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Josef Mengele

Dr. Josef Mengele

Dr. Josef Mengele (March 16, 1911 - February 7, 1979), also known as the Angel of Death, was a notorious Nazi doctor who performed sadistic experiments on prisoners in Auschwitz and participated in the selections of people to be sent to the gas chambers.

Mengele was the eldest of three sons of Karl Mengele (1881- 1959) and his wife Walburga (d.1946), well-to-do Bavarian industrialists. His younger brothers were Karl Mengele (1912 - 1949) and Alois Mengele (1914 - 1974). Josef studied philosophy at Munich and medicine at Frankfurt University, choosing to concentrate on physical anthropology and genetics, and eventually working under Otmar von Verschuer at the Frankfurt University Institute of Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene. He gave his dissertation in 1935 on racial differences in the structure of the lower jaw.

In 1931 at the age of 20 Mengele joined the Stahlhelm (Steel Helmet); he joined the SA in 1933, and applied for Nazi party membership in 1937. In 1938 he joined the SS, and in 1938-1939 served six months with a specially trained mountain light-infantry regiment. In 1940 he was placed in the reserve medical corps, following which he served three years with a Waffen-SS unit. In 1942 he was wounded at the Russian front and was pronounced medically unfit for combat. Because he had acquitted himself brilliantly in the face of the enemy during the Eastern Campaign, he was promoted to the rank of captain. Afterward he volunteered to serve at a concentration camp, and he was sent to the death camp Auschwitz and became the chief medical officer of the camp on May 24, 1943.

It was during his 21-month stay at Auschwitz that Dr. Mengele achieved infamy, gaining the nickname "Angel of Death." When rail-cars filled with prisoners arrived in Auschwitz II Birkenau, Mengele would frequently be waiting on the platform to personally select which of them would be retained for work and experimentation and which would be sent immediately to the gas chambers.

Mengele's experimentation included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing various drugs on them, freezing them to death, and various other usually-fatal traumas. Of particular interest to Mengele were twins; beginning in 1944, twins were selected and placed in special barracks. Most of Mengele's experiments were of quite dubious scientific value, even ignoring the ethics involved, including attempts to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's' eyes, various amputations and other brutal surgeries, and in at least one case attempting to create an artificial "siamese twin" by sewing two twins together. The full extent of his work will never be known because the two truckloads of records he sent to Dr. Von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute[?] were destroyed by the latter. Subjects of Mengele's experiments were almost always murdered afterward for dissection, assuming they survived the experiment itself.

Josef Mengele left Auschwitz disguised as a member of the regular German infantry. He turned up at the Gross-Rosen[?] work camp and left well before it was liberated. He was then seen at Matthausen and shortly after he was captured as a POW and held near Munich. He was released by the allies, who had no idea that he was in their midst. Mengele departed for Argentina in 1949, where many other fleeing Nazi officials had also sought refuge, but moved from country to country afterward to avoid capture. Mengele divorced his wife Irene, and in 1958 married his brother Karl's widow, Martha, and later she and her son moved to Argentina to join Mengele.

Despite international efforts to track him down, he was never apprehended and lived for 35 years hiding under various aliases. He lived in Paraguay and Brazil until his death in 1979, when he suffered a stroke while swimming in the ocean and drowned. He was not tracked down by Nazi hunters until the mid-1980s, and in 1992 DNA tests on his bones confirmed his identity.

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