told me that he estimated Wirths’s thought processes to be as follows: Typhus was still a problem for SS personnel; a new medication or serum had to be tested; and since there were no typhus cases at that time in Auschwitz: “These are anyhow only Jews, they would die in any case, but now I can try out a drug [on them] which could be important for many [German] people.”21

Perhaps Wirths’s organizational loyalty was most revealed when he invited Langbein to win his freedom by joining the SS. Wirths had been excited to learn that this policy, occasionally applied to Aryan prisoners, could be implemented with Langbein in a way that would permit him to continue the work he was doing in the camp, but from within the SS. Wirths was upset when Langbein gently refused (“His face los[t] its friendliness”); but upon hearing Langbein’s explanation that since the inmates were his comrades, he would not be able to do the things SS men in Auschwitz were commanded to do, Wirths commented, “Your view does you honor,” though sounding “a bit disappointed.”22
Selections were the crux of the matter — for Auschwitz as an institution, for its chief doctor, and for understanding Wirths’s inner contradictions. Significantly, he was, at least initially, strongly opposed to selections in general and to doctors performing them. Höss noted, this opposition to the mass killing of Jews and Langbein referred to another SS officer who remembered Wirths telling him that the task of physicians was to treat patients and that selections were not a proper activity for them.23

But rather quickly Wirths found himself fighting hard to bring selections under the control of physicians, which meant under his control. A close friend and SS physician colleague later testified that, before the spring of 1943, selections were conducted by the camp commander and his subordinates; and that Wirths was convinced that they sent many people fit for work to the gas chambers and was at about that time able to arrange for physicians to take over (see also chapter 8).† The official
* What Wirths did not know was that the man he was recruiting for the SS was half-Jewish, a secret that Langbein (as he later explained) guarded carefully in the camp, since its becoming known could have greatly endangered him.

† This sequence resembles that of a physician I interviewed: a distinguished academic specialist who had displayed some courage in speaking out against experiments on human beings at a meeting of military physicians, only to take part (though in a somewhat indirect way) in such experiments later on. He had been politely summoned by Conti, with whom he had a “fair discussion,” during which his superior apparently convinced him of the importance of the experiments for saving the lives of German soldiers. He too had the need to remain loyal to the tasks put forward by the Nazi project, while clinging to the belief he could improve upon what was being done by participating in it.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 393 Forward  Next Page