Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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as he was by no means without conflict over having advised his brother to stay and having himself actively participated (however he minimized that participation) in his brother’s cancer research.

He had come to considerable truth about Auschwitz, which he could state with something approaching eloquence, as in the epigraph to chapter 7. His eventual judgment of his brother was repeatedly that of “tragic guilt … inescapable guilt,” as described in classical Greek drama. He meant that circumstances create a destiny that leads inexorably to guilty actions — but he too understated his brother's active Nazi commitment. Helmut stressed his brother’s youth and inexperience at the time, along with his own, and wished that he himself could have been at the time "a mature man … able to judge [things] better.” Then he would have been able to take “an unconditional stance against these events,” for he had come to the conviction that “the only thing to do in a situation like that is to say, ‘No, I won’t do it.’”
What can be finally said, then, about the psychological fit between this “good, conscientious doctor” and the Auschwitz killing project? The beginning key is Wirths’s unique combination of passionate Nazi ideology with impressive medical talent — a combination that could propel one quickly into a position of medical leadership, or leadership in medicalized killing. He was significantly immersed in Nazi ideology in three crucial spheres: the claim of revitalizing the German race and Volk; the biomedical path to that revitalization via purification of genes and race; and the focus on the Jews as a threat to this renewal, to the immediate and long-term “health” of the Germanic race. While Wirths did not absolutize these convictions in the manner of a Mengele — they were in him combined with a strong current of medical humanism — his commitment to the Nazi cause was probably no less strong.

Wirths had another trait insufficiently noted by commentators: a combination of moralism and obsessiveness that under ordinary conditions contributes much to making one a “reliable professional,” and in Auschitz contributed to the efficiency with which Wirths set up and maintained the entire structure of medicalized killing. It enabled him to be always both “correct” and meticulous about rules and regulations, whether in trying to limit Auschwitz evil or (more importantly, as it turned out) in serving it.

In Auschwitz, Wirths was thrust into the ultimate atrocity-producing situation. He encountered a set of conditions so structured organizationally and psychologically that virtually everyone entering into the situation committed atrocities. In that sense there is some truth in Helmut’s claim that, once sent there, his brother had to become guilty — but only if one remained there. And powerful psychological forces bound Wirths to Auschwitz and overcame his ambivalent desire to leave.

“Enduring” in Auschwitz — staying there, whatever the duress — was a  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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