|Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard
|by one survivor as the most handsome of all in his
uniform. Wirths too had a sense of his SS bearing, so that, the same
survivor tells us, he always exaggerated his own perfection [in contrast
to] the riffraff down there.26 In
other words, Wirthss dignified, authoritative demeanor gave a certain
legitimacy, even grandeur to the selections.
control of selections ultimately controlled him. Dr. Tadeusz S. told me of a
revealing incident in which he and Langbein intervened with Wirths after
Entress had selected two thousand Jewish patients for the gas chambers. They
argued that the patients were healthy and could do good work for Germany.
Wirths was close to crying, and helped Dr. S. to arrange for first
eighteen hundred, and finally even the last two hundred, to remain alive. But a
few days later, Wirths selected two thousand other people in a different
subcamp. Dr. S. concluded: That was his way of legitimating his work for
his bosses, but not in front of Langbein and myself, which was very
for his behavior. Wirths strongly resisted seeing
himself (and having others see him) as one who participated in killing. But in
fact he did participate in killing, while diligently overseeing the entire
What selections epitomized Wirths's
participation and entrapment in the healing-killing paradox applied to
his entire Auschwitz experience.
|Personal Experience: Love Letters, Family, and
| In addition to others observations on Wirthss
behavior, important evidence about what he was experiencing at the time,
psychologically and morally, is provided both by documents his own
letters to his wife and his father, and his apologia at the end and by
family members who observed him closely.
Like most Nazi doctors, Wirths
underwent conflict in Auschwitz but adapted sufficiently to do his work there.
A tortured man who efficiently ran the Auschwitz system of medicalized killing,
he was remarkable for both the intensity of his conflict and the murderous
significance of his work. His doubling, while certainly extreme, was also
significantly different from that of other SS doctors, in that there coexisted
within him not so much an Auschwitz self and a prior self as two contending
Auschwitz selves. On the one hand, he was a loyal and dedicated Nazi with a
profound commitment to Nazi versions of the German state and the Germanic race;
on the other, a staunch advocate of medical humanity and improved conditions
for prisoners. His Nazi-Germanic self committed him to loyal participation in
the Auschwitz project; his physician- humanitarian self rendered him a
prisoners advocate. He had to keep the two selves separate from one
another, even as he tried desperately to unite them. The wonder and the
general misfortune is not that his internal structure eventually broke
down but rather that it held together for so long.