Josef Mengele

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Dr. Josef Mengele
March 16, 1911(1911-03-16) – February 7, 1979 (aged 67)

Josef Mengele
Place of birth Günzburg, Germany
Place of death Bertioga, Brazil
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Service/branch Schutzstaffel
Rank Hauptsturmführer, SS
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Iron Cross First Class
Black Badge for the Wounded
Medal for the Care of the German People
Other work Notorious world-wide for medical experiments he performed on prisoners at Auschwitz concentration camp.

Josef Mengele (16 March 1911 – 7 February 1979) was a German SS officer and a physician in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. He gained notoriety for being one of the SS physicians who supervised the selection of arriving transports of prisoners, determining who was to be killed and who was to become a forced laborer, and for performing human experiments on camp inmates, amongst whom Mengele was known as the Angel of Death.

In 1940, he was placed in the reserve medical corps, following which he served with the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking. In 1942, he was wounded at the Russian front and was pronounced medically unfit for combat, and was then promoted to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain). After the war, he became one of the most hunted of Nazi war criminals.


[edit] Early life

Josef Mengele was born on 16 March 1911 to Karl and Walburga Mengele in Gunzburg, Bavaria, Germany. He was the eldest of 3 children.[1]

[edit] Auschwitz

In 1943, Mengele replaced another doctor who had fallen ill at the Nazi extermination camp Birkenau. On May 24, 1943, he became medical officer of Auschwitz-Birkenau's "Gypsy camp". In August 1944, this camp was liquidated and all its inmates gassed. Subsequently Mengele became Chief Medical Officer of the main infirmary camp at Birkenau. He was not, though, the Chief Medical Officer of Auschwitz — superior to him was SS-Standortarzt (garrison physician) Eduard Wirths.[2]

During his 21-month stay at Auschwitz, Mengele earned the sobriquet "Angel of Death" for the cruelty he visited upon prisoners. Mengele was referred to as "der weisse Engel" ("the White Angel") by camp inmates because when he stood on the platform inspecting new arrivals and directing some to the right, some to the left, his white coat and white arms outstretched evoked the image of a white angel. Mengele took turns with the other SS physicians at Auschwitz in meeting incoming prisoners at the ramp, where it was determined who would be retained for work and who would be sent to the gas chambers immediately.[3] In one instance, he drew a line on the wall of the children's block between 150 and 156 centimeters (about 5 feet or 5 feet 2 inches) from the floor, and sent those whose heads could not reach the line to the gas chamber. (Lifton, p. 346.)[4]

"He had a look that said 'I am the power,'" said one survivor. When it was reported that one block was infested with lice, Mengele gassed every single one of the 750 women assigned to it.[5]

[edit] Human experimentation

Block 10 - Medical experimentation block in Auschwitz

Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his research on heredity, using inmates for human experimentation. He was particularly interested in identical twins; they would be selected and placed in special barracks. He also recruited Berthold Epstein, a Jewish pediatrician. As a doctor, Epstein proposed to Mengele a study into treatments of the disease called Noma that was noted for particularly affecting children from the camp.[6]

While the exact cause of Noma remains uncertain, it is now known that it has a higher occurrence in children suffering from malnutrition and a lower immune system response. Many develop the disease shortly after contracting another illness such as measles or tuberculosis.[7]

Mengele took an interest in physical abnormalities discovered among the arrivals at the concentration camp. These included dwarfs, notably the Ovitz family - the children of a Romanian artist, of whom seven of the 10 members were dwarfs. Prior to their deportation, they toured in Eastern Europe as the Lilliput Troupe. He often called them "my dwarf family"; to him they seemed to be the perfect expression of "the abnorm".[citation needed]

Mengele's experiments also included attempts to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, various amputations of limbs and other brutal surgeries. Rena Gelissen's account of her time in Auschwitz details certain experiments performed on female prisoners around October 1943. Mengele would experiment on the chosen girls, performing sterilization and shock treatments. Most of the victims died, either due to the experiments or later infections. According to a website, "Once Mengele's assistant rounded up 14 pairs of Roma twins during the night. Mengele placed them on his polished marble dissection table and put them to sleep. He then injected chloroform into their hearts, killing them instantly. Mengele then began dissecting and meticulously noting each and every piece of the twins' bodies."[4]

At Auschwitz, Mengele did a number of twin studies. After the experiment was over, these twins were usually murdered and their bodies dissected. He supervised an operation by which two Gypsy children were sewn together to create conjoined twins; the hands of the children became badly infected where the veins had been resected, this also caused gangrene.[4]

The subjects of Mengele's research were better fed and housed than ordinary prisoners and were, for the time being, safe from the gas chambers.[8] When visiting his child subjects, he introduced himself as "Uncle Mengele" and offered them sweets. Some survivors remember that despite his grim acts, he was also called "Mengele the protector".[9]

The book Children of the Flames, by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Shiela Cohn Dekel, chronicles Mengele's medical experimental activities on approximately 3,000 twins who passed through the Auschwitz death camp during World War II until its liberation at the end of the war. Only around 26 pairs of the twins survived; 60 years later, they came forward about the special privileges they were given in Auschwitz owing to Mengele's interest in twins, and how as a result they have suffered, as the children who survived his medical experiments and injections.[4]

In addition to his studies on twins he did a number of horrifying experiments. Once he burned several Jewish prisoners in a gigantic oven to test how long it would take for the human body to get first, second and third degree burns at certain temperatures. He also tested how much force it would require to break a (living) human skull.[citation needed]

Auschwitz prisoner Alex Dekel has said: "I have never accepted the fact that Mengele himself believed he was doing serious work — not from the slipshod way he went about it. He was only exercising his power. Mengele ran a butcher shop — major surgeries were performed without anesthesia. Once, I witnessed a stomach operation — Mengele was removing pieces from the stomach, but without any anesthetic. Another time, it was a heart that was removed, again, without anesthesia. It was horrifying. Mengele was a doctor who became mad because of the power he was given. Nobody ever questioned him — why did this one die? Why did that one perish? The patients did not count. He professed to do what he did in the name of science, but it was a madness on his part".[10]

[edit] After Auschwitz

When the SS abandoned the Auschwitz Camp on January 27, 1945, Mengele transferred to Groß Rosen camp in Lower Silesia, again working as camp physician. Groß Rosen was dissolved at the end of February when the Red Army was close to taking the camp.[11] Mengele worked in other camps for a short time and on May 2, joined a Wehrmacht medical unit led by his former colleague at the Institute of Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene, Hans Otto Kahler, in Bohemia. The unit hurried west to avoid being captured by the Soviets and were taken as POWs by the Americans. Mengele, initially registered under his own name, was released in June 1945 with papers giving his name as "Fritz Hollmann". From July 1945 until May 1949, he worked as a farmhand in a small village near Rosenheim, Bavaria, staying in contact with his wife and his old friend Hans Sedlmeier, who arranged Mengele's escape to Argentina via Innsbruck, Sterzing, Merano, and Genova. Mengele may have been assisted by the ODESSA network.[12]

[edit] Mengele in South America

In Buenos Aires, Mengele at first worked in construction, but soon came in contact with influential Germans, who allowed him an affluent lifestyle in subsequent years. He also received money from his family and from Sedlmeier. Mengele practiced medicine specializing in illegal abortions and was detained on one occasion for the death of a patient.[13] He also got to know other Nazis in Buenos Aires, such as Hans-Ulrich Rudel and Adolf Eichmann. In 1955, he bought a 50 percent share of a pharmaceutical company; the same year he divorced his wife, Irene. Three years later, he married Martha Mengele, the widow of his younger brother Karl Jr.; she then went to Argentina with her then 14-year-old son, Dieter. Mengele lived with his family in a German-owned boardinghouse in the Buenos Aires suburb of Vicente Lopez from 1958 to 1960.[14]

Mengele's home in Hohenhau, Paraguay

Although he was doing well in South America, Mengele feared being captured, especially after news of Eichmann's capture and subsequent trial were revealed. Thus he left Argentina in 1962 and moved to Paraguay after managing to get a Paraguayan passport in the name of "José Mengele".[14]

Shortly after the capture of Eichmann in May 1960 by the Israeli Mossad, Mengele was spotted at his home. Agents of Mossad debated whether or not to also kidnap Mengele. However they still had Eichmann in a safe house inside Argentina, and determined it would not be possible to conduct another operation at the same time. By the time Eichmann had been brought out of the country, Mengele had escaped to Paraguay.[15] Mengele was a secondary objective of this operation, but was never found. Mengele hoped that Paraguay would be safer for him, as dictator Alfredo Stroessner was of German descent and even recruited former Nazis to help the country develop. Among other locations in Paraguay, he lived on the outskirts of Hohenhau, a German colony north of Encarnación in the department of Itapúa. His anxiety, however, haunted him, especially after he heard of the Mossad's abduction of Eichmann and the trial and execution in Israel. Using the identity of "Peter Hochbichler," he crossed the border to Brazil in 1960 and lived in São Paulo with the Austrian-born neo-Nazi Wolfgang Gerhard, who was a member of Hans-Ulrich Rudel's "Kameradenwerk".[citation needed]

Mengele has an illegitimate daughter born to an Australian woman of German lineage; this liaison occurred when the woman, her mother and brother visited a German colony in Paraguay in mid-1960. The child was born in Melbourne, Australia on March 10, 1961. She was privately adopted.[16]

The same year, Mengele moved to Nova Europa, about 200 kilometres (120 mi) outside São Paulo, where he lived with the Hungarian refugees Geza and Gitta Stammer, working as manager of their farm. In the seclusion of his Brazilian hideaway, Mengele became depressed, egomaniacal and aggressive, always fearing capture. In 1974, when his relationship with the Stammer family was coming to an end, Rudel and Gerhard discussed relocating Mengele to Bolivia where he could spend time with Klaus Barbie, but Mengele rejected this proposal. Instead, he lived in a bungalow in a suburb of São Paulo for the last years of his life. In 1977, his only son Rolf, never having known his father before, visited him there and found an unrepentant Nazi who claimed he "had never personally harmed anyone in his whole life".[12]

Mengele, whose health had been deteriorating for years, died on February 7, 1979, in Bertioga, Brazil, where he accidentally drowned or possibly suffered a stroke while swimming in the sea. He was buried in Embu das Artes under the name "Wolfgang Gerhard", whose ID card he had used since 1976.[17]

Mengele showed little regret or remorse for his crimes and expressed in a letter his astonishment and disgust over the remorseful position taken by Hitler's chief architect and Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer.[18]

In a 2008 book about Mengele, Argentine historian Jorge Camarasa speculated that Mengele, under the alias Rudolph Weiss, continued his human experimentation in South America and as a result of these experiments, a municipality in Brazil, Cândido Godói, has a very high birthrate of twin children: one in five pregnancies, with a substantial amount of the population looking Nordic.[19] His theory was rejected by Brazilian scientists who had studied twins living in the area; they suggested genetic factors within that community as a more likely explanation.[20]

[edit] Manhunt for Mengele

Mengele was listed on the Allies' list of war criminals as early as 1944. His name was mentioned in the Nuremberg trials several times, but Allied forces were convinced that Mengele was dead, which was also claimed by Irene and the family in Günzburg. In 1959, after suspicions had grown that he was still alive, given his divorce from Irene in 1955 and his marriage to Martha in 1958, an arrest warrant was issued by the German authorities. Subsequently, German attorneys, such as Fritz Bauer, Israel's Mossad, and private investigators like Simon Wiesenthal and Beate Klarsfeld followed the trail of the "Angel of Death". The last confirmed sightings of Mengele placed him in Paraguay, and it was believed that he was still hiding there, protected by Hans-Ulrich Rudel and possibly even by president Alfredo Stroessner. Mengele sightings were reported all over the world, but they turned out to be false.

In 1985, the German police raided Hans Sedlmeier's house in Günzburg and seized address books, letters and papers hinting at the grave in Embu. Mengele was exhumed on 6 June, 1985 and identified by forensic experts from UNICAMP. Rolf Mengele issued a statement saying that he "had no doubt it was the remains of his father".[12] Everything was kept quiet "to protect those who knew him in South America", Rolf said. In 1992, a DNA test confirmed Mengele's identity. He had evaded capture for 34 years.

After the exhumation, the São Paulo Institute for Forensic Medicine stored his remains and attempted to repatriate them to the remaining Mengele family members. The bones have remained in the custody of Dr. Rubens Maluf, owing to the family's refusal to accept them.[21]

[edit] In the 21st century

On September 17, 2007, the U.S. Holocaust Museum released photographs taken from a photo album of Auschwitz staff, which contained eight photographs of Mengele. The eight photos of Mengele are the first authenticated pictures of him at Auschwitz, museum officials said.[22]

Josef Mengele's father was a founder of Karl Mengele farm machinery for milling, sawing and baling. This family business still thrives and produces major farm machinery with the name Mengele proudly displayed on it. Dr. Mengele's grandson Christian Mengele is an artist living in Hollywood and also uses the family name publicly.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Stefan Kanfer and Peter Carls. "The Life and Crimes of a Nazi Doctor". People.,,20091148,00.html. 
  2. ^ Eduard Wirths
  3. ^ Essay by Robert Jay Lifton
  4. ^ a b c d Bülow, Louis, Josef Mengele, Angel of Death,, retrieved on 2008-12-16 
  5. ^ (2008-07-12). Mengele - The Final Account [Documentary]. New York City, United States: History Channel.
  6. ^ Page 296-297
  7. ^ German article at
  8. ^ Nyiszli, Miklos (1993-09-01). Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account. Arcade Publishing. ISBN 1559702028. 
  9. ^ Lagnado, Lucette Matalon; Sheila Cohn Dekel (1991). Children of the Flames. 
  10. ^ Dr. Josef Mengele, ruthless Nazi concentration camp doctor - The Crime Library on
  11. ^ How Josef Mengele Cheated Justice, Chicago Tribune Magazine, May 18, 1986
  12. ^ a b c Völklein, Ulrich (1999). Josef Mengele: Der Arzt von Auschwitz. Steidl. ISBN 3882436859. 
  13. ^ Nathaniel C. Nash (1992-02-11). "Mengele an Abortionist, Argentine Files Suggest". New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-07-15. 
  14. ^ a b Harel, Isser (1975-06-02). The House on Garibaldi Street. Viking Press. pp. 194. ISBN 0670380288. 
  15. ^ Israeli Mossad let Nazi Mengele get away
  16. ^ Births and Adoptions records (1961). Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Victoria, Australia. Obtained under FOI Act, 1991
  17. ^ "Scientists Decide Brazil Skeleton Is Josef Mengele.". New York Times. July 22, 1985. Retrieved on 2008-03-21. "American, Brazilian and West German scientists announced jointly today that a skeleton recently exhumed from a graveyard near here was unquestionably that of Dr. Josef Mengele. A separate report by American experts concluded that the bones were those of the long-sought Nazi death-camp doctor 'within a reasonable scientific certainty.' ..." 
  18. ^,1518,330311-2,00.html
  19. ^ Nazi angel of death Josef Mengele 'created twin town in Brazil'
  20. ^ Linda Geddes: Nazi 'Angel of Death' not responsible for town of twins New Scientist online, 27 January 2009
  21. ^ Remains of Mengele Rest Uneasily in Brazil - New York Times
  22. ^ Collections | Auschwitz through the lens of the SS: Photos of Nazi leadership at the camp

[edit] Further reading

  • Mengele - the complete story, Gerald Posner and John Ware, McGraw Hill Book Company, New York, 1986 ISBN 0-07-050598-5
  • Miklos Nyiszli's At Last the Truth About Eichmann's Inferno Auschwitz and Auschwitz—A doctor’s eyewitness account describes his experience working involuntarily for Mengele.
  • The book Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Ausch by Lucette Matalon Lagado and Sheila Cohn Dekel is a collection of witness accounts pieced together in a biography of sorts about Dr. Mengele and his experiments.
  • Climate of Hell, novel by Herbert Lieberman, fictionalized account of Mengele's post-war experiences, 1978 ISBN 0-671-82236-5
  • The Boys from Brazil, a novel by Ira Levin, Bantam, 1991 ISBN 0553290045 — filmed, starring Gregory Peck as Mengele
  • The "Last" Nazi - The Life and Times of Dr. Joseph Mengele, Gerald Astor, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1985 ISBN 0 297 78853 1
  • Mengele: The Complete Story, Gerald L. Posner and John Ware, Cooper Square Press NY, 1986-2000 ISBN 0-8154-1006-9

[edit] External links

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