Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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concentration camps as well and “eliminate the influence of the camp authorities.” He did not say, of course, that those expanded medical facilities were part of the general Nazi vision of a vast expansion “after the victory” of Auschwitz killing and slave labor.63

There is a final key to the adaptive value of Wirths’s medical self in his brother’s characterization of him as “a good doctor” who “tried to do what he could do” on the assumption that “if anybody must be killed, … a doctor has to be a witness, … guilty or not.” In the middle of death, even death he is bringing about, a healer has the noble function of bearing witness — because he is a healer.  
Adapting to Evil  
Wirths’s pattern illuminates the crucial distinction between conflicts and actions: in the absence of a basic decision to change one’s actions (cease doing selections, leave, etc.), the tendency is to absorb conflicts and mold them to one’s adaptation. Wirths’s depression and even his change in demeanor (according to his wife, from an outgoing, happy man to a deeply troubled and reclusive one) were a way of maintaining his adaptation — as, of course, was his opposite tendency, remembered by his daughter in Auschwitz, toward tenderness and gaiety with the children.

Reportedly somewhat depressed while in Dachau, then more so in Auschwitz, Wirths exclaimed to his brother Helmut, “How can I go on living?” After the war Wirths wrote of having been “so emotionally burdened that I saw suicide as the only way out of these grave conflicts of conscience [Gewissenskonflikten ],”64 but he implied that his psychic state was improved by being able to travel to Berlin and obtain permission for medically constructive steps in Auschwitz.

Wirths clearly experienced guilt feelings, a sense of self-condemnation, but his brother Helmut made it clear that those feelings of “not being able to live in peace with his conscience” were greatest “[at the] beginning and in the end” — as were all of his conflicts. During most of the time between, Wirths could see Auschwitz, as Helmut put it, as “a task” (the “crusade” for improvement I have spoken of). The messages of gratitude he received from prisoners also helped allay guilt; and even when he “fell into despair,” as his brother put it, because he realized that Auschwitz evils were not diminishing but “became more and more,” the despair was partial and by no means incapacitating.

His expressions of guilt toward the end were still ambiguous In a letter to his parents, but particularly his father, of 13 December 1944, he declared, “The guilt cannot be denied” (including his own, we must assume), “but surely our people has atoned for much by its heroic conduct, by its immense sacrifices, particularly among women and children” (an expression of mitigation but also of retained loyalty not only to the German people but, we suspect, to their cause) “which in my opinion could have been avoided if one had stayed away from such things from  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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