Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 395  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard Wirths 
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, Wirths’s dignified, authoritative demeanor gave a certain legitimacy, even “grandeur” to the selections.

Wirths’s 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 characteristic … 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 killing structure.

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 Home 
In addition to others’ observations on Wirths’s 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.  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 395 Forward  Next Page