Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard Wirths 
of the physicians [though he did not here credit prisoner physicians], who because of treatment, improvement in diet, personal hygiene, etc. were now forcibly killed.”59 Because a part of him, as a physician, opposed the process, he could see himself as one combating the killing, even while actually orchestrating it.*

He could thus later claim that he had acted in accordance with his “Christian and medical conscience” and that “my work as a physician was purely that of offering care”: “I took the point of view that I was employed in Auschwitz only as a physician and could not act contrary to my conscience.”60 While the absurdity of these claims are partly a function of his immediate postwar desperation, they also reflect an actual self-image of a man who understood himself to have struggled to maintain his medical conscience.

No wonder he conveyed such excitement in announcing to his wife (on 23 July 1943), “Just think, I have come up with an entirely new delousing preparation, already tried it out on 500 people, and. with excellent and above all 100% success”; he added, “I hope to have a degree of success in this respect such as the world has never seen before [so that] in one fell swoop I could do away with all of the typhus. and above all, my little one, nobody has helped me with it … on the contrary.” Now he is a lonely medical spirit who can point to a real epidemiological achievement, even if because “it is done with a strong poison it is naturally not without danger.”61 The delousing preparation was cyanide gas, or Zyklon-B.

We can understand why he found it important to hold an “office hour” for SS families, and to serve as marriage counselor and personal advisor to them. He was a healer among them, even if (as he later claimed with some truth) they looked upon him suspiciously as an unreliable intellectual and part of the “academic international”; he and they had a functional stance toward one another. Also understandable is the intensity of his involvement in work on a new military hospital, so that his greatest sadness in acknowledging to Langbein at the end that Germany had lost the war was that “the work on the [new SS] infirmary will have been totally in vain.”62

By claiming for himself this stance as healer, Wirths could place his Block 10 experiments in the dignified and technical medical category of “colposcopic mass examinations of the uterus for early detection of cancer with the active support of Professor Dr. Hinselmann.” He could even put a medical face on selections by claiming that he “demanded of the camp authorities that physicians would have to be consulted for a decision regarding the ability [of inmates] to work” — though adding (and thereby half acknowledging the killing element), “I had to burden the physicians subordinated to me with this terrible fact.” His apologia also contains a visionary plan for “a large field hospital for sick prisoners with a capacity for 30,000-40,000 sick people” which would service other
* Wirths’s apologia had the purpose of exculpation — he was trying to save his own life — and he was willing to bend the truth considerably to that purpose.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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