Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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to be ashamed of him.” Later in the documentary, she carne to the idea that “if you were among them … that is the guilt.” And she told Langbein that her husband’s suicide “was probably for the best” — a statement that might have referred to her husband’s despair, the hopelessness of his legal case, and the pain .a trial would have caused everyone, or was perhaps an acknowledgment that, despite her commitment to his goodness, he had to be judged guilty.

His two sons struggled more directly with the issue but no less ambivalently. The older son, who had warm childhood memories of playing with his father, said, “I do not know whether it is right to defend him,” and ended, “I wish to leave the question open.” The younger son, with no such childhood memories, seemed to come closer to a judgment in his sense that his father’s suicide meant that “he must have felt guilty,” and that “I don’t know why he didn’t refuse right at the beginning because he knew what happened there.” But then he denied that his father had committed crimes, and said, “I don’t know.”

Wirths’s elderly father struggled with his own role in having advised the son to stay at Auschwitz, and, in a long and carefully worded letter to the Frankfurt Court, told of having “entreated [his son] … to save lives where he could” but that “he should not execute inhuman orders” — an admonition that sounds dubious at all levels for everyone. The father listed in detail ways in which his son did save lives and characterized his activities in Auschwitz as “sacrificial.” Yet in the very last words of the documentary, he held his own original advice up to question: “But he had to become guilty there, did he not? I ask you only: was that [my advice] right?”79

Wirths s daughter, a married woman in her early forties recalled being told by her mother virtually nothing about her father except that “he was dead from the war” ; and also that “he was a good man and a really good father,” which was consistent with a few loving memories she had of him. With the family decision to cooperate with a Dutch film maker on a documentary about Wirths, her mother began to tell her more, including details of selections, while emphasizing Wirths’s despair, wish to leave, and decision to stay “in order to prevent an even worse situation.” In books the daughter was now reading, “all of a sudden there is a totally different picture [of him], a totally different [person].” She found this very hard and difficult to believe, “wanted to apologize for him … to understand him to find justification.” She tried to see him as “a soldier in war who shoot[s] people [as] his work,” and as having stayed in order to “save his family” (that is, to prevent repercussions). Struggling to get inside of her father’s pain, she believed that only his family ties prevented him from killing himself earlier; she considered him at the end “a broken man” who, “knowing that he had killed people, … could not live with this.”

She said that, after repeated discussions with her younger brother, “in the final analysis neither of us condemns him … We cannot condemn  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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