|AUSCHWITZ: THE RACIAL CURE
| policy (set by Berlin) of doctors performing selections
had been, as in the case of many such policies, largely ignored in Auschwitz.
Wirths could demonstrate his bureaucratic correctness in insisting that
Auschwitz adhere to established policy. Moreover, as Dr. B. emphasized, control
over selections was an important source of power in the camp, and Wirths
consolidated his own power by having physicians conduct them. In accepting both
motivations, one must also say that Wirthss advocacy was a way of
insisting that killing be medicalized. This advocacy parallels the slogan
mentioned in connection with direct medical killing, or euthanasia:
Let the syringe remain in the hand of the physician.
also insisted upon taking his own personal turn in doing selections, rather
than merely delegating them to physician subordinates. The attitude was one
Langbein respected to a certain degree, in that Wirths refused to
shirk what was generally considered an onerous task.24 Here Wirthss attitude, as the humane
doctor combating primitives, was in effect: Let the syringe be in
my hand. If anyone kills, let it be me as well. Once more
conscience gave way to conscientiousness, and saving lives became associated
More than just asserting medical control of selections,
Wirths became their organizing authority, their responsible person.
It was he who discussed with SS leaders whether camp needs dictated higher or
lower percentages of transports selected for the gas chamber; or whether more
people should be selected for death from within the camp in order to diminish
overcrowding and the danger of epidemics. And it was he who was responsible for
policies during selections (again probably on the basis of discussions with
camp leaders as well as with other doctors), such as whether or at what point
mothers and children should be separated from one another, etc.
when large numbers of Hungarian Jews began arriving in Auschwitz, it was Wirths
who exerted pressures on the SS doctors from the Hygienic Institute to select,
even though that was not part of their camp assignment. He also (with Mengele)
pressured a reluctant Franz Lucas (see pages 194-95) to select and brought him
to the ramp so that he could participate in his first large selection, which
Wirths himself conducted. Not only did he angrily rebuke Lucas for subsequent
efforts at avoidance, but he threatened the dentist Dr. Willi Frank, who also
showed some recalcitrance, with the principles of Führer
order, of equivalence to front-line duty, and of refusal as desertion.
And on another occasion, Wirths berated a subordinate for reluctance to remove
fillings from corpses during the fifth year of war!25*
While lacking Mengeles flair and
posturing, Wirths was himself a commanding figure at selections. Tall and
Aryan-looking, he was described
* Even Wirthss once
taking the reverse attitude and saying of a noncommissioned officer who
objected to participating in selections At last a person with
character! is another example of his extraordinary capacity to manage
inner contradiction in Auschwitz.