"Right, left", what man could send people to their death with a flick of a cane, without batting an eye? Josef Mengele. The stories and pictures of Auschwitz tell a gruesome tale of death and torture. Stories of the abused, used, and killed, the tales of the torturees have been told, but what about the torturers? The SS, the "doctors", the ones who carried out the deeds, what was their life like? That is what this paper will focus on. What went on inside the pathology lab, and what went on inside the pathologist.
Millions of people passed through Auschwitz, Mengele's domain, during the Holocaust. Early in 1945, it was recorded that over 700,000 people were currently "living" (dying) there. Over 1 million people were killed at Auschwitz, about a fifth of all the Jews killed. People were brought to Auschwitz in cattle cars, hundreds of people would be put into a car and then not let out for days, without food or water. Even when the trains arrived at Auschwitz they would often sit on the track for days until all the many trains which had come before were unloaded. After this hellish journey, the first thing that people saw was Josef Mengele, the angel of Auschwitz standing in his immaculate SS uniform, shining boots, perfectly brushed and pressed shirt and pants, and glistening silver skulls.
Josef Mengele was a doctor at Auschwitz, he performed experiments, made selections, and is responsible for sending thousands of people to the crematorium. As a person he was "split", one side of him was the heartless, uncaring, medical-atrocities side, while the other was a gentle, almost human side. When these two side overlapped was when Mengele was most horrible. Often when taking small children to the gas chamber, he would give them candy and make a game out of, "walking to the chimney". Another example of false kindness is well put in the words of Moshe Offer, a test subject of Mengele.
"They took X-rays of us, then Doctor Mengele came in. And he gave us sweets. He wore a white gown, but beneath it you could see the SS trousers. He gave us candy, and then gave us some horribly painful injections."
Josef Mengele was very high up in Nazi status, he reported to Heinrich Himmler, who reported directly to Adolf Hitler. The attraction of Auschwitz to Mengele was the limitless supply of human test subjects. Mengele was able to perform ANYTHING he wanted on live, human subjects. Life was good for Mengele at Auschwitz, everyday he got luxuries: a fifth of a liter of vodka, a dozen cigarettes, and German sausage. Auschwitz was a regular world for SS officers, there were houses with white picket fences to live in, a soccer stadium, a theater, and an SS officers club where the officers got gourmet meals. It was not uncommon for an SS officer to dine on roasted chicken and potatoes, while the prisoners were starving and dying.
Mengele served many purposes at Auschwitz, he made selections of the newly arriving prisoners, those who could work to the right, and those who couldn't to the left (gas chambers), and he performed experiments. Mengele wanted to create a "pure" Aryan race, and to make German mothers give birth to as many German babies as possible.
Doing selections gave Mengele access to any prisoner he wanted, he could hand pick his test subjects-and he did. "Zwillinge, Zwillinge, Zwillinge!" Twins, Twins, Twins! Mengele picked twins, dwarfs, and people who had deformities to do experiments on. He wanted to erase these traits from the "pure" Aryan race. Mengele was very interested in doing autopsies on twins who had died at the exact same time, in the real world one twin might die at 7 while the other might die at 77, but in this closed environment he could study twins who had died at the same moment.
Many of Mengele's experiments were based on literally creating a blond hair blue eyed race. One reason why Mengele might have been obsessed with "German" looks is because his brown hair and eyes, and his gypsy-esque look didn't define him as a "pure" Aryan. One of his most famous experiments was with eye color. Mengele or one of his assistants would inject dyes into the unanesthetized eye of a child, preferably a set of twins. The dyes often resulted in injury, sometimes complete blindness, not to mention excruciating pain.
Another set of experiments were designed to create better equipment for German soldiers, better gear for the cold, and for high altitudes. A set of freezing experiments were performed to make clothing for navy crew who might fall in the water. People were placed in vats of ice water, naked, to see the fatal temperature of a human. People were locked outside, in snow and ice, also naked, to collect more information on human body temperature. Also sometimes after he had chilled someone Mengele would try to warm the person up, back to normal functioning levels-this almost never worked.
One of the more gruesome experiments was a pressure chamber. Prisoners were locked inside a pressure chamber that would simulate flying at high altitudes. The person's breathing pattern was meticulously recorded, until they died. People would often kill themselves by throwing themselves against the walls of the chamber, so that they would not die a more horrible death, suffocation and sometimes explosion. As in the words of Anton Pacholegg, an Austrian prisoner who assisted Dr. Rascher in the Dachau camp;
"I have personally seen through the observation window of the decompression chamber, when a prisoner inside would stand a vacuum until his lungs ruptured."
One can not help but wonder what kind of a person could ever consider doing things so horrible, much less carry them out. Who could ever kill an innocent child by injecting chloroform into their heart, causing the blood to coagulate and kill the child. Who could ever imagine sewing a set of twins together to try and make siamese twins? These acts just seem to be out of the human realm. Yet Josef Mengele did all of these acts, and more. When the Nazis realized that the Allied forces were getting closer, the Nazis covered up their deeds by destroying most of the gas chambers and the pathology lab next to them that was occupied by the "doctor" Mengele. We may never know the extent to which the experiments went.
Mengele covered up his past as well as the Nazis covered up Auschwitz, and better. Josef Mengele left Auschwitz on January 17, 1945 after being there since 1943. Mengele secretly joined a normal German infantry, and was released after the Allies found the soldiers in which Mengele was hiding. There had always been a strong Nazi presence in South America, so with funds from his family, he went off the Argentina. Mengele lived with a farming family in Argentina for a while, but Mengele was very scared of being caught, so between 1945 and 1979 Mengele moved to and from different countries in South America. There was a great hunt for the elusive Doctor Mengele, there were rewards, warrants, and even Nazi Hunters after him, but no one ever found him. No one knew it when he died. Josef Mengele was living in Brazil with the Bossert family, when for the first time, he went out in the sun in a public place. Mengele was paranoid that he would be caught, so he often only went out at night. On January 7, 1979, the Bossert family persuaded him to go for a swim to ease his mind. He did, but while out at sea he had a stroke, Mengele's body was paralyzed, and he started to drown. People managed to drag him out of the water, but it was too late, the infamous Doctor Mengele was dead.
People didn't find out until the mid-1980's that Mengele was dead, I think that's quite fitting to the seemingly ever-present Josef Mengele. People say that they saw Mengele at the selection night and day. He was a mythological creature at Auschwitz, he could come at any time day or night to take test subjects from the barracks. Mengele was the symbol of the Nazis, evil, lurking, and always there.