Who was Josef Mengele?
Josef Mengele, was born into a wealthy Bavarian family, with a strict Catholic upbringing, on March 16, 1911, in Günzburg, Bavaria. Mengele, the eldest son of Karl and Walburga Mengele, who ran a farm machinery company, in the town of Günzburg in the southern German state of Bavaria, studied medicine and anthropology. At almost the exact midpoint of his life, in the summer of 1944, in addition to his medical experiments, he performed his dubious duty on the ramp at the Auschwitz II concentration camp (Birkenau), sorting new arrivals and determining their fate. Since then, Mr. Marwell explains, Mengele’s reputation has grown to nearly mythical heights.
In 1937, he received an appointment as a physician, and the following year, defended his dissertation in medicine. Mengele later painted himself as a virulent anti-Semite, whose engagement with Nazi ideology began quite early. However, Marwell argues convincingly that Mengele’s upbringing, and early political orientation were conservative, Catholic, and imbued not with the Nazis’ racialist anti-Semitism, but with the latent cultural anti-Semitism of his milieu. He joined the Nazi Party in 1937, and the SS the next year. While in medical school, he became a true believer in the constructs of racial hygiene, prevalent in Nazi Germany.
In 1942, Mengele served as a medical officer with the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking.” Two important details emerge here from Marwell’s research. First, we learn that Mengele’s unit engaged in vicious atrocities against Jews in Ukraine. Although, it is uncertain whether Mengele participated in these activities, it is clear that he witnessed extreme violence against civilians, and was inured to it.
Second, Marwell convincingly argues that, it was unlikely that Mengele was wounded in January 1943. It is frequently, suggested that an injured Mengele, came to Auschwitz in May 1943 in a routine transfer. However, Marwell surmises that Mengele applied for the position, encouraged by his mentor, Otmar von Verschuer, a leading scientist known for his genetic research with twins.
Josef Mengele: The Angel of Death.
Although, the Nazi leadership was unconcerned, about the murder of thousands of people in gas chambers, in Himmler’s eyes, that was a sacred duty, they did mind losing goods and money to corrupt guards. In the autumn of 1943, SS Lieutenant, Konrad Morgen, was sent to Auschwitz to investigate theft, but clever guards found ways to outwit him. The attitude that it was acceptable to profit personally from the Jews was entrenched.
If anyone embodies the archetype of the evil that was Auschwitz, it is surely Josef Mengele. Dubbed by the inmates, and survivors of the camp the “Angel of Death,” the immaculate doctor, with a slight flick of the finger, would casually select those permitted to live, and work, and those destined to die in the gas chambers. Among those he selected to live, were the subjects upon whom he conducted his infamous race-inspired medical experiments. His postwar escape to South America, and prolonged successful evasion from capture (in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil) only reinforced the fear and mystique of the man.
Josef Mengele was one of the most notorious war criminals in history. During World War 2, the Nazi doctor performed medical experiments, in a concentration camp on unwilling children and adults, and with a jerk of his thumb, he sent many unlucky men, women and children to their immediate deaths.
Throughout the postwar years he expressed no remorse, and either remained oblivious to, or rationalized, the enormity of his crimes. He remained a convinced Nazi and when pushed, he resorted to the timeworn justification, that he had to do his duty, and carry out orders. He had never harmed anyone personally. In any case, as Rolf summarized his father’s words:
“He couldn’t help anyone. On the platform for instance. What was he to do, when the half-dead and infected people arrived? His job was to clarify only: ‘able to work’ and ‘unable to work.’ He thinks he saved the lives of thousands of people in that way. He hasn’t ordered the extermination, and he is not responsible.
He escaped justice, after the Third Reich fell, by fleeing the country, and although his death was later confirmed, and his body uncovered in a cemetery in Brazil, his victims’ demand for justice has not been fulfilled, nor has it satisfied an abundant interest in his life, and crimes.
David Marwell’s “Mengele: Unmasking the Angel of Death”, is a fine addition to other biographies of the evil doctor, as it is partly a biography, and partly a memoir, as historian, David Marwell, was the U.S. Justice Department’s chief of investigative research, in the Office of Special Investigations, in the 1980s.
Mr. Marwell was involved in the Mengele investigation, and he performed numerous interviews of victims, and other parties, examined documents, and visited Germany, and other countries around the world, gathering evidence. He also coordinated the investigation with partners in Israel, Germany, and other governments, and private organizations. He even held Mengele’s bones in his hands.
“While this book is based on both primary sources, from archives throughout the world, and the careful research of a host of brilliant scholars, it also relies on the writings of Mengele himself,” Mr. Marwell writes. “I read his correspondence, and diaries from his later life, and was exposed to the intimate details of his health complaints, frustrations, and private reflections, and to the style, and rhythm of his thoughts. In addition, I had access to Mengele’s own attempt, at the very enterprise in which I was engaged.”
Mr. Marwell notes that late in Mengele’s life, he wrote, but never published an autobiographical novel, which was about a man shaped in a very special way by his time, as Mengele put it.
Vera Kriegel and her twin sister Olga of Auschwitz.
According to BBC report, when the Soviet army liberated the Auschwitz death camp, many of the prisoners had been killed, or marched away, by the retreating Nazis. But, among those left were some twin children, the subject of disturbing experiments by Dr Josef Mengele. Vera Kriegel and her twin sister, Olga, were just five years old when they were taken from their village, in Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz.
Transported in cattle cars, which were so tightly packed, that the dead were still standing, she recalls the “sheer terror” of arriving at the camp, and treading on “dead people, like steps” as she left the train. New arrivals at the camp, were sorted into the weak, who would be gassed straight away, and the strong, who would be made to work. But, Mengele and his assistants, were there too, looking for twins. Vera, her sister, and her mother, were taken straight to SS Captain, Josef Mengele. He was intrigued, she says, by what he described as her mother’s “perfect Aryan features”, and blue eyes, while Vera’s and her sister’s were brown. Mengele selected them for experimentation.
Another woman who remembers her arrival at the camp is Jona Laks, who was taken as a teenager from the Lodz ghetto. She was not immediately recognised as a twin, and was initially sent off in the direction of the gas chamber, when her sister told Mengele they were twins he had her brought to his laboratory. Josef Mengele was an assistant to a well-known researcher, who studied twins, at the Institute for Heredity Biology, and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt, he started working at Auschwitz in May 1943. There, he had an unlimited supply of twins to study, and he wouldn’t get in trouble if they died. According to Professor Paul Weindling of Oxford Brookes University, author of Victims, and Survivors of Nazi Human Experiments, hundreds of children were used in Mengele’s experiments.
“I found a record of a prisoner doctor, and bacteriologist, who was forced to work for Mengele, that there were 732 pairs of twins,” he says, and suggests the doctor was interested in genetics. “I think, Mengele might have been interested in the inheritance of the propensity to having twins.”
He believes many of the twins survived Auschwitz, although, he thinks Roma twins were almost certainly killed. Some of the children, now elderly, have little memory of the experiments, others have memories that may not be 100% accurate. Jona Laks, says Mengele removed organs from people without anaesthetic, and if one twin died, the other would be murdered. Vera Kriegel, says that he killed people with an injection to the heart, and then dissected them.
She remembers being ushered into his laboratory. “I was looking at a whole wall of human eyes. A wall of blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes. These eyes, they were staring at me, like a collection of butterflies, and I fell down on the floor.”
The first experiment she was subjected to, involved being kept in a small wooden cage with her sister, and being given painful injections in her back, she doesn’t know why, but thinks it may have been an attempt to change the colour of her eyes. In another experiment, she says, the pair of them, and more than 100 other twins, were given injections of bacteria that cause Noma disease, an infection of the mouth, or genitals, which causes boils, and often turns gangrenous. Some twins became feverish, and some died, she says. She also remembers Mengele reacting angrily, when twins went missing, once when this had happened, she stared him, out to prove he could not completely dominate her.
As well as twins, Mengele experimented on dwarves, giants and Romas. Moti Alon, who arrived in Auschwitz, aged nine in 1944, remembers being forced to watch a dwarf, and a Roma woman, being made to have sex. He remembers having a number tattooed on his arm. The same happened to his brother, though the tattooist made a mistake. “Instead of writing 17, they wrote 10, so they erased it and did some dots,” he says.
For Menachem Bodner, who arrived at the camp with his brother as a three year-old, this number became his identity. When he left the camp in 1945, he had no idea who he was.
On 26 January 1945, Vera Kriegel remembers, the guards “were in a big panic. So they poured petrol over the barracks, and tried to destroy all the evidence.”
Grabbing a big pack of family photos, Vera, her mother and sister, fled the camp, only to be caught and beaten, and thrown back into the barracks. The following day, Soviet troops entered Auschwitz. The soldiers, she says, “brought these striped coats, and told us to put them on, and roll up our sleeves, so we could show our numbers.
“They filmed us, the children. They wanted to know what happened to us, and Mengele’s experiments. Everything was written down.”
As for Mengele, he fled West, and was arrested by the US Army. But, he had no SS blood group tattooed on his arm, so he was released by a unit that was unaware, his name, was on a list of major war criminals. He worked as a farmhand in Bavaria, before escaping to Argentina in 1949.
Though, the West German authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, in 1959, Mengele remained in South America, before his death from drowning, following a stroke at a holiday resort in Brazil in 1979. He was buried in Sao Paulo, under the name, Wolfgang Gerhard. The children coped with the appalling ordeal of Auschwitz, and Mengele’s experiments in different ways.
Moti Alon, his mother and twin, eventually made their way back home, arriving in Budapest on 5 May 1945. He now lives in Israel. “I have no traumas, not from this,” he says.
Vera Kriegel, emigrated to Israel with her mother after the war, where she lives. Seventy years later, she still has nightmares. Jona Laks became an activist, the head of a group of Mengele twins. She has been back to Auschwitz many times, and says what, she experienced there has never left her mind. Menachem, the boy with no name, eventually, returned to his home town in Ukraine.
“I told the driver to stop and got out of the car, and something was familiar to me, very familiar.
“I remembered the road, I remembered two Gestapo approaching, or arriving from my right side, and then they come to my home.”
Above all, he recalled his parents, carefree before the war, and the Holocaust.
“It was noon. My mother wore a green skirt with white flowers. I remember her from the back, not the front. This is what I remember.”
Josef Mengele family legacy.
In November 1932, Mengele’s father offered the Karl Mengele and Söhne (Mengele and Sons) farm machine factory space, for one of Adolf Hitler’s election campaign events. In May 1933, Karl Mengele joined the Nazi Party.
After the war, business was even better. Karl Mengele was elected city councilor and mayor, and in 1952, with his son on the run, to escape charges of committing atrocities on behalf of the Nazis, Karl Mengele was made a gold-medal citizen of the city. A street was named after him. After his death in 1959, his son Alois, one of Josef’s younger brothers, took over the business. It has since gone broke.
In 2009, Alois Mengele’s son, Dieter, created the Familie Dieter Mengele Sozialstiftung, a foundation that reports having donated over a quarter of a million euros to charitable causes. The modern Mengele family does not want to have anything to do with the past, not even with projects that commemorate his uncle’s victims.
“Mengele,” a woman said, answering the phone at the foundation. Asked if she would be willing to speak for an interview, she responded: “We are not interested in contacts with the media.” She hung up.