This year marks the centenary of Joseph “Beppo” Mengele’s birth in Bavaria, Germany in 1911, but I doubt the family business that specializes in agricultural farm equipment in the town of Gunzberg or the town inhabitants for that matter, will be raising their steins in celebrating this occasion. In fact, the local town police monitored a television crew who visited the area some years ago and at the time none of the local inhabitants would even discuss the late Dr. Mengele for an interview. Later the crew departed with nothing on celluloid concerning the elusive doctor.
Today he is sometimes referred to as “the angel of death.” But it seems a post-war journalist may have coined this sobriquet about him as a gimmick.
The title does seem to however settled on the man and his reputation rather easily. For the Jews arriving at the extermination camp, his image would be the first sight to so many of them as their train shunted onto the Auschwitz selection ramp to be separated into men and women.
Always standing there watching the proceedings it seems with a half smile playing on his face (a distinctive gap between his front teeth as well) a lighted cigarette in his hand, stood the sinister figure of Dr. Joseph Mengele, attired as always in his black SS uniform and with a white unbuttoned starched coat with white gloves, sometimes worn for effect but many times not. He was also partial to using assorted Eau de cologne scents that would help disguise the aroma of fear and death swirling all around him.
For many of his victims, it would be an image few would ever forget in the years to follow, with many taking their memories of his face to the grave. (One doctor who assisted him in the camp remarked year’s later: “He looked like Peter sellers but only better.”)
Today the stain of Nazism may have somewhat expired but the name of Josef Mengele will be forever associated with the death factory that is Auschwitz, situated in Poland.
Training in Munich as a medical student in the early 1930s and later at Leipzig and Frankfurt, Joseph Mengele would later receive his MD and later his PhD.
(In 1964 the universities revoked both these degrees, after much delay that they had once conferred upon him.)
The family were also “strict Catholics” and Mengele would always use this description when asked about his religious beliefs to be entered officially on any documents. In 1937 he applied for membership in the Nazi party and as a rather late member, he was issued serial number: 5574974 with an additional SS number of 317885.
Mengele certainly knew where his future lay in Hitler’s Third Reich, it was a New World Order yet to arrive. (And did he ever get to meet Hitler and Rosenberg. He sometimes claimed he had.)
On a personal recommendation, most of us remember the 1978 film The boys from Brazil, with that excellent actor, the late Gregory Peck, relishing in the role of Mengele. (The originally signed actor was George C. Scott who physically may have resembled Mengele more accurately.) Unfortunately, Peck was over six feet tall, with Mengele being described as a small swarthy man of five feet eight inches. The distinctive gap between the front teeth still remains in photographs as his trademark as well as the dimpled chin.
Some have also described him as looking like a young Tyrone Power as he whistled Puccini and smiled at the silent children paraded before him to await his decision of their future.) He would refer to them as “my little guinea pigs” as he sometimes fed them, sweets, before he decided their fates.
In examining Dr Josef Mengeles Auschwitz years, I do perhaps speculate if the apparent evil he blighted on so many people was always in his personality just waiting to appear or did the camp and its offered faculties only encourage him in his quest to discover the secrets of hereditary biology by discovering the key of “Aryan superiority.” But for now, after 1943 presiding over his state of the art laboratory in this camp of liquidation, which incidentally was just one of over thirty other medical locations in the Third Reich, Mengele could now begin to initiate his terrible insidious experiments on innocent inmates-be they children, twins, dwarfs or others suffering genetic abnormalities. But this doctor did seem to have a twisted bedside manner, always smiling as he dispersed death all around him. At the ramp, he would casually consign some to the left and others to the right. Life or death, Mengele was a man with a mission and these people were mere toys to feed his monstrosity. Few if any contradicted his medical methods or dared to.
Mengele was thirty-two years old when he arrived at Birkenau, Auschwitz in 1943, but he may well have visited the laboratories and working colleagues during his convalescence to acquaint himself with its progress or maybe offer some medical expertise to the selected workforce. He would later remain for twenty-one terrible months at Auschwitz. However, previously he had served in France and on the Russian front in the Waffen Viking SS division and it is possible he was involved in the killing and burning of Russians civilians and soldiers whilst there. (Remember the infliction of pain has to commence somewhere and against someone’s dignity.) In that Russian front, known as “Barbarossa,” he would be awarded two Iron crosses before being wounded permanently and out of that theatre of war.
Well perhaps in the camp “Monowitz,” that had been erected after a former Polish village of that same name had been demolished in 1942 on Himmler’s orders, sadly the villagers would have been forcibly removed to the Auschwitz, Birkenau barracks with others to be scattered across Europe.
Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich, Himmler ever the realist, must have gauged that the war machine was aborting each day. His own future especially was looking bleak, yet science during wartime, somehow always makes great advances. Perhaps out of this fear the Nazis nurtured the idea of genetic engineering, they had after all always promoted its uses only now they could implement its value to the Reich and its armies. I do suspect in Himmler’s estimation that young keen Dr. Mengele, with his dedicated research into heredity traits, was the ideal choice to head up the new facility in Moskowitz.
There are photographs taken in July of 1943 of Himmler with one of his architects, Max Furst, visiting the camp and I suspect to see its working progress. It must have been a very hot day because Himmler is seen removing his cap to wipe his brow. Poland can be stifling in the summer months and combined with the profusion of mosquitoes causing skin irritation as well as the stench of death pervading the camp, the smell must have been awful. Himmler’s time was always “precious” yet he had made the decision to travel and inspect progress at the site and also I suspect to see the pristine built state of the art science laboratory, fitted out by leading German pharmaceutical companies. He must have had great hopes for Mengele’s success on that summer’s day.
In 1943 Mengele now reigns supreme in his purpose-built laboratory (humming Puccini and occasionally Mozart) and with a hand-picked staff in forced attendance to serve him in the infamous “Block Ten,” many of course were Jewish doctors who had been arrested and brought to the camp to assist him (at one time the number of doctors assisting him has been reckoned as over 380!) Mengele, of course, was a collector of people’s body parts, especially children’s limbs and eyes! Everything placed before him was his but like most collectors, they are never satisfied with what they have acquired, always wanting more. And somehow this addiction reminds me of the fictional doctor Frankenstein, when he assembled body parts in his castle laboratory, long ago, perhaps on the Rhine.
However now in Auschwitz, Mengele would have no scarcity of human beings to dabble in at his pleasure. Be they alive or dead, it didn’t matter to him and his vanity. One former prisoner remarked of Mengele that: “He wanted to be God, to create a new race.” But now he would dabble in eye colouring and pigmentation on frightened children’s bodies, as well as sterilization and bone marrow removal, would also be performed in his laboratories and many times without anaesthetic on those chosen for his experiments. Now each day “with a flick of his wrists he would consign thousands to die.” Somehow the secret of genetics had to be solved-whatever the cost.
“Mengele killed for science,” remembered one doctor sadly. For him, science would be his new god, the laboratory his church.
For over three hundred years, scientists had been seeking to expose the mystery of the creation of life. Many had indeed gazed into the DNA house of mystery but none could or had obtained that unique key opener to reveal its secrets. This would, of course, be later fulfilled when Watson and Crick finally solved the code and its meaning.
Whatever Mengele was nurturing in his laboratory at Auschwitz, it must have indeed been important to his future reputation (or so he thought.) Because now as Russian troops advanced closer to the perimeter of the camp, he had his samples, slides and swabs boxed up and dispatched to Frankfurt. His more specialist slides would be dispatched to the families Factories in Gunzberg.
Later with the arrival of the advanced Russian guards at the camp, Mengele would flee to safety. (He always feared his precious samples would fall into Russian hands. This may well have happened with much of the Auschwitz medical material still locked away in the vaults.)
It is irrelevant if he did succeed in solving the DNA puzzle, which I doubt. But what is more crucial is the cruelty and torture inflicted upon twins and other innocents. Many others would also be consigned to isolation units for primitive blood transfusions to be carried out on their already weakened bodies. For these wicked acts, Mengele after the war should have been hanged by Sgt. Woods and if you didn’t know his name, this soldier was the official hangman at Nuremberg, who after the sentence on the elite Nazis, botched most of the hangings he had to perform.)
Concerning his escape from the allies, the jury still seems to be out in the knowledge that the “Odessa rat run” (anointed and blessed by the pro-Nazi Catholic Bishop Hudal), did assist Dr. Mengele in his escape to depart by boat from post-war Europe for the safety of Catholic South America.
When the necessary paperwork was completed, a Red Cross passport, acquired from a Swiss consul, was delivered to him. He was now ready for the next stage of his life as a wanted fugitive. And he would eventually sail in 1948 on the steamer “North King” to Buenos Aires, with a considerable amount of money on his person, naturally provided by his wealthy family and his unique box of laboratory slides of bacterial and tissue samples. But I have to wonder why he had brought these tools of his trade with him if not to use them sometime or somewhere on someone in the near future. But for now, it was goodbye to the old world as a new world welcomed the angel of death to its shores.
When Joseph Mengele disembarked into his new host country, curtsey from General Peron, he would survive as a fugitive for the next thirty years and always continually looking over his shoulder in fear either from the West German government, but more disturbingly from the Mossad snatch squad-after all he had just narrowly missed an appointment with them when Adolph Eichmann was captured in the early 1960s. (Mengele was the only subject it seems that Eichmann shied away from discussing during his interrogation by the Israelis before his death at the end of a rope. I have to wonder why?)
Mengele would use no less than eight alias names during his years on the run. He would also find time to learn to drive a car, failing the test it seems twice. In his autobiography, written in the third person, under the pseudonym of Andreas, he could claim: “If I had to choose again I would choose the same profession.” No remorse there it seems towards his innocent victims who suffered and died at his pleasure. And interestingly he had elected to name these memories under the title “Let there be light.” This, in my opinion, is a blasphemous reference to the book of Genesis. The first book of the Holy Bible.
Interestingly Menegle’s respected and prosperous family would later purchase half shares in the Fadro farm pharmaceutical company, all very interesting I have to suggest but could this devious doctor have continued his medical research covertly on the DNA structure and its consequences. Was there a solution that he might one day reveal to a waiting world just waiting to be discovered amongst his blood samples slides, Petrie dishes and microscopes. He probably thought he would perhaps even dream about its success.
Some years ago there was an intriguing story that appeared in the Daily Mail of Jan 2009, concerning the high proportion of twins delivered in the early 1960s in Southern Brazil. Reports of a kindly but mysterious “Doctor Weiss” whose speciality for caring for a pregnant woman in that region was well known to the local authorities. He also turned his hand it seems to dentistry if so required. However were these numerous twins Dr. Mengeles crafted creation or just a popular myth that he cultivated in his South American years. And I rather appreciate the story that Uki Goni tells in his book about a “Dr Gregor” who General Peron remembered meeting in Argentina in the 1950s. Seems this German softly spoken doctor had perfected a method to improve the Generals cattle production on his ranch because later the cows would give birth to twin calf’s during the season when this doctor’s “special treatment” was injected into the animal’s ovaries.
And remember the first modern controversial cloning was in an animal, Dolly the sheep.
There were few seeds of suspicion about Mengele in his various locations or indeed his past performances in the death camps. He was after all one of them and a Himmler favourite at that. I doubt that Mengele was shy about this adoration from fellow criminal Nazis now safely ensconced in South America.
Yet he could and would flee within hours to safety in his determination to be one step ahead of his pursuers, these included: Interpol, Israeli agents and other Nazi hunters. Substantial rewards were offered for his capture. (None ever claimed that financial reward.) In the Frankfurt trials of 1962, where he should have stood trial, new damning evidence was brought against his name but the man now residing in Brazil merely dismissed these court proceedings as a witch-hunt. He was after all just “a simple soldier doing his duty” but now his own country had turned against his reputation and his family name-it was all so sickening he lamented to his diaries. Various portraits about him by witnesses in the camps emerged during these trials. SS doctors argued that he was arrogant, with a strong personality, a charismatic man, extremely attractive (to women), he was Hitler’s robot, an evil deity, very righteous, and puritanical, and to the numerous Gypsy children he would be called “uncle Mengele” but within weeks he had ordered their murderers. A dangerous complex man it seems never to be crossed.
In those years ahead of him, he would forge an uneasy relationship with his son Rolf, who for years had thought of him as a kindly old uncle, only later to learn the truth about his father. Interestingly Rolf later became engaged in 1976 and to his father’s, great delight, his future daughter in law was a twin!
“These Nordic genes are to be appreciated,” he exclaimed concerning his future daughter in law Nordic pedigree in a letter to his son.
The 1970s had a warped view about the Nazis and the Holocaust years. Mel Brooks film The Producers presented the Nazi years in a semi-musical pastiche, so how long would it be before Hollywood composers tried to sell a future film to the studios bosses with titles such as Mengele the Musical – His long sojourn in Paraguay. However, the world was changing. What was once described as evil was now regarded as entertainment.
Mention should be made of The deputy by Rolf Hochhuth in his 1963 controversial drama set in Auschwitz. The author presents Mengele as an “absolutely evil persona.” Perhaps part of the doctor’s future legend emerged out of this portrayal that the writer presented to the audience and critics alike.
In 1957 The Paraguayan Supreme Court awarded Mengele citizenship of that Country. Yet Mengele was still miserable and morose, always complaining about his health and always deeply suspicious of any strangers seen approaching his fortified farm. Yet in between bouts of loneliness, he could find time to reminisce about the old days, particularly those “Auschwitz Years” with anyone who cared to listen to his woes.
But now he was just a shell of self-pity, wallowing in his own misery.
In his final years, with his walrus moustache, a grubby Burberry coat and snap-brim hat to finish the swagger, he rather resembled an aging Mafia don. And some might argue that he was just a gangster in uniform anyway.
But did Mengele ever suffer distress about his guilt of the deeds performed so long ago or had these tendencies been swept away as he willingly performed his medical adroitness for his Nazi masters.
Were the Auschwitz years just a retention that he could recall or reject however the mood took him.
Did the distress of his victims ever intermingle with his own despair of feeling abandoned in a strange country? “I am losing hope,” he cried so often frequently through his insomnia nights. One wonders if he ever consulted a Bible for spiritual guidance. Many have and still do find comfort in its pages.
Or was Mengele too far gone in his guilt to seek forgiveness.
And was repentance just a word he had probably remembered as a child long ago that he now smothered in his conscience as he brooded in the Paraguay hills. In those final years a decline in his health, with frequent bouts of migraines and insomnia, would descend upon him. All of this would offer him nothing but deep depression and anxiety. At night he would sleep with his army Mauser pistol for company, naturally fearing Mossad agents might snatch him from his exile. Maybe at times he even briefly welcomed this possibility, then quickly rejected the consequences.
Death when it came to claim his soul was unexpected as it is to so many unprepared of the 150,000 people who die each day.
“My mind is as if burned out. All is so empty,” he now complained days before his death. Later on, he would again complain, perhaps with some insight that: “I am going to the beach because my life is at an end.”
This was Joseph Mengele, always complaining, never contrite. Everything that had ever happened to him was someone else’s fault, never his.
Then during a swim in the Atlantic in February 1979, he apparently suffered a partial stroke, resulting in him drowning, being unable to use both arms to save himself-he was 68 years old. Friends would later hold a grotesque wake on the beach with candles, incense, prayers and hymns, chanted under the stars. A wreath of red roses was placed gently on Mengele’s body” but by then it was too late, he had passed to a greater judgment that all will be required one day to present themselves to for inspection.
But even afterwards controversy still adhered to the Mengele myth. During those six years after his drowning, news reports still regularly circulated that Menegle was very much alive. These doubts eventually prompted the American and German Governments to request that the grave be finally exhumed. And in 1985 his skull was presented to the world’s media in that little cemetery on the hill. It was all rather gruesome somebody remembered.
One of the problems that later confused the doctors in the bone identification was the question of traces of a childhood illness of Osteomyelitis contracted in 1926 and would they still be visible or not after a fifty-year period. Some doctors claimed material remained in the bone structure others claimed it disappeared. One expert referred to it as “The troubling question of Osteomyelitis.” And how right he was in that statement because so much of this mystery of the Menegele forensic remains has yet to be explained.
Then his old SS records would be requested for examination. Also sought by the medical team were his family records and X-rays, then both held in Germany and indeed the Mengele family promised to send them to the enquiry but nothing ever came.
So in the final report, issued by a clutch of doctors, simply stated: “It was inconclusive.” And there it seems this medical mystery ended. But I have to speculate that if Menegele had contracted this illness as a boy the SS doctors would not have accepted him as a candidate into Himmler’s elite army.
The then medical examination board would even reject a candidate with tooth fillings so how could Mengele have to succeed in passing his medical with this blemish in his body. Was it perhaps through bribery from his family that opened the way for him to be accepted into the SS and there the mystery of the man seems to end, well for the time being anyway.
In conclusion, did Joseph Mengele ever entertain the slightest degree of personal guilt for the wicked medical experiments he had undertaken in those terrible Auschwitz Years in Poland?
Perhaps one can speculate that the pain he caused to so many sufferers eventually became part of his own suffering criteria now alone and forsaken in a country so very far from home.
And was repentance just a word he might recall from his time as an altar boy never to be evaluated of course or mentioned when he later composed his Paraguayan memoirs of self-pity alone at night with his memories.
So did perhaps the so-called “angel of death” arrange his own convenient death that hot day on the beach in Bertioga Brazil. I don’t rule anything out concerning Dr. Joseph Mengele.
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die after this the judgement.”
Update: 31 personal notebooks and journals covering 3,390 pages belonging to the late doctor of death, written in Brazil and Paraguay, are to go under the auctioneers hammer, it is reported in the Daily Mail, 18th July 2011. The total value is estimated at $400,000. Who says the Swastika doesn’t still sell.
The Nazi Doctors: Robert Jay Lifton (good medical information about the camp)
Mengele the Complete Story: Posner and Ware
Children of the Flames: Lagnado and Dekel
The Real Odessa: Uki Goni
The Nazi Hunter: Alan Levy
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