Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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forced to do this terrible work, yes, that it no longer exists.”* In correspondence with his parents, he corrects the elder Wirths’s mistaken impression that he, Eduard, had been actually responsible for the changes, but does relate his personal crusade to their achievement (“I pointed out at every opportunity that offered itself to me … the inhumanity, impossibility and genuine indignity of the whole procedure”). His way of doing so was to stress how "they [those advocating the killing] have burdened … our entire people, … particularly at the time of such a terrible war”48 — an approach that met with acceptable Nazi standards of opposition as well as his own loyalties. He could still, however, understand his crusade to be on behalf of family and future — that is, on behalf of his “decent self.”

His crusade, then, was on behalf of maintaining acceptable standards within the Nazi movement. It could extend to such petty matters as telling a man on the medical staff under his command (as Wirths describes in a letter to his wife), that if he does well in a course he was leaving to take, he would get fourteen days of special leave, while adding that along his travels this man would purchase some wool, a valuable wartime commodity, and bring it to her49 (hardly a notable vice by Auschwitz standards, but suggesting that Wirths was not above bending his rectitude slightly in order to please her).

His sense of moral crusade was significantly maintained in the struggle against Grabner and the Auschwitz Gestapo. Here he could denounce their corruption and “illegalities” in murdering and foisting their murders on his unit. Within the Auschwitz structure, his crusade against Grabner might well have demanded a certain real courage, but it also had the enormous psychological value to Wirths as a crusade against evil as symbolized by Grabner.

Wirths’s combination of rectitude and compromise enabled him to feel relatively comfortable in Auschwitz. From the beginning, he pitted “only one thing, the straight path,” against the ultimate corruptions of Auschwitz. In terms of personal arrangements, he could say, “I asked for nothing,” and reveled in his friend Horst Fischer’s reassurance that he deserved the house being built for him and everything else: “If I hadn’t created [what I have] here, Auschwitz would not be … what it is now. ”50

Yet it is Wirths who complained of Fischer’s rectitude, seeing him as “always straightforward and honest, thus making some things difficult for himself and me” — rather than doing things  “diplomatically,” which meant making compromises even as one “keep[s] to one’s straight path.” Wirths’s development of his Auschwitz self enabled him to adjust to the camp, to (in Helmut’s words) “g[e]t used to it.” (Wirths could still claim rectitude for his Auschwitz self by taking such stands as objecting — in early January 1945, with the Russian armies close —   to nurses living in the
* This was the time when, with Russian troops approaching and most available Jews already killed, a decision was made to stop large selections in anticipation of closing the camp.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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