Josef Mengele

Josef Mengele / joːzəf mɛngələ / ( Gunzburg , Bavaria , March 16, 1911 – Bertioga , Brazil , Feb. 7, 1979) was a physician, anthropologist and official German of the SS during World War II in the concentration camp of Auschwitz , where he selected the victims to be executed in the gas chambers and conducted unscientific and often deadly experiments with prisoners. After the end of the war he fled to South America, where he avoided being captured until his death.

Mengele obtained a doctorate in anthropology and medicine from the University of Munich and began a career as a researcher. He joined the Nazi party in 1937 and the SS in 1938. At the beginning of World War II, he was assigned as a battalion medical officer, but in early 1943 he moved to the concentration camp service and was stationed at Auschwitz. There he performed genetic experiments with humans, often on twins, without any scientific character and without taking into account the welfare and safety of their victims. Mengele was also part of the medical team that selected prisoners newly arrived at the concentration camp, which distinguished between those fit for work and those who were not, who were sent immediately to be killed in the gas chambers. Mengele left Auschwitz on January 17, 1945, shortly before the arrival of Red Army troops who liberated the concentration camp.

With the help of a network of former SS members, Mengele sailed to Argentina in July 1949. At first he lived in and around Buenos Aires , but fled to Paraguay in 1959 and Brazil in 1960 pursued by West Germany , Israel and Cazanazis Like Simon Wiesenthal , who wanted to bring him to trial. Despite extradition requests government of West Germany and clandestine operations of the Mossad – the intelligence service Israeli Mengele he avoided being arrested. He died drowned while swimming in a Brazilian beach in 1979 and was buried under a false name. His remains were unearthed and identified by a forensic examination in 1985.

Early years and education

Josef Mengele was born the 16 of March of 1911 in the Bavarian city of Gunzburgo ; Was the eldest of three sons of Karl and Walburga (born Hupfauer) 1 and his brothers were called Karl and Alois. His father was the founder of the Karl Mengele und Söhne company , producer of agricultural machinery. 2 Josef was a good student who liked music, art and skiing. 3 finished high school in April 1930 and began studying medicine and philosophy at the University of Munich , four city that was the stronghold of the Nazi party , the right – wing political organization led by Adolf Hitler . 5 In 1931 Mengele joined the Steel Helmets , a paramilitary organization that was absorbed in 1934 by the Nazi Sturmabteilung militias . 6 7

In 1935 Mengele obtained a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Munich 7 and in January of 1937 left the Institute of Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt as assistant to dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a research scientist on genetics with a particular interest in twin brothers. 7 There Mengele focused on the genetic factors that resulted in the appearance of cleft lip and split chin 8 and his thesis on this subject was qualified with a cum laude that earned him the achievement of a doctorate in medicine in 1938. Had followed by This academic path, Mengele would have been a university professor. 9 In a letter of recommendation, Von Verschuer praised Mengele’s reliability and his ability to explain complicated concepts very clearly. 10 The American writer Robert Jay Lifton points out that Mengele’s publications were not very different from the scientific current of the time and would probably have been positively valued even outside the realm of Nazi Germany . 10

Mengele married 28 July 1939 with Irene Schönbein, whom he had met in Leipzig while working as a resident physician. 11 His only son, Rolf, was born in 1944. 12

Military service

The Nazi ideology amalgamated elements of anti- Semitism , racial hygiene and eugenics, and combined them with Pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the aim of achieving greater Lebensraum – a vital space – for the Germanic peoples. 13 The Nazi Germany tried to get that space with the invasion of Poland and the Soviet Union , as well as the deportation and murder of Jews and Slavs living there, which was considered inferior to the superior race aria . 14

Mengele joined the Nazi party in 1937 and the SS in 1938. He received basic training with mountain infantry and was recruited by the Wehrmacht – the German armed forces – in June 1940, a few months after the outbreak of World War II . He subsequently volunteered for the medical service of the Waffen-SS , the SS armed wing, where he served under the rank of Untersturmführer ( lieutenant) in a battalion of the medical reserve until November 1940. He was then assigned to the Office of The Race and the Resettlement of the SS in Posnania , where he evaluated the candidates for Germanization . 15 16

In June 1941 Mengele was assigned to Ukraine , where he was awarded the Second Class Iron Cross . In January 1942 he joined the 5th Panzergrenadier SS Wiking Division as a battalion medical officer. He rescued two German soldiers from the interior of a burning chariot , an action for which he received the First Class Iron Cross, the Wounded Medal and the Medal for the care of the German people. He was seriously injured in an action near Rostov of the Don in the summer of 1942 and was declared unfit to remain on active duty. Once recovered, he returned to the Office of Race and Resettlement in Berlin . He also resumed his association with Von Verschuer, who then worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics and Eugenesia . In April of 1943 Mengele obtained the ascent to Hauptsturmführer- capita- of the SS. 17 18 19


At the beginning of 1943, encouraged by Von Verschuer, Mengele requested the transfer to the service of concentration camps, where he hoped to have the opportunity to carry out genetic investigations with humans. 17 20 His application was accepted and assigned to the Auschwitz concentration camp , where Eduard Wirths , chief medical officer, appointed him medical director of the Zigeunerfamilienlager – field of Roma families – at the Birkenau complex. 17 20

At the end of 1941, Hitler decided that the Jews of Europe had to be exterminated. For this reason, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which in principle was to house slave workers, became a combination of labor camp and extermination . 21 22 There prisoners of all the Europe occupied by the Germans arrived by train daily. 23 By July 1942 the SS already conducted “selections” which consisted of segregating Jews capable and incapable, those who could work were admitted to the labor camp and those who did not were sent immediately to death in the chambers Of gas. 24 In the groups that were to die, which were usually three-quarters of all those who arrived, were almost all the children, women with their babies, pregnant, all the elderly and those that the doctors considered, after a brief and superficial Inspection, which were not completely healthy. 25 26

Mengele, a member of the group of doctors who made this human selection, was not obliged to perform this task, but participated in the hope of finding subjects for their experiments. 27was particularly interested in finding twin brothers 28 and unlike other doctors, who saw the stressful and horrible task, Mengele performed with complete ease, with fancy airs, often smiling, well groomed or whistling a tune. 29 30

Mengele and the other SS physicians did not treat inmates, but supervised other prisoners who were required to work in the medical field service. 30 Mengele visited the barracks of the hospital weekly and sent prisoners who had not recovered after two weeks in bed to the gas chamber. 31 also was part of the group of doctors responsible for administering the Zyklon B , the pesticide based cyanide that was used to kill Jews in the gas chambers of Birkenau. In particular, he performed this task in the chambers located in crematoria IV and V. 32

When it erupted in 1943 in the field of Roma an outbreak of noma – a bacterial disease that gangrene mouth and face, Mengele initiated a study to determine the cause and develop a treatment. He took as an assistant to Berthold Epstein prisoner a pediatrician Jew and professor at the University of Prague . Mengele isolated the patients in a separate barracks and killed severely ill children to send their heads and organs to the SS Medical Academy in Graz for study. The investigation was under way when the Roma camp was liquidated and its occupants assassinated in 1944. 33

In response to a typhoid epidemic in the women’s camp, Mengele sent the six hundred occupants of a barracks to the gas chamber. The building was then cleaned and disinfected and the occupants of a nearby barracks were bathed and given new clothes before being transferred to the clean barracks. This process was repeated until all barracks were disinfected. This type of disinfection was carried out again when outbreaks of scarlet fever and other diseases occurred, but in those cases all the prisoners were sent to the gas chamber. For his “efforts,” Mengele received the Military Merit Cross – Second Class with Swords – and was promoted in 1944 to the first doctor in the Birkenau camp. 3. 4

Experiments with humans

Mengele took advantage of his stay at Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his anthropological studies and research on genetic inheritance using concentration camp prisoners to experiment with humans. 33 These experiments were completely unscientific and did not take into account the health or safety of people. 33 35 Mengele was especially interested in twins identical, people with heterocromía -eyes different color-, dwarves and subject to physical anomalies. 33 The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – German Research Foundation – awarded him a grant that von Verschuer had requested, to which Mengele sent periodic reports and various samples. The money granted him was used in the construction of a pathology laboratory attached to the crematorium II at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. 36 Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian pathologist of Jewish religion who arrived in Auschwitz on May 29, 1944, performed dissections in this new laboratory and prepared specimens for shipment. 37 investigations Mengele on twins were designed in part to demonstrate the supremacy of the genetic heritage on the environment and thus reinforce the premise of Nazism who defended the superiority of the Aryan race. 38 Nyiszli argues that studies of twins were also motivated by a desire to improve the rate of reproduction of the German race through increased fertility and opportunities to spawn twins of racially desirable subjects. 39

The prisoners used by Mengele in their experiments were better fed and housed than the rest of the camp inmates and were also less likely to end up in the gas chamber while under investigation. 40 The doctor created a nursery with a playground for the children with whom he was tested and for all Gypsy children under six years of age, where they lived in better conditions than other prisoners in the concentration camp. 41 When he visited the children, he introduced himself as “Uncle Mengele” and offered them sweets. 42 Despite this, he was responsible for the death of an unknown number of victims he himself killed through lethal injections, shots, blows, and through deadly experiments. 43 Lifton describes Mengele as a sadistic, empathic, and extremely anti-Semitic man who was convinced that the Jews were an inferior and dangerous race that was to be utterly annihilated. 44 Mengele’s only son, Rolf, said that his father never showed any remorse for his activities during the war. Four. Five

A doctor who was imprisoned in Auschwitz said: He was able to be very kind to the children to take care of them, give them sweets, he thought about the daily details of their lives and did things that we would really like to admire … And then the Smoke from the crematoria, and the next day or half an hour later, those children were sent there. 46

The twins were subjected to weekly examinations and measurements of their physical attributes by Mengele or some of his assistants. 47 The experiments performed by the doctor included unnecessary amputations of limbs, meaning inoculations with typhus and other diseases to one twin and blood transfusions from one brother to another. Many of the victims died in the course of proceedings. 48 After the tests were completed, the twins were sometimes killed and their bodies dissected. 49 Nyiszli relates that one night Mengele personally killed fourteen twins by injecting chloroform directly into the heart. 30 If one of the twins died because of the disease they had inoculated him, Mengele killed the other brother for comparative post-mortem reports . fifty

Mengele’s eye experiments included attempts to change the color of the iris through the injection of chemicals and the killing of people with heterochromia to extract their eyeballs and send them to Berlin for analysis. 51 Dwarves and people with physical anomalies took body measurements, extracted blood and healthy teeth, and unnecessarily administered drugs and x-rays . 35 Many victims were sent to the gas chamber and then their skeletons were sent to Berlin to continue the investigations. 52 Mengele sought to pregnant women, which conducted experiments before sending them to the gas chamber. 53 The witness described how Vera Alexander sewed in the back two gypsy twins in an attempt to create twins conjoined , 48 but both died from the effects of gangrene after several days of suffering. 54


Mengele and other doctors from Auschwitz were transferred on 17 January 1945 to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Lower Silesia. There he carried away two boxes with specimens and records of his experiments, while the rest of the field medical documents were destroyed by the SS. 55 56 The Red Army captured Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. 57 Mengele fled from Gross-Rosen on February 18, a week before the arrival of the Soviets, and traveled west disguised as an officer of the Wehrmacht to Saaz- Current Žatec -. There he temporarily confined his incriminating Auschwitz documents to a nurse with whom he had formed a relationship. 55 Then he and his entire unit rushed to the west to avoid falling into the hands of Soviet troops ended in June and made prisoner of war by the US military. Mengele was registered at first with its authentic name, but because of the disorganization of the allies with the lists of the most wanted Germans and the fact that it did not have the habitual tattoo of the SS with its blood group, they did not identify it like One of the names on the list of major war criminals. 58 He was released in late July and obtained false documents under the name of “Fritz Ullman,” he later altered documents to change the name to “Fritz Hollmann.” 59 After several months on the run, in which he had time to go into the territory controlled by the Soviets to recover your files Auschwitz, Mengele found work as a farmer near Rosenheim . 60 Fearing to be captured, tried and sentenced to death, he fled Germany on April 17, 1949. 61 62 Helped by a network of former SS members, who also belonged to Hans-Ulrich Rudel , Mengele Traveled to Genoa and obtained a passport under the alias “Helmut Gregor”, a false member of the International Committee of the Red Cross . He sailed to Argentina in July, 63 but his wife refused to accompany him and both divorced in 1954. 64

In South America

In Buenos Aires , Mengele worked as a carpenter and lived in a pension in the party of Vicente Lopez . 65 After a few weeks moved to the home of a Nazi sympathizer in the affluent neighborhood of Florida and then worked as a commercial enterprise for agricultural equipment family. From 1951 he made frequent trips to Paraguay as sales representative in that country. 66 In 1953 began living in an apartment in Buenos Aires and later that year used family money to buy a part of a carpentry company. The following year he rented a house in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Olivos . 67

In 1956, Mengele obtained a copy of his birth certificate through the West German embassy and was granted a residence permit in Argentina under his real name. With this document he obtained a passport of West Germany, also with his authentic name, and undertook a trip to Europe. 68 69 He was on vacation in the snow in Switzerland with his son Rolf – who called his father “Uncle Fritz” – 70 and his sister-in-law Martha, in addition to a week in his family home in Gunzburg. 71 72 After returning to Argentina in September, Mengele continued to live with his real name. Martha and her son Karl Heinz met in the American country with him a month later and the three settled together. Josef and Martha were married during a vacation in Uruguay in the city of Nueva Helvecia in 1958 and acquired a house in the Argentine capital. 68 73 Their businesses then included a part of the property of the Fadro Farm, a pharmaceutical company. 71 Also in 1958, Mengele and other doctors were questioned and then cleared of the suspicion of practicing medicine without a license after a teenager died during an abortion. Concerned that this case uncovered his Nazi past and his activities during the war, he undertook a long business trip to Paraguay and in 1959 obtained Argentine citizenship under the name of Jose Mengele. 74 returned to Buenos Aires on several occasions to meet business and visit his family. Martha and Karl Heinz lived in a pension of the city until in December of 1960 returned to Germany. 75

Mengele’s name was mentioned several times during the Nuremberg trials , but the Allied nations were convinced that he had died. 76 His first wife Irene and her family also said that she had died. 77 In Germany, however, the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and Hermann Langbein were collecting information from witnesses about the activities of the Auschwitz physician. During a search in public archives, Langbein came across Mengele’s divorce decree and a Buenos Aires address, so he and Wiesenthal contacted the authorities of West Germany on June 5, 1959 to issue an order Detention and the extradition process will be initiated. 78 79 In principle Argentina rejected the request because the fugitive no longer lived at the address indicated documents and when extradition was approved on June 30, 1960, Mengele had fled to Paraguay, where he was living on a farm near the Argentine border. 80

Mosad Attempts

In May 1960, Isser Harel , head of the Mossad – the intelligence service of the state of Israel – personally led the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires. His hope was to locate Josef Mengele and bring him to trial in Israel. 81 In the interrogation, Eichmann gave the address of a pension capital of Argentina had been used as a safehouse several Nazi fugitives. The Israelis placed the house under surveillance, but neither Mengele nor any of his family appeared there. The postman in the neighborhood told them that although he continued to receive correspondence with his real name, Mengele had moved without leaving a postal address. Har’el’s investigations in a mechanic shop, of which the German had been co-owner, did not provide any clue as to his whereabouts, so they gave up. 82

When West Germany offered a reward for his capture and the press echoed his activities during the war – accompanied by photos of himself – Mengele decided to change his residence once again. Rudel put him in contact with Nazi sympathizer Wolfgang Gerhard, who helped him cross to Brazil . 75 83 Lived with Gerhard on his farm near São Paulo until they found a more comfortable home at the home of the Hungarian expats Geza and Gitta Stammer. This couple bought a farm in Nova Europa, partly with money that Mengele himself invested, and then put the old doctor in charge of the farm. In 1962 the three acquired a farm with cattle and coffee plantations in Serra Negra , a property of which Mengele owned half. 84 At first Gerhard told the Stammer that Mengele’s name was “Peter Hochbichler” but they discovered his true identity in 1963. Gerhard convinced them not to reveal the location of the German doctor to the authorities, telling them that they might have problems For having sheltered a fugitive. 85 The authorities in West Germany suspected Mengele’s new residence and extended his extradition request to Brazil in February 1961. 86

Meanwhile, Zvi Aharoni, one of the Mosad’s agents who participated in the successful detention of Eichmann, was placed at the head of a team of agents with the mission to find Mengele and bring him to trial in Israel. The searches in Paraguay did not bear fruit and they did not succeed in intercepting the correspondence between Josef and his wife Martha, who was then living in Italy. Officers who guarded Rudel also found no leads. 87 Aharoni and his team followed Gerhard to a rural area near São Paulo and there they located a European who confused with Mengele. They reported to Har’el, but the complicated logistics required for the capture, the budget cuts and Israel’s need to focus on the deterioration of their relations with Egypt forced the Mosad leader to put an end to this operation in 1962. 89

Last years and death

Mengele and the marriage Stammer bought a house in a land near Caieiras in 1969, of which the German paid half. 90 When Wolfgang Gerhard returned to Germany in 1971 to seek medical treatment for his wife and son, both seriously ill, gave his identity papers to Mengele. 91 The Stammer broke their relationship with Mengele in 1974 and bought a house in São Paulo to which the German was not invited. Later, the marriage acquired a bungalow in Eldorado, near São Paulo, and was rented to the German doctor. 92 Rolf, who had not seen his father since the holidays in Europe in 1956, traveled to Brazil to visit in 1977 and found an unrepentant Nazi who claimed that he had never hurt anyone and that he had only done his duty. 93

Mengele’s health had been deteriorating steadily since 1972, and in 1976 he suffered a stroke . 94 was suffering from hypertension and ear infection that caused him vertigo. During a visit to his friends Wolfram and Liselotte Bossert in the coastal town of Bertioga on February 7, 1979, Mengele suffered another cerebral infarct while swimming in the sea and drowned. 95 He was buried in the Brazilian municipality of Embu das Artes under the name of “Wolfgang Gerhard”, the false identity he had been using since 1975. 96


Meanwhile, there were reports of alleged sightings of Josef Mengele in various parts of the world. Wiesenthal claimed to have information that placed him on the Greek island of Citnos in 1960, 97 in Cairo in 1961, 98 in Spain in 1971 99 and in Paraguay in 1978, eighteen years after leaving that country. 100 In 1985 Wiesenthal still believed that Mengele was alive and in 1982 he had offered a reward of $ 100,000 for his capture. 101 The world’s interest in the matter grew after the mock trial in Jerusalem in 1985 that witnessed about a hundred victims of Mengele’s experiments. Shortly afterward, the governments of West Germany, Israel and the United States coordinated efforts to try to locate the doctor of Auschwitz. The Israeli and German governments, the Washington Times newspaper and the Simon Wiesenthal Center offered several rewards for their detention. 102

On May 31, 1985, following a clue received by the West German prosecutor’s office, police searched the house of Hans Sedlmeier, a lifelong friend of Mengele and head of sales for the family business in Gunzburg. 103 There they found an address book with encrypted addresses, copies of Mengele’s letters, and another letter in which Bossert informed Sedlmeier of the death of the former Nazi physician. 104 The German authorities contacted the São Paulo police and the police located the Bossert. In the interrogation they revealed the place where Mengele had been buried. 105 The remains were exhumed on June 6, 1985 and the forensic examination focused on his teeth, which showed a noticeable diastema -space interdental- in the upper incisor teeth, characteristic of Mengele, leading to rule that there was a Very high probability that it was the body of Mengele. 106 On June 10, his son Rolf issued a statement acknowledging that it was his father’s corpse and that the news of his death had been kept silent to protect the people who had helped him hide for more than three decades . 107 In 1992 a genetic examination verified the identity of Mengele. 108 The family refused to repatriate the remains to Germany and these remain stored in the Medical Legal Institute of São Paulo, 109 where they are used by students of forensic medicine . 110


The life of Josef Mengele was the inspiration for a book and a film titled The Children of Brazil , in which a fictitious Dr. Mengele, played by the actor Gregory Peck , creates Adolf Hitler clones in a clinic in Brazil. 111 In 2007, the US Holocaust Museum received as a donation the Höcker Album, a collection of photographs of the SS members who managed Auschwitz, taken by Karl Hocker . Mengele appears in eight of the photos. 112

In February 2010, a grandson of a Holocaust survivor bought the 180-page Mengele newspaper in an auction for an undisclosed sum of money. Its previous owner, of unknown identity, took the documents in Brazil and apparently was someone close to the Mengele family. An organization of Holocaust survivors regarded this sale as “a cynical act of exploitation designed to take advantage of one of the most atrocious Nazi war criminals.” 113Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was glad that this day would end up in the hands of a Jew and said: “At a time when the Iran of Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and anti – Semitism is back in vogue, this Acquisition is particularly significant “. 114 In 2011, the same auction house again sold, among other protests, another 31 volumes of Mengele newspapers that were purchased by an anonymous collector who paid $ 245,000. 115

Summary of his career in SS

  • Number of SS: 317 885
  • Nazi party number: 5 574 974
  • Main post: SS- WVHA ( Economic and Administrative Department of the SS ), Physician in Auschwitz concentration camp .
  • Service in the Waffen-SS :
    • Medical team officer, Waffen-SS Medical Inspection (1940)
    • Medical officer, Pioneer Battalion No. 5, 5th Division Panzergrenadier SS Wiking (1941-1943)
    • Medical officer, Battalion “Ost”, 3rd Division SS Totenkopf (1943)

Dates of promotions

Mengele ranks in the SS
Date Rank
May 1938 116 SS- Schütze
1939 SS- Hauptscharführer der Reserve (dR)
August 1, 1940 SS- Untersturmführer dR
January 30, 1942 SS- Obersturmführer dR
April 20, 1943 SS- Hauptsturmführer dR


  • Iron Cross (First and Second Class)
  • Cross of War Merit (Second Class with Swords)
  • Medal of the Eastern Front
  • Wound Medal (Black)
  • Decoration of Social Welfare
  • German Sports Badge (Bronze)
  • Cabriolet of honor of the old guard 116


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  112. Volver arriba↑ «Auschwitz through the lens of the SS: Photos of nazi leadership at the camp». The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (en inglés). Archivado desde el original el 26 de noviembre de 2015. Consultado el 2 de abril de 2014.
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  114. Volver arriba↑ Hier, 2010.
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  116. ↑ Saltar a:a b Registro de servicio en las SS, NARA,.