Josef Mengele Fifteen years ago the world let out a sigh of relief with the discovery of 208 bones and a few rags. For over forty years survivors of the Nazi death camps known as Auschwitz were haunted by the vision of the handsome, well dressed man with a caring smile who pointed his white-gloved finger either left or right deciding who lived (at least for the moment) and who died. Those who passed this man and survived have always remembered the man known as the Angel of Death. These are the people who question the identification of these bones as those of SS doctor Josef Mengele. Josef Mengele was the eldest son of Karl and Walburga Mengele of Gnzburg, Bavaria. Karl Mengele ran a machine tools factory and often put his eldest son Beppo, as he was known then, in charge of overseeing the transport of all goods to and from the factory (Drekel 29). Beppo was always happy when the transports arrived and years later an older Beppo still delighted at the arrival of trains and their cargoes, but at a different railway stop (30). Mengele’s childhood was one of privilege.
His family was upper middle class and Beppo was well liked by the townspeople. Most townspeople recall an innocence and sweetness to him (31). Josef Mengele was a promising student and went to Munich to study racial theories under the “philosopher” of National Socialism Alfred Rosenburg (THHP par.2). He then moved to Frankfurt-am-Main to receive his medical degree and study under Otmar von Verschuer. Verschuer was the director of the Institute for Racial Hygiene at the University of Frankfurt and is who began Mengele with his studies on genetic engineering (par. 2).
By the time Mengele received his medical degree he was a member of both the National Socialist Party and the SS (par.2). Mengele did serve in battle and although there is little mention of the details of his service it is known that he was wounded while on the Eastern front (Astor 28). Mengele was sent back to Germany to recover and was awarded an Iron Cross First Degree, Iron Cross Second Degree and the standard decoration for service against the Red armies (28). It was after he recovered that Mengele volunteered as camp doctor at an installation in the southwest of Poland known as Auschwitz (29). Dr. Mengele took his new position with the stated mission to perform research on human genetics.
His mentor, Verschuer, had secured a grant through the German Research Council to fund Mengele’s work (Lynott screen 2). Dr. Mengele wanted to create a Germanic super-race by unlocking genetic engineering secrets and devising methods for eradicating inferior gene strands from the human population (screen 2). His most passionate interest soon became twins. Twins were the perfect specimens because one twin could act as the control while the other was endlessly experimented on.
This passion is what drove Mengele to the arrival ramps at Auschwitz. In just over a year that Mengele was at the camp he is known to be present for at least 74 arrivals (Gilbert 582), but with 70 to 90 percent of new arrivals being sent immediately to the gas chamber after stepping off the train (Lynott screen 1) who knows how many other arrivals Mengele was at that no one has survived to recall. Mengele’s selection process was very systematic. Young men and women aged eighteen to thirty-five that looked strong were sent to the left – to slave labor. The rest, consisting of the old, the very young children and their mothers, the sick, and the weak were sent to the right – to the gas chamber (Astor 55).
Mothers with very young children and mothers with children who had died in transport, as many did, were sent to the gas chamber because, as Mengele himself said, “mothers won’t work well if they know their children are dead,” (60). Mengele selected certain people from the new arrivals for his own personal group. Anyone with certain abnormalities, such as dwarfs, midgets, hunchbacks along with other birth defects, and twins were sent to a special block where Mengele could perform his research (THHP par.7). The building in which Mengele housed his specimens was Block 10 – the Zoo, as it came to be called. The twins became known as Mengele’s Children.
They received certain privileges such as being allowed to keep their own clothes and their hair, the rest of the inmates were stripped and had their heads shaved. The twins were housed in their own compound with boys and girls lodged separately (Dekel 57). They were spared the beatings and punishment often received by other prisoners and the twins were sometimes even given better food rations (58). Many of the twins recall Dr. Mengele as very kind and remember him giving them treats and candy (Hizme 74).
Irene Hizme, who was one of Mengele’s Children summed up the feelings of almost all his specimen’s saying, “he [Mengele] was our savior and our demon,” (74). But Mengele’s Children received a much worse fate than most other prisoners – the endless experiments. The children soon learned that the good treatment they were receiving was only to keep them healthy for these experiments. Mengele’s experiments on the twins are only partially known. Those who suffered the worst of his research took his actions to their grave (Josef Mengele par.5). Of the 3000 twins studied by Mengele only 200 survived, and those who survived say there were some experiments performed that they will never talk about (Dekel 70).
Once the twins were selected, they, like all new inmates, were showered and branded with a numbered tattoo (Dekel 57). They were then asked to complete a questionnaire detailing their background, health, demographic information, and all their physical characteristics – their age, weight, height, eye and hair color were very important (59). Each day the twins were awakened at 6 o’clock for roll call when they would each be called for a number of experiments (61). Almost every twin was subject to daily blood withdrawals and X rays (Josef Mengele par.2). These were quite painful and usually led to fainting and on occasion even death, but these were the experiments the children looked forward to.
They knew of the children that went for surgery and returned paralyzed or didn’t return at all. Dr. Mengele would often perform experimental surgery without using anesthesia. He would remove organs and limbs, sterilize the female twins and castrate the males, he even attempted to change the sex of some twins (Dekel 70). Moshe Offer remembers, of her twin brother Tibi, that one surgery on his spine left him paralyzed, then his sexual organs were taken out, and on the fourth operation he did not return (71).
Moshe is lucky to have survived his brother’s death; as a rule, if one twin dies the other is killed. This would allow for an autopsy of both bodies simultaneously (Astor 96). Alex Dekel recalls a stomach operation in which pieces of the specimens stomach were removed an …