One of the greatest periods of human tragedy, misery and suffering was the bleak time period known as the Holocaust. Perpetrated against the Jews by a madman known as Hitler, the Holocaust led to a time period of terrible tragedy and unimaginable suffering. Pain and sorrow mark those terrible years, but to those who perpetrated such crimes, it was not a period of sorrow but a period of enlightenment.
The darkness of men’s hearts can often be found in the vileness of their deeds. Today, we are going to be looking at one of the most horrific and cruel men to ever have existed, a man by the name of Joseph Mengele.
Born to a normal German family in 1911, young Joseph was a more poetic soul. He studied music, the arts and even skiing. But what captured his interest far more than anything else was that of the medical sciences. His fascination with biology and hereditary traits led him to Frankfurt, where he would receive medical training and learn about racial differences on a genetic and hereditary level.
The Nazi party was fascinated with a practice that we would call Eugenics, a practice that focused on creating the best possible human race by selectively breeding them and eliminating those who were unfit to pass their genes forward. Eugenics was the core backbone of the Nazi idealism; the myth of the pure Aryan race would go on to justify a great many cruelties done in the name of advancing the good of the human race. The idea of racial purity was also extremely appealing to Joseph, who had spent a great deal of time learning the genetic differences of each race.
After Joseph received his medical degree, he would then go on to join the SS where he would serve as part of their medical corps. His actions during the armed conflicts were often rewarded with medals. He was esteemed and as a reward for his excellent service of the SS, he was encouraged to transfer to one of the concentration camps where he’d be able to conduct medical experiments. He agreed and put in a request to be transferred to the concentration camp branch. His request was granted and he was sent to a place by the name of Auschwitz.
Now, this is where the story truly begins to get horrifying. Up until now, Joseph’s life was par the course of a young German man. He grew up a patriot, was interested in medicine and served in the Nazi party, as most young men in that time period did. What would begin to happen next is one of the darkest parts of human history.
On May 30th, 1943, Joseph Mengele arrived at Auschwitz, the most famous of all concentration camps. It wouldn’t take long before he was given the distinct title of Chief Camp physician of Auschwitz. Before that, however, he was placed in charge of the Romani people, known colloquially as Gypsies. Hailing from Romani, the Roma people were considered to be racially inferior. They were nomadic and curious people, who had an entirely different set of values and culture from the Germans. Hitler’s hatred of them was well documented and they were considered to be on par with the Jews in terms of inferiority. A great amount of Gypsies were killed during the Holocaust and those who were not outright slaughtered were placed in concentration camps.
It was in Auschwitz where Joseph Mengele would begin to experiment upon the Roma people in Section B of Auschwitz, which was known as the Gypsy camp. Without any restraints of ethics, morality or the government, Mengele would conduct cruel and terrible experiments upon these people. His interest was in human genetics and how traits were passed down from family to family. Questions such as nature vs nurture, how did traits get passed down and how were the traits selected haunted Joseph. He found a great fascination in the concept of twins because of these questions.
Twins, to Joseph, were the most interesting type of specimen because they would allow for him to conduct independent tests upon each of them and see how their genetic traits were similar or different from one another. His other fascination was with people who had a different eye color in each eye (known as heterochromia iridium.) He would regularly harvest organs from twins or even remove the eyes from his victims in order to conduct experiments on them.
One form of experiment that he closely monitored was the widespread effects of gangrene on the human body. He would sequester several patients into medical tents and then document each stage of the disease’s progression with a meticulous amount of detail. He would offer them no help, nor would he give them medication. Instead, he watched people slowly die so that he could learn more about the human body.
It was said that when a twin would die due to a disease, Mengele would personally kill the other twin, so that he could perform an autopsy. This would allow for him to understand the effects that the disease had on the human body versus that of a healthy human body. The cost of such a type of experiment would never be allowed in a traditional medical system. Yet, he had no problem with his decision to end the lives of those whom he deemed to be unfit for this world.
The man was utterly depraved and psychotic. Yet, despite the fact that he conducted such evils such as sewing live people together in order to see what would happen, he acted with a cold demeanor and a dispassion that often surprised those whom he was killing. He had no compulsion against beating someone to death to watch how they died or sending people to the gas chambers, but he appeared to take no delight in his actions. Rather, it was a cold, quiet fascination that he conducted his experiments.
One of his tasks in the camp was overseeing the use of the gas chambers. He would operate with extreme prejudice and would not hesitate to send those who were sick to the chambers. The specimens who would arrive that he had no interest in would not fare well, he would usually just send them straight to the gas chambers with a silent flick of his hands, if he flicked to the left, a prisoner would die, if to the right, they would be allowed to live.
His demeanor would earn him the nickname, Angel of Death. He was always calm. To the Romani camp, he established a school that would be full of children under the age of six. This school was a place of horror, but the children often did not realize it. Calling himself Uncle Mengele, he would enter into the school, talk to the children, give them candy, and if interested in their genetic traits, he would inject them directly in the heart with chloroform to see what would happen.
The man lived the perfect life for a mad scientist. There was no oversight, no one to tell him to stop. Everyone around him always looked the other way. He could do whatever he wanted and he did. Yet, his cruelty was not in pursuit of purposeless violence, nor was it just wanton savagery. Everything that he did was for the purpose of advancing medical science. Perhaps that is why he was able to do such horrible things such as have a nice chat with a little boy in one afternoon and then send him to the gas chambers without hesitation the next morning.
Mengele continued his horrible experiments and crimes against humanity for two years at Auschwitz. Fortunately, the one thing that stopped the madness was the advancement of the Red Army. Hitler had made a tactical mistake when he had provoked the Russians and now they were pushing hard toward the camp. A group of medical officers decided to flee from Auschwitz before it was liberated by the Reds.
Of course, at this point, things weren’t looking good for the Nazis. The war front was crumbling on all sides and as a result, Mengele went into hiding in Germany. His attempts, however, didn’t work out as he had hoped and he was quickly captured by the American investigation forces who were busy trying to root out Nazi’s who were in disguise. Mengele’s entire unit was held by the American forces, but somehow Joseph caught a break. With the sheer amount of chaos surrounding the end of the war, the Americans who were holding him didn’t have any information that pointed him out as being on the most wanted lists. Coupled with the fact that he didn’t have any major identifications linking him to any war crimes, they were forced to let him go.
Joseph was quick to forge false papers and live life on the lam, working as a farm hand and disguising himself so that no one would know who he was. He worked meticulously to try and retrieve his records, but in the end, was forced to flee Germany once and for all. As he was on the move, testament of his atrocities was made public by one of his old assistants, a Jewish man whom he had forced to do his bidding. This testimony would make Mengele famous as a monster and a worldwide bounty was issued for anything leading to his arrest.
It would be wonderful to say that his story ended with justice. It would be pleasing to say that this horrible man, who was willing to commit great terrors in the interest of science was caught and brought to justice, but the unfortunate truth is, he was never captured. He moved to Argentina, where he hid in plain sight until the Argentina government became aware of his existence and was pressured to hand him over to the international courts. Yet, he fled to Paraguay instead of risking extradition.
Despite the best efforts of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency that spent a great deal of time searching for Nazis who had escaped justice, they were unable to capture him. Mengele lived out the rest of his life in Brazil. As he grew older, his body began to fail him until a stroke had led to his drowning in a swimming pool at the age of 67. He successfully had evaded capture and instead met his end in a semi-natural way.
Perhaps one curious rumor still exists about Mengele. Not that he is still alive, of course, because that is undisputed at this point in his life. The rumor points to a village in Brazil that held a large concentration of twins. Some would point to this as evidence that Mengele might have had something to do with that, but it will be impossible to know if he was still involved with human experimentation at all when he was in hiding near the end of his life.
So, what is the legacy of Joseph Mengele? Truthfully, for all of the great crimes that he perpetrated against mankind, for the horrible things that he would do to people who had done nothing except commit the crime of existing, he never truly led to any advancements of scientific knowledge. The world remembers his name only as something of horror. He never repented of his actions either, for he believed that what he was doing had been his duty. Yes, this man had somehow managed to convince himself that the brutal murder of infants, elderly and children was his moral obligation and duty.
So, what can be learned from Joseph’s life? Just that mankind can commit the greatest evils, evils beyond all imagination when they throw morality out of the window. When a man ceases to believe that his fellow man is also human, there is no limit to the horrors that he can commit against him. Joseph was the symptom of a terrible disease, a disease which still infects our world today. That disease? Prejudice. Let this be a lesson to all who hold hate in their hearts, a man such of Mengele was allowed to thrive because of the hate surrounding his culture. Will we allow humanity to return to such a hate ever again?
Holocaust Encyclopedia: https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007060
Angel of Death: http://www.auschwitz.dk/mengele.htm
23 Chilling facts about Mengele: http://www.ranker.com/list/facts-about-josef-mengele/jacob-shelton