Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 408  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
[satisfac…] tion of his superiors.” On the basis of such, recommendations, Wirths had been promoted in September 1944.71

Now he ruminated on passages from Nietzsche, such as “Oh, demolishing is easy, but building!” — and on how “finally painful experiences, sad events, lead our heart back to the faith of our childhood.”72 But he was essentially without hope, spoke frequently to his brother of suicide, and during a last smuggled visit with family members, his brother and wife found him manifestly suicidal. At this point he was in what would clinically be called an agitated depression, accompanied by extreme despair, in which the necessary components for suicide were present: the sense of entrapment and futurelessness, the existence of a prior image of suicide as a possible option in one's life, and the desire to convey an enduring principle best expressed by killing oneself (in his case affirmation of love for his wife and family together with a solution to the tormenting question of guilt).

The British officer’s statement that he was shaking hands with a man responsible for the death of four million people activated all three of those components of suicide. Wirths had reason to feel hopeless about any future and to call forth existing suicidal imagery to perform a final act that would spare his family the pain and disgrace of a trial while neither acknowledging nor denying the dimensions of his guilt.

Perhaps the main point to be made about Wirths’s suicide was that he committed it after all that he had done in Auschwitz. While there, despair, was part of his adaptation, part of what has been called a “life of suicide” — a life in which the possibility of killing oneself enables one to avoid genuine confrontation with questions of meaning73 While Auschwitz lasted, nothing in his conflicts prevented him from carrying out his functions in that death camp. In this way his story represents, however exaggeratedly, the overall experience of Nazi doctors in Auschwitz. 
We get a deeper sense of Wirths’s moral and psychological contradictions — and of their larger significance — by noting the difficulties others had in evaluating both the man and his suicide.

Hermann Langbein, the prisoner closest to him, was said (in a 1946 letter of Lill’s about Wirths to Wirths’s father) to have loved him very much and called him his ‘fairytale prince’ whom, after the war and in a different uniform, he wanted to see again — as a friend.”74 But Langbein also came to juxtapose Wirths’s extremely valuable help to prisoners with the fact that “for two years he had a decisive SS function in the extermination apparatus.” Langbein criticized Wirths less for his role in selections, which he considered imposed upon the chief doctor, than for his last-hour, fatal typhus experiments, which Wirths chose to do himself.75 In discussing these with me, Langbein spoke of Wirths’s actions as reflecting the total demoralization of all people who worked in Auschwitz in an SS  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 408 Forward  Next Page