Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard Wirths 
him, him himself.” But her ultimate question about her father reflected both her profound doubts and her difficulty comprehending how far his ideology had taken him. That question was: "Can a good man do bad things?"

Eduard’s brother Helmut, the family member most consistently involved in the issue, was apparently motivated by two powerful incentives: to convey his brother’s struggle and in some measure to clear his name; and to illuminate more generally this episode of Nazi mass murder as a way of bearing his own constructive witness. His “mission” was complicated by his own involvement in some of those events. He was in frequent touch with Hermann Langbein, read extensively about Auschwitz, and attended the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt, bringing with him at times his son, a younger colleague, and the childhood friend of Wirths mentioned earlier. Helmut and his son were in pained dialogue: “There was a time when he [the son] doubted that anybody at all during that time [the Nazi era] remained correct [noch korrekt geblieben; by implication, did not become guilty] — including me.”

Helmut strove for a broadly humanitarian perspective, declaring that he “could understand” and had no animosity toward the British officer whose statement about shaking hands with a man responsible for the death of four million Jews preceded Wirths’s suicide; and claimed to have told his brother before leaving Auschwitz, “If I were a Jew, I would, after the war, hang every German man, child … old men, everybody.” But his simultaneous need to defend his brother led to a stress on the latter’s good deeds to the point of erroneous idealization, as in his claim that Wirths persuaded Höss to permit children to remain with their parents at selections and thereby survive.

Helmut tried to regard his brother as “an extraordinarily misused [missbrauchten] person,” as “a very good human being … the best father, a good doctor… [who had the] terrible fortune to [be brought into] this situation.” Helmut’s son interjected, “If you [got into] this machinery of murder, you are forced to become guilty.” But Helmut went further in admitting, “Sometimes it is hard for me to believe all those things about my brother — how he would do those things, … selecting children for the gas chamber.” He was also extremely troubled about Langbein’s account of his brother’s participation in typhus experiments, wondered whether Langbein could be mistaken, and added, “I struggle against [believing] it.” He seemed to view the incident as a more direct Hippocratic question than any other, and admitted that, if the description were true, he would have to “feel differently” about his brother because such experiments “would almost certainly mean death for a human being.” He also admitted he had no reason to doubt Langbein’s account.

In discussing his brother’s record, Helmut raised the central question of the healing-killing paradox: “Can you murder in order to save another?” And later: “Whichever way you turn … you must become guilty.” At some level he was probably including himself in that judgment  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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