Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Healing-Killing Conflict: Eduard Wirths 
I was able to learn a great deal about Dr. Wirths from a wide variety of sources: from interviews with two close family members, with other SS doctors who knew him in Auschwitz, and with prisoner doctors and other inmates who had contact with him there; from his own writings, mostly in the form of revealing letters he wrote to his wife and other family members from Auschwitz, and a desperate autobiographical apologia he prepared just before being taken into custody; and from various other SS records and trial materials. Finally, Langbein — in his writings and our talks together — has been an important source of knowledge about Wirths.

Recently a Dutch documentary film has explored the chief doctor’s life and Auschwitz activities on the assumption that he is a key figure for our understanding of Auschwitz and of Nazi functioning in general.³ Wirths provides the specter of a “good man” becoming a leading figure in a project of unprecedented evil. 
Eduard Wirths was born in 1909 in a village near Würzburg in southern Germany, the oldest of three boys. His father, a stonecutter from a craftsman tradition, had developed a successful stoneworks and become a notable figure in the area. Wirths senior had served as a medical corpsman in the First World War, from which he emerged in a depressed state with pacifist leanings, which were undoubtedly expressed in his (as one son put it) “making doctors of us all.” (Another son also became a doctor, and the third probably would have had he not died of cancer as a child.) This strict and revered father had liberal views, which contributed to a family atmosphere of humanism and democratic socialism.

Among the boys it was Eduard who came most under the father’s influence in becoming meticulous, obedient, and unusually conscientious and reliable — traits that continued into his adult life. He never smoked or drank and was described as compassionate and “soft” in his responses to others.

Eduard was always a good student and apparently became a very good doctor. He did special work in gynecology under a well-known professor, Hans Hinselmann. Although he had shown talent as a surgeon, he settled into a general practice in a rural area near his birthplace, partly out of the need to support a family, having married the first and only woman with whom he was ever involved.

Drawn to nationalistic and völkisch ideas during his student days, he joined the Nazi Party and the SA in 1933 and applied for admission into the SS the following year. An ardent and idealistic National Socialist,* he volunteered to serve in the Thuringian State Office for Racial Matters
* Langbein points out that Wirths had some initial difficulty with the Nazis because of earlier Social Democratic sympathies. But there is no doubt about Wirths’s subsequent Nazi enthusiasm.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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