Josef Mengele PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 January 2009 10:40

Dr. Josef MengeleJosef Mengele

Born: 16 March 1911 Gunzburg, Germany.

Died: 7 February 1979, Bertioga, Brazil.

Age: 77

Cause of death: Drowning in the sea, possibly following a stroke.

Notable because: Doctor who performed experiments on human subjects in Auschwitz camp before fleeing to South America where he continued his work in eugenics. Unrepentant until the end of his life.


Josef Mengele 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.

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.

During his 21-month stay at Auschwitz, Mengele earned the soubriquet "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. 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.)

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

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.

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. Mengele tried to prove that Noma was caused by racial inferiority.

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".

"Mengele occupied his time with other numerous acts of the most base cruelty, including the vivisection of infants; the castration of boys and men without the use of an anesthetic; and the administering of high-voltage electric shocks to women inmates under the auspices of testing their endurance. On one occasion Mengele even sterilized a group of Polish nuns with an X-ray machine, leaving the women horribly burned."

Josef Mengele preparing to operate on a child prisoner.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. 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 proceeded to inject chloroform into their hearts, killing them instantly. Mengele then began dissecting and meticulously noting each and every piece of the twins' bodies.

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. 

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.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". On several occasions he killed subjects simply to be able to dissect them afterwards. Mengele was almost fanatical about drawing blood from twins, mostly identical twins. He is reported to have bled some to death this way.

From left,  Josef Kramer, Dr Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Karl Hoecker and unidentified at SolahuetteThe 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 a few 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.

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".

It has been recently reported that it was as a result of his experiments that a town in Brazil, Candido Godoi, has an unnatural rate of birth of twin children:one in five pregnancies. 

When the SS abandoned the Auschwitz Camp on January 17, 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. 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.

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.[16] 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.

Mengele's home in Hohenhau, Paraguay.

Although he was doing well in South America, Mengele feared being captured so he left Argentina in 1962 and moved to Paraguay after managing to get a Paraguayan passport in the name of "Mengele José".  Shortly after the capture of Adolf Eichmann in May 1960 by the Israeli Mossad, Mengele was spotted at his home. Mossad agents, though, 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. 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. 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".

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 adopted privately.

The same year, Mengele moved to Nova Europa, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) 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".

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.

The true Wolfgang Gerhard died in 1978 and is buried in Austria.

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". 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.

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.

Mengele was the subject of Ira Levin's best-selling novel The Boys from Brazil, which was later made into a film in 1978 starring Laurence Olivier, James Mason & Gregory Peck as Mengele who attempts to produce a clone of his Führer.

Doctor Josef Mengele is also seen in the 2009 horror film The Unborn (film) experimenting on twins.

In the film, Ernest Goes To Camp, the main character, Ernest (played by Jim Varney), confesses that he is Josef Mengele when being subjected to a shot.

Mengele also appears in the novel A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr. It is the fifth book in Kerr's series about the German detective Bernie Gunther. Kerr claims in his "author's note" that the Buenos Aires police arrested Mengele in 1958, but that he bribed a detective and fled to Paraguay.

The song "Angel of Death" by Thrash metal band Slayer is about the experiments performed by Mengele.


Last Updated on Thursday, 19 March 2009 11:52

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