top of page


Most people are aware of the ghastly gas chambers and other horrors of the last world war, but less well known are the macabre medical experiments perpetrated by Nazi doctors and the gassing of German citizens that preceded the holocaust: the physically and mentally disabled, the senile, and congenitally deformed Germans were considered by Nazi eugenicists to be "useless eaters", "lives unworthy of life", and "defective".


In 1939 Hitler instituted a euthanasia program within the state headed by a directorate of doctors. The directorate sequestered 6 asylums out of the public eye and installed Europe’s first gas chambers. Hospitals were ordered to surrender their most unproductive patients who were transported to these termination units.  Schutzstaffel (SS) doctors performed cursory examinations on new arrivals, herded them into the new gas chambers under the pretense of "disinfection" and operated the gas taps.


Hundreds of German doctors condemned their patients to death during this period, so many in fact, that there was a separate hearing exclusively for physicians at the Nuremberg trials after the war.


In 1941 under public outcry, Hitler ordered an end to the gassing of the disabled but the killings continued discreetly by lethal injections while these seasoned SS doctors were reassigned by Hitler to the emerging death camps.


Out of this milieu of medical murderers one SS doctor arose as the arch fiend whose crimes against humanity outstripped that of any other physician. His name, Dr Josef Mengele.

Mengele was born in Gunzburg, privileged as an heir to a farm equipment manufacturer. He trained as a medical doctor at Munich University.


When war broke out he joined Hitler's army in the capacity of a medical officer and distinguished himself when he rescued men from a burning tank during a skirmish against Russians on the Eastern front, earning for himself an Iron Cross and the attention of Hitler's grand architects. His handlers perceived him as too valuable for continued active service and charged him instead with developing the science of Eugenics and building a “master race”. In 1943 they appointed him as chief medical officer at the death camp, Auschwitz, with the full prison population at his scientific disposal. He was 32 years old. 

Mengele met prisoners arriving at Auschwitz by train on a ramp and separated them by the casual wave of his hand as he whistled: if he motioned you to the right you were assigned to work at the camp, but if he waved you to left you were destined for immediate gas termination. This latter group included all children under age 12 (except twins), the pregnant, the elderly, and the infirm. 

Mengele was especially interested in the acquisition of twins for his research. Twins allowed him to perform an experiment on one and compare the two at autopsy later. He had hundreds segregated away from the main camp. He would provide candy when he visited the children in his camp and they in turn called him "Uncle". This feigned generosity however was to garner the cooperation of what he saw not as children, but as test subjects - which many of them eventually experienced.

The litany of atrocities under Mengele's command include: the murder of 3000 twins in cruel experiments, the sterilization of 4000 women in an effort to develop a cheap method of sterilizing “inferior races”, injecting dyes into the eyes of prisoners in an attempt to change their eye color to Aryan, exposing victims to extremes of cold, heat, and barometric pressure to determine life expectancy in extreme environments, inoculation of diseases such as typhoid into subjects, surgically inserting shrapnel and dirt into healthy prisoners to mimic battlefield injuries, inflicting burns on captives for study, operations on the sex organs of male prisoners, subjecting a group of captured nuns to burning by x ray. Mengele had one mother cover her breasts with tape to see how long her baby could live without feeding, he sewed two gypsy twins together in an effort to recreate a siamese twin. And this is not an exhaustive list of Mengele’s horrific madness. Bear in mind too that he was only at Auschwitz for twenty one months before the Red Army liberated the camp. 

As the war concluded, Mengele diffidently deserted the camp and went into hiding as one of  the allies most wanted fugitives. Amazingly, he was captured three times but eluded prosecution each time. 

Mengele’s first capture was a premeditated surrender. Fearing being caught and tortured by the Russians, he gave himself up to American forces but under an assumed name and in a demoted uniform. For an unknown reason, he was missing an SS tattoo of his blood group under his arm that all SS officers were branded with. Further camouflaging his tracks was the further fact that official records showed 17 other Josef Mengele's had enlisted in the regular German army. In the post war confusion and pressure to process prisoners, Mengele was released. 

He returned to his hometown of Gunzburg and went into hiding with the help of friends, family, and Nazi sympathizers. Over four years he inched his way south to the Italian port of Genoa, using false identification papers. Again he was detained while in Genoa, on suspicion of his having false papers. But Nazi fixers in the background got his exit visa cleared and he left by ship for Argentina. 

Buenos Aires, in 1949, provided a safe haven for Nazi war criminals under the dictatorship of Peron and his ostentatious wife, Eva. Mengele thrived there living the high life. He visited operas, enjoyed fine cuisine, met up with other expatriate Nazis like the Red Baron, and Adolf Eichmann. He began practising as a doctor again, and even formed a fledgling pharmaceutical company using seed money from his family. In the 1950's he even reverted to using his real name and in his hubris applied for documents in person twice at the West German embassy there. 

When Adolf Eichmann was captured in a daring extraction by Mossad operatives in Buenos Aires and taken to Israel for prosecution, Mengele fled again. First to Paraguay. Then to Brazil. Here he swapped his high profile life for a low profile one as a farm supervisor and on retirement moved to a slum in Brazil. 

Mengele was never brought to justice for his crimes. He died from a stroke in 1979 while enjoying a swim at a beach south of Sao Paulo. 

Later interviews with his son, Rolf Mengele, provide some insight into the mind of Joseph Mengele. He was told by his father that he was simply following orders and he absolved himself of wrongdoing saying that he “did not invent the concentration camp”. Mengele died unremorseful and unpunished.

bottom of page