Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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others the evil project he himself was part of. Both Gerstein and Wirths demonstrate that doubling can enable a man to be a passionate advocate of both killing and healing (see footnote on pages 161-62).

Wirths’s suicide did not result from a breakdown in the doubling itself, or from resistance to the killing project. Rather it was a consequence of both the doubling and the project. Dr. Jan W.’s claim that Wirths killed himself because he “couldn’t face the responsibility” for what he had done was therefore true. Suddenly stripped of his official-medical place in the immortalizing Nazi project, Wirths was vulnerable to the inevitably harsh consequences (trial, condemnation, death) of his actions.

Yet Langbein may also be correct in saying that Wirths killed himself because he “had a conscience.” He had more of a conscience than most Nazi doctors and possibly most human beings. But that conscience had been harnessed to the Nazi movement itself, to which he gave devoted service; it could not be dislodged from that movement even in Auschwitz, and even though a portion of that conscience was applied to saving the lives of prisoners.

His message to the future via his suicide also contains an expression of conscience: the principle that he who becomes involved in mass killing must himself pay with his life; and the accompanying principle, more dubious in our eyes but strongly felt, of maintaining the “purity” of the future of one’s family by destroying its tainted component — oneself. Yet there may have been still a third principle, related to the other two: the reassertion of the healing ethos by destroying the physician (himself) who had become tainted with killing.  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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