Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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big.”37 His tone moves back and forth between that of a rural landowner, and a boy away from home rhapsodizing about the delicious cake sent to him.

Finally, in December 1944 and January 1945, his gifts to her become more practical: a “dynamo flashlight,” which he tells her how to use, along with other emergency equipment; but also a bottle of champagne as well as hard-to-get food and oil. He asks her to send him his ski boots (for skiing — or for fleeing the advancing Allied armies?).38

Now fearful about the future, he nonetheless speaks of the “good pineapple punch” at his quiet New Year’s Eve dinner at the home of Richard Baer (Liebehenschel’s replacement as commandant), pours out his love with added intensity, along with mounting anxiety (“I can only sincerely implore the Almighty to let me keep our happiness ... to preserve us for us!”). And with the Russians approaching, his main concern is that he is unable to get through to her by telephone. Now there are suggestions of death imagery from both sides as he implores (probably in response to her depressed thoughts): “Really, you must not leave me, my all,” and adds, “I … almost have to die with love and pain of longing.39 With everything collapsing, he clings to a still more totalized love and family immersion to buttress his threatened existence.

In a mid-January letter he drifts into a fantasy of future arrangements, for their rural German home: a consulting room separate from living quarters “so that you are less bothered,” the telephone placed in the hall with an extension line under the bedroom door. While he seems to be wishing away his plight he is sufficiently focused on it to go into hiding on 24 May, after the surrender, he begins to express “my greatest guilt” — not to Auschwitz victims but to his wife and children for having led them “into misery and situations of want.” Auschwitz is there but fended off in a claim of moral ignorance: “What is it that I have perpetrated? I do not know.” And in early July, from Hamburg, a similar theme, but now restated to suggest he is being persecuted because of the very strength of his love: “Is it a sin that I love you so much … ? Has it been hubris that I long for you, my all, my life, and that I bound your fate to mine at any price?” In all this — at least in what he writes to her — Auschwitz is either ignored or at most is no more than an unfortunate source of their pain. In his last letter to her, written on 15 July 1945, he reasserts their love as conquering the death he now anticipates even as that love displaces conscience: "The essence of our life … a love that glorifies, understands, knows and overcomes everything.”40

In Auschwitz too his family had shielded him from everything else. He had written in December 1944 that “when you and the little ones were with me in Au[schwitz], one could feel nothing of the war!”41 We can be certain that “war” included Auschwitz itself. When enmeshed in family love, that is, Wirths needed feel nothing of killing. His daughter, whose earliest memories are of Auschwitz, recalled his playing warmly with the children and being “always terribly kind to us.”  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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