|Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard
| moral position not only endorsed by his family and by his
own feelings of duty but by his deepest sense of self and world. Into that
principle of staying the course went a young lifetime of
filial, national, and ideological piety: strong immediate inclinations to
obedience as well as a transcendent commitment to what he perceived as his
immortalizing racial, national, and cultural substance. That immortalizing pull
could prevail over whatever horror the humanist in him experienced, and
contribute greatly toward his remaining the physician-manager of the very
atrocity-producing situation so much of him abhorred.
Wirths was, he was at the same time all too representative of the
physicians corruption in Nazi Germany. He was a partially, willing
implementer of the most visionary of all Nazi projects of healing the Aryan
race by killing those seen as threatening it. He was what his father called a
sacrifice only in the sense that, in embodying the most extreme
reversal of healing and killing, he took on a large measure of the taint and
guilt of his profession if not of his generation.
He was both a
self-motivated implementer of his fate and a man acted upon by forces greater
than himself. That is, he first seized upon the medical role of cultivator of
the genes offered by the Nazis; was then propelled into a sequence of unsavory
environments culminating in Auschwitz, environments that offended him but
called forth his loyalties; and ended by providing skilled and reliable
professional service to the killing project he had morally come to oppose. He
was both brutally, misused (in his brothers word) by a
murderous regime and his own architect of that very misuse.
Wirthss pain and ambivalence, his form of doubling was in many ways ideal
for the overall Auschwitz function. His Nazi-Auschwitz self, with its
attachment to racial purification and national revitalization, could serve the
killing project with extraordinary efficiency; his humane medical self, so
strongly supported by loving family relationships, helped maintain his general
function and contributed to his decency in his own eyes as well as
those of other prisoners and many SS colleagues and fellow officers as well.
Wirths was very much what William James called a divided self, but
the division was functional for Auschwitz. His was the doubling characteristic
of the general phenomenon of the decent Nazi; and true to that
phenomenon, Wirths got the job done.
Wirths was extreme in his
involvement in both the healing and the killing functions. In that way his
doubling resembled that of Kurt Gerstein, the SS officer who, in strange and as
yet insufficiently understood ways, behaved as an ardent SS activist; who took
over much technical responsibility for Zyklon-B gas and its delivery to
Auschwitz; but who also had an impressive record as an anti-Nazi, claimed to
have infiltrated the SS in order to understand its killing operations, and
tried desperately toward the end to inform the world of Nazi mass murder.
Unlike Gerstein, however, Wirths never stepped out of his Nazi role to denounce