Josef Mengele

Josef Mengele (1911-1979) was a German Schutzstaffle (SS) officer and physician at Auschwitz. He was notorious for the selection of those fit to work and those to be murdered in the gas chambers, and also, for carrying out human experiments on camp inmates, especially twins.

Before the war, Mengele completed Ph.Ds in anthropology and medicine from Munich University. He joined the Nazi Party in 1937. In the same year, at the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene, in Frankfurt, he became the assistant to Dr. Otmar von Verschuer, a prominent scientific figure with an established reputation for his research on twins.

Mengele joined the SS protection unit in 1938 and was drafted into the army in 1940. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II he volunteered for medical service in the Waffen-SS (the combat arm of the SS). He was seriously wounded in action in 1942, and deemed unfit for further active service. In 1943 he commenced work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics and Eugenics, under the direction of his former mentor, von Verschuer. Later that year, he was promoted to the rank of SS captain. Encouraged by von Verschuer, Mengele applied for transfer to the concentration camp service, where he saw the opportunity to undertake genetic research on human beings. He was posted to Auschwitz in 1943.

During his notorious tenure at the concentration camp, Mengele was only one of a number of physicians at Auschwitz, and was not the highest ranking physician at the camp. That dubious ‘honour’ belonged to SS captain Dr. Eduard Wirths, who was the chief medical officer at Auschwitz. Soon, Mengele was appointed to the position of Chief Physician of Auschwitz II (or Aushwitz-Birkenau), including the Zigeuner Familienlager (Gypsy family sub-camp).

A distinct part of the medical staff’s duties was the conduct of ‘selektions’ of the new arrivals to Auschwitz. Those deemed able to work were temporarily spared and were put to work. Those who were too young, old or sick to work, or who were otherwise deemed unworthy of life – pregnant women, women with small children, the sick, the frail and the elderly – were sent directly to the gas chambers. Known as the “Angel of Death” for his icy and dispassionate manner, Mengele gained the greatest recognition for his role in ‘selection duties,’ more so than any of the other physicians at Auschwitz, although he apparently did not perform this task more frequently than any of his colleagues. The image of Mengele at the railway siding (whenever trainloads of new prisoners arrived to Auschwitz), so frequently referred to in survivors’ accounts, can be explained by the fact that he frequented the selection area, even when he was off- duty, because of his keen interest in experimenting on twins.

Mengele’s research on twins was in part motivated by the desire to prove the supremacy of heredity over environment, and advance Nazi racial and ideological doctrines of the Reich. To this end, he also participated in ghastly sterilisation experiments, in efforts to develop low-cost and effective procedures for the mass sterilization of Jews, Roma (Gypsies) and other groups considered racially or genetically undesirable by Nazi leaders. He experimented on people with heterochromia iridum (eyes of two different colours, in an attempt to glean the secret of artificially changing eye colour). He conducted further experiments on dwarves and people with physical abnormalities.

In 1945, as the Soviet/Russian Army advanced through Poland, Mengele fled Auschwitz. Immediately after the war, he evaded US custody, and with false papers worked as a farmhand near Rosenheim, Bavaria. Worried that his capture would mean a trial and the death sentence, he fled Germany for Argentina. In 1960, fearful after the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires, he moved to Paraguay and then to Brazil. His health deteriorated and he suffered a stroke while swimming and drowned in 1979, under the false name of “Wolfgang Gerhard.” Brazilian forensic experts positively identified the remains as those of Josef Mengele. In 1992, DNA evidence verified this conclusion.

Courtesy of The American Heroes Channel – Nazi Hunters