On 15 September 1945, the former Auschwitz Garrison doctor Eduard Wirths - previously arrested and questioned on 20 July 1945 by the German criminal police in Hamburg - was interrogated by the British. Here I reproduce extracts from the interrogation transcript, which was first published in 2001 by Ulrich Völklein, Der Judenacker - eine Erbschaft. According to Völklein, the document was called to his attention in 1985 and supplied to him by the British interrogator named Ian McBallister (see Christian Dirks in: Kramer, NS-Täter aus interdisziplinärer Perspektive, p. 150). Dirks notes that a comparison of content and style with Wirths' apology written earlier the year suggests that the document is authentic. Wirths attempted to hang himself few days later (likely triggered by the prospect of getting turned over to the Poles or Czechs revealed by the interrogator at the end) and died on 20 September 1945.
When have you perceived that Auschwitz was no labour, but an extermination camp?
Auschwitz was very much a labour camp. There was in the camp itself and in its complex thousands, even tens of thousands of jobs. There were coal mines, chemical factories, factories for the production of electrical devices, agricultural works, nurseries...
...gas chambers, mass graves, pyres, crematoria, selections on the ramp.These existed indeed. It was about separating the able bodied from those unfit for work. And so that there were no blunders and that the number of those able to work was as large as possible, I have repeatedly ordered and also insisted that these selections are carried out by medical staff.So doctors determined the way to death?
They determined in particular the way into life, so to employment in labour. Only those who appeared incapable upon application of the strictest standards were not considered.
He was led from the railway ramp directly into the death in the gas chambers, which were in sight from where took place these selections.
It would have been impossible in wartime to accommodate and feed all these people who were no longer able to work productively. After the political decision was made to bring all Jews from the Reich and from the occupied countries of Europe for labour in the East, we were faced with the problem: What do we do with those who are unable or no longer able to work? We couldn't send them back. We couldn't send them further. Where should we have sent them? It was impossible to keep them with us, the camp was too small despite its size. We had to protect them against diseases, see the typhus epidemic, because of which I was ordered to Auschwitz. We lacked the effective remedies for this too. So the selections and the killing of those unable to work in the gas chambers disguised as shower rooms was indeed by no means pleasant, but under the conditions of war and the specific circumstances still a tolerable solution.
So you killed out of pity?
I can not give you an adequate response to such a question. It was war. Think about the conditions in your home country in these years. Also in yours there were labour camps and detention camps for foreigners or those people who appeared dangerous to your government. It was your country, which erected the first concentration camps in the Boer War. War has its own law. As commander of a front unit you need to send people into their death. As a soldier, you kill not only soldiers but also civilians, if you bombard a village or a town. As a medical officer, you have to decide which wounded you help and which you let die. Unfortunately, there are situations where you can decide only between two evils and you have to decide. You assume responsibility for something that is ethically to be condemned and you get guilty in this sense.[...]What happened to those able to work, and what happened to the other, those separated?
Those able to work were sent to the camp, those unable to work - to the gas chambers.[...]Millions of people have been murdered there, an unimaginable number. Either they came directly into the gas chamber or later, when they had become too weak for slave labour. Or they are starved or died of banal diseases...
... No, not banal diseases, but typhus and other severe infections. Nor do I believe that such a large number died there. The gas chambers were established in the summer of 1942, the crematoria in spring and summer 1943. They worked for one year. I've heard that a maximum of 5,000 corpses could be burned in all five crematoria, if they had been in operation night and day without interruption. Therefore, it is not possible that more than 2 Million people have died, and even this is only a theoretical number because a continuous operation of the gas chambers and crematoria was already technically impossible.I won't let myself getting involved into such number games. The Poles speak of 4 Million people, who were killed in the five years in Auschwitz by diseases, executions and mass destruction - in the gas chambers or otherwise. Several thousands have survived found in a pitiful state after the liberation of the camp by Soviet troops.I did not deny that people died in large numbers in Auschwitz. I just wanted to set the limits according to my knowledge of the processes and facilities.
And two Million dead, that would have been okay for you, you wouldn't have to be upset?
Of course, it was not right. I have had many clashes with the camp commandant Höss, with his successors Liebehenschel and Baer and with my superior Lolling in Berlin, where I pointed out that this large number of deaths contradicts the orders that we have repeatedly received from Berlin, which pointed out the importance of labour force of the prisoners for the armament industry. There should have been even the creation of work places for the sick and physically disabled. The spirit of these orders did not agree with the selections, that got out of hand. And I have often massively fought against this myself.With what success?
Usually without success.[...]You were the highest death doctor and had to ensure that this death came a little slower.
If you see it that way, we do not need to talk to each other. I followed my doctor's conscience under the most severe stress tests and conflicts at a place and in a job, to which I have not pushed myself to. I have been transferred to there. After my arrival, I had the choice to follow my inner voice and expose myself to these adversities or get away as soon as possible. I would have considered this as desertion. I went the hard way and remained in Auschwitz. I have entered the dispute with the camp commandant. I have improved the situation there. You will learn this when you talk to prisoner's doctors and prisoners who have worked with me, who even asked me Christmas 1943 not to let them down.
Of which probably no one is alive.
I hope so. What do you want to do with me anyway?
The Czechs have called on the "War Crimes Commission" for your arrest. I suppose that you are handed over to the Czechs or the Poles, if a request for extradition is made. Since 1943 there is an agreement between the Allied Powers that every war criminal is being transferred to the country where he committed his crimes. There he will be brought to justice.
And you believe that Germans have the prospect for a fair trial there?
Your concern for a fair trial is understandable, but it seems a little bit strange to me. How fair have you been in your conduct towards your victims? What rights of these people have you respected? But never mind that. Today, I will report your arrest to my superiors office. You will remain in custody until I learn otherwise. And then we'll see.
(Konrad Beischl, Dr. med. Eduard Wirths und seine Tätigkeit als SS-Standortarzt im KL Auschwitz, p. 228 ff., my translation)
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