Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
  Page 413  
Previous Page

Home Page
Home Page  
   Next Page
Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard Wirths 
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.

However unusual Wirths was, he was at the same time all too representative of the physician’s 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 brother’s word) by a murderous regime and his own architect of that very misuse.

Whatever Wirths’s 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 to  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
Previous Page  Back Page 413 Forward  Next Page