Josef Mengele

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Josef Mengele
Josef Mengele, Auschwitz. Album Hocker (cropped).jpg
Pictured outside Auschwitz in 1944
  • Angel of Death (German: Todesengel) [1]
  • White Angel (German: der Weisse Engel or Weißer Engel) [2]
  • Wolfgang Gerhard (burial name) [2]
Born(1911-03-16)16 March 1911
Günzburg, Bavaria, German Empire
Died7 February 1979(1979-02-07) (aged 67)
Bertioga, São Paulo, Brazil
AllegianceFlag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Service/branchFlag Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Years of service1938 (1938)–1945 (1945)
Rank SS - Hauptsturmführer (Captain)
Service number
  • Irene Schönbein
    (m. 1939;div. 1954)
  • Martha Mengele (widow of his brother Karl)(m. 1958)
Signature Josef Mengele Signature.svg

Josef Mengele ( [ˈjoːzɛf ˈmɛŋələ] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); 16 March 1911 7 February 1979), also known as the Angel of Death (German: Todesengel) [1] and the White Angel (German: der Weisse Engel or Weißer Engel), [2] was a German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer and physician in Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He performed deadly human experiments on prisoners and was a member of the team of doctors who selected victims to be killed in the gas chambers. Arrivals that were judged able to work were admitted into the camp, while those deemed unsuitable for labor were sent to the gas chambers to be killed. With Red Army troops sweeping through Poland, Mengele was transferred 280 kilometers (170 mi) from Auschwitz to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp on 17 January 1945, just ten days before the arrival of the Soviet forces at Auschwitz. After the war, he fled to South America where he evaded capture for the rest of his life.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

<i>Schutzstaffel</i> Major paramilitary organization of Nazi Germany

The Schutzstaffel was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in Nazi Germany, and later throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II. It began with a small guard unit known as the Saal-Schutz made up of NSDAP volunteers to provide security for party meetings in Munich. In 1925, Heinrich Himmler joined the unit, which had by then been reformed and given its final name. Under his direction (1929–45) it grew from a small paramilitary formation to one of the most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany. From 1929 until the regime's collapse in 1945, the SS was the foremost agency of security, surveillance, and terror within Germany and German-occupied Europe.

Auschwitz concentration camp German network of concentration and extermination camps in occupied Poland during World War II

The Auschwitz concentration camp was a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II and the Holocaust. It consisted of Auschwitz I, the main camp (Stammlager) and administrative headquarters in Oświęcim; Auschwitz II–Birkenau, a combined concentration and extermination camp three kilometers away in Brzezinka; Auschwitz III–Monowitz, a labor camp created to staff an IG Farben synthetic-rubber factory; and dozens of other subcamps.


Before the war, Mengele had received doctorates in anthropology and medicine, and began a career as a researcher. He joined the Nazi Party in 1937 and the SS in 1938. He was assigned as a battalion medical officer at the start of World War II, then transferred to the Nazi concentration camps service in early 1943 and assigned to Auschwitz, where he saw the opportunity to conduct genetic research on human subjects. His subsequent experiments focused primarily on twins, with little regard for the health or safety of the victims. [3] [4]

Doctorate academic or professional degree

A doctorate or doctor's degree or doctoral degree, is an academic degree awarded by universities, derived from the ancient formalism licentia docendi. In most countries, it is a research degree that qualifies the holder to teach at university level in the degree's field, or to work in a specific profession. There are a number of doctoral degrees; the most common is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which is awarded in many different fields, ranging from the humanities to scientific disciplines.

Anthropology The science of human behavior and societies

Anthropology is the scientific study of humans, human behavior and societies in the past and present. Social anthropology studies patterns of behaviour and cultural anthropology studies cultural meaning, including norms and values. Linguistic anthropology studies how language influences social life. Biological or physical anthropology studies the biological development of humans.

Nazi Party a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945

The National Socialist German Workers' Party, commonly referred to in English as the Nazi Party, was a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of National Socialism. Its precursor, the German Workers' Party, existed from 1919 to 1920.

Mengele sailed to Argentina in July 1949, assisted by a network of former SS members. He initially lived in and around Buenos Aires, then fled to Paraguay in 1959 and Brazil in 1960, while being sought by West Germany, Israel, and Nazi hunters such as Simon Wiesenthal who wanted to bring him to trial. Mengele eluded capture in spite of extradition requests by the West German government and clandestine operations by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. He drowned in 1979 after suffering a stroke while swimming off the Brazilian coast, and was buried under the false name Wolfgang Gerhard. [2] Mengele's remains were disinterred and positively identified by forensic examination in 1985.

Argentina Federal republic in South America

Argentina, officially the Argentine Republic, is a country located mostly in the southern half of South America. Sharing the bulk of the Southern Cone with Chile to the west, the country is also bordered by Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, Brazil to the northeast, Uruguay and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Drake Passage to the south. With a mainland area of 2,780,400 km2 (1,073,500 sq mi), Argentina is the eighth-largest country in the world, the fourth largest in the Americas, and the largest Spanish-speaking nation. The sovereign state is subdivided into twenty-three provinces and one autonomous city, Buenos Aires, which is the federal capital of the nation as decided by Congress. The provinces and the capital have their own constitutions, but exist under a federal system. Argentina claims sovereignty over part of Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Ratlines (World War II aftermath) system of escape routes for Nazis and other fascists fleeing Europe at the end of World War II

"Ratlines" were a system of escape routes for Nazis and other fascists fleeing Europe in the aftermath of World War II. These escape routes mainly led toward havens in Latin America, particularly Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Bolivia, as well as the United States and Switzerland.

Buenos Aires Place in Argentina

Buenos Aires is the capital and largest city of Argentina. The city is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, on the South American continent's southeastern coast. "Buenos Aires" can be translated as "fair winds" or "good airs", but the former was the meaning intended by the founders in the 16th century, by the use of the original name "Real de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre". The Greater Buenos Aires conurbation, which also includes several Buenos Aires Province districts, constitutes the fourth-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas, with a population of around 15.6 million.

Early life and education

Mengele was born on 16 March 1911 to Walburga (née Hupfauer) and Karl Mengele in Günzburg, Bavaria, Germany. [5] He was the oldest of three children; his two younger brothers were Karl Jr. and Alois. Their father was founder of the Karl Mengele & Sons company, producers of farm machinery. [6] Josef was successful at school and developed an interest in music, art, and skiing. [7] He completed high school in April 1930 and went on to study philosophy in Munich, [8] where the headquarters of the Nazi Party were located. [9] In 1931, Mengele joined the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten , a paramilitary organization that was absorbed into the Nazi Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment; SA) in 1934. [8] [10]

Günzburg Place in Bavaria, Germany

Günzburg is a town in Bavaria, Germany. It is a Große Kreisstadt and the capital of the Swabian district Günzburg. This district was constituted in 1972 by combining the city of Günzburg – which had not previously been assigned to a Kreis (district) – with the district of Günzburg and the district of Krumbach.

Bavaria State in Germany

Bavaria, officially the Free State of Bavaria, is a landlocked federal state of Germany, occupying its southeastern corner. With an area of 70,550.19 square kilometres, Bavaria is the largest German state by land area comprising roughly a fifth of the total land area of Germany. With 13 million inhabitants, it is Germany's second-most-populous state after North Rhine-Westphalia. Bavaria's main cities are Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg.

Munich Capital and most populous city of Bavaria, Germany

Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, and thus the largest which does not constitute its own state, as well as the 12th-largest city in the European Union. The city's metropolitan region is home to 6 million people. Straddling the banks of the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, it is the seat of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Bavaria, while being the most densely populated municipality in Germany. Munich is the second-largest city in the Bavarian dialect area, after the Austrian capital of Vienna.

In 1935, Mengele earned a PhD in anthropology from the University of Munich. [8] In January 1937, he joined the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt, where he worked for Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a German geneticist with a particular interest in researching twins. [8] As von Verschuer's assistant, Mengele focused on the genetic factors that result in a cleft lip and palate, or a cleft chin. [11] His thesis on the subject earned him a cum laude doctorate in medicine (MD) from the University of Frankfurt in 1938. [12] (Both of his degrees were revoked by the issuing universities in the 1960s.) [13] In a letter of recommendation, von Verschuer praised Mengele's reliability and his ability to verbally present complex material in a clear manner. [14] The American author Robert Jay Lifton notes that Mengele's published works were in keeping with the scientific mainstream of the time, and would probably have been viewed as valid scientific efforts even outside Nazi Germany. [14]

Doctor of Philosophy Postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities in many countries

A Doctor of Philosophy is the highest university degree that is conferred after a course of study by universities in most countries. PhDs are awarded for programs across the whole breadth of academic fields. As an earned research degree, those studying for a PhD are usually required to produce original research that expands the boundaries of knowledge, normally in the form of a thesis or dissertation, and defend their work against experts in the field. The completion of a PhD is often a requirement for employment as a university professor, researcher, or scientist in many fields. Individuals who have earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree may, in many jurisdictions, use the title Doctor or, in non-English-speaking countries, variants such as "Dr. phil." with their name, although the proper etiquette associated with this usage may also be subject to the professional ethics of their own scholarly field, culture, or society. Those who teach at universities or work in academic, educational, or research fields are usually addressed by this title "professionally and socially in a salutation or conversation." Alternatively, holders may use post-nominal letters such as "Ph.D.", "PhD", or "DPhil". It is, however, considered incorrect to use both the title and post-nominals at the same time.

Frankfurt Place in Hesse, Germany

Frankfurt is a metropolis and the largest city of the German federal state of Hesse, and its 746,878 (2017) inhabitants make it the fifth-largest city of Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne. On the River Main, it forms a continuous conurbation with the neighbouring city of Offenbach am Main, and its urban area has a population of 2.3 million. The city is at the centre of the larger Rhine-Main Metropolitan Region, which has a population of 5.5 million and is Germany's second-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr Region. Since the enlargement of the European Union in 2013, the geographic centre of the EU is about 40 km (25 mi) to the east of Frankfurt's central business district. Like France and Franconia, the city is named after the Franks. Frankfurt is the largest city in the Rhine Franconian dialect area.

Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer German military physician, geneticist and biochemist

Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer was a German human biologist and geneticist, who was the Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Münster until his 1965 retirement. A member of the Dutch noble Verschuer family, his title Freiherr is often translated as baron.

On 28 July 1939, Mengele married Irene Schönbein, whom he had met while working as a medical resident in Leipzig. [15] Their only son, Rolf, was born in 1944. [16]

Leipzig Place in Saxony, Germany

Leipzig is the most populous city in the German federal state of Saxony. With a population of 587,857 inhabitants as of 2018, it is Germany's eighth most populous city as well as the second most populous city in the area of former East Germany after (East) Berlin. Together with Halle (Saale), the largest city of the neighbouring state of Saxony-Anhalt, the city forms the polycentric conurbation of Leipzig-Halle. Between the two cities lies Leipzig/Halle International Airport.

Military service

The ideology of Nazism brought together elements of antisemitism, racial hygiene, and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum (living space) for the Germanic people. [17] Nazi Germany attempted to obtain this new territory by attacking Poland and the Soviet Union, intending to deport or kill the Jews and Slavs living there, who were considered by the Nazis to be inferior to the Aryan master race. [18]

Mengele joined the Nazi Party in 1937 and the Schutzstaffel (SS; protection squadron) in 1938. He received basic training in 1938 with the Gebirgsjäger (light infantry mountain troop) and was called up for service in the Wehrmacht (Nazi armed forces) in June 1940, some months after the outbreak of World War II. He soon volunteered for medical service in the Waffen-SS , the combat arm of the SS, where he served with the rank of SS- Untersturmführer (second lieutenant) in a medical reserve battalion until November 1940. He was next assigned to the SS-Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (SS Race and Settlement Main Office) in Poznań, evaluating candidates for Germanization. [19] [20]

In June 1941, Mengele was posted to Ukraine, where he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. In January 1942, he joined the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking as a battalion medical officer. After rescuing two German soldiers from a burning tank, he was decorated with the Iron Cross 1st Class, the Wound Badge in Black, and the Medal for the Care of the German People. He was declared unfit for further active service in mid-1942, when he was seriously wounded in action near Rostov-on-Don. Following his recovery, he was transferred to the headquarters of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office in Berlin, at which point he resumed his association with von Verschuer, who was now director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics. Mengele was promoted to the rank of SS- Hauptsturmführer (captain) in April 1943. [21] [22] [23]


"Selection" of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Birkenau, May/June 1944 Selection Birkenau ramp.jpg
"Selection" of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Birkenau, May/June 1944

In 1942, Auschwitz II (Birkenau), originally intended to house slave laborers, began to be used instead as a combined labor camp and extermination camp. [24] [25] Prisoners were transported there by rail from all over German-occupied Europe, arriving in daily convoys. [26] By July 1942, SS doctors were conducting "selections" where incoming Jews were segregated, and those considered able to work were admitted into the camp while those deemed unfit for labor were immediately killed in the gas chambers. [27] The arrivals that were selected to die, about three-quarters of the total, [lower-alpha 1] included almost all children, women with small children, pregnant women, all the elderly, and all of those who appeared (in a brief and superficial inspection by an SS doctor) to be not completely fit and healthy. [29] [30]

In early 1943, encouraged by von Verschuer, Mengele applied to transfer to the concentration camp service. [21] [31] His application was accepted and he was posted to Auschwitz, where he was appointed by SS-Standortarzt Eduard Wirths, chief medical officer at Auschwitz, to the position of chief physician of the Zigeunerfamilienlager (Romani family camp) at Birkenau, [21] [31] a subcamp located on the main Auschwitz complex. The SS doctors did not administer treatment to the Auschwitz inmates, but supervised the activities of inmate doctors who had been forced to work in the camp medical service. [32] As part of his duties, Mengele made weekly visits to the hospital barracks and ordered any prisoners who had not recovered after two weeks in bed to be sent to the gas chambers. [33]

Mengele's work also involved carrying out selections, a task that he chose to perform even when he was not assigned to do so, in the hope of finding subjects for his experiments, [34] with a particular interest in locating sets of twins. [35] In contrast to most of the other SS doctors, who viewed selections as one of their most stressful and unpleasant duties, he undertook the task with a flamboyant air, often smiling or whistling a tune. [36] [32] He was also one of the SS doctors responsible for supervising the administration of Zyklon B, the cyanide-based pesticide that was used for the mass killings in the Birkenau gas chambers. He served in this capacity at the gas chambers located in crematoria IV and V. [37]

When an outbreak of noma (a gangrenous bacterial disease of the mouth and face) struck the Romani camp in 1943, Mengele initiated a study to determine the cause of the disease and develop a treatment. He enlisted the assistance of prisoner Dr. Berthold Epstein, a Jewish pediatrician and professor at Prague University. The patients were isolated in a separate barracks and several afflicted children were killed so that their preserved heads and organs could be sent to the SS Medical Academy in Graz and other facilities for study. This research was still ongoing when the Romani camp was liquidated and its remaining occupants killed in 1944. [3]

In response to a typhus epidemic in the women's camp, Mengele cleared one block of six hundred Jewish women and sent them to their deaths in the gas chambers. The building was then cleaned and disinfected, and the occupants of a neighboring block were bathed, de-loused, and given new clothing before being moved into the clean block. This process was repeated until all of the barracks were disinfected. Similar procedures were used for later epidemics of scarlet fever and other diseases, with infected prisoners being killed in the gas chambers. For these actions, Mengele was awarded the War Merit Cross (Second Class with swords) and was promoted in 1944 to First Physician of the Birkenau subcamp. [38]

Human experimentation

Richard Baer, Josef Mengele and Rudolf Hoss at Auschwitz, 1944. Hocker Album Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Rudolf Hoess, Auschwitz. Album Hocker.jpg
Richard Baer, Josef Mengele and Rudolf Höss at Auschwitz, 1944. Höcker Album

Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his anthropological studies and research into heredity, using inmates for human experimentation. [3] His medical procedures showed no consideration for the health, safety, or physical and emotional suffering of the victims. [3] [4] He was particularly interested in identical twins, people with heterochromia iridum (eyes of two different colors), dwarfs, and people with physical abnormalities. [3] A grant was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), at the request of von Verschuer, who received regular reports and shipments of specimens from Mengele. The grant was used to build a pathology laboratory attached to Crematorium II at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. [39] Dr. Miklós Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jewish pathologist who arrived in Auschwitz on 29 May 1944, performed dissections and prepared specimens for shipment in this laboratory. [40] The twin research was in part intended to prove the supremacy of heredity over environment and thus strengthen the Nazi premise of the superiority of the Aryan race. [41] Nyiszli and others reported that the twin studies may also have been motivated by an intention to increase the reproduction rate of the German race by improving the chances of racially desirable people having twins. [42]

Mengele's research subjects were better fed and housed than the other prisoners, and temporarily spared from execution in the gas chambers. [43] He established a kindergarten for children who were the subjects of his experiments, as well as the preschool children from the Romani camp. The facility provided better food and living conditions than other areas of the camp, and included a children's playground. [44] When visiting his young subjects, he introduced himself as "Uncle Mengele" and offered them sweets, [45] while at the same time being personally responsible for the deaths of an unknown number of victims whom he killed via lethal injection, shootings, beatings, and his deadly experiments. [46] In his 1986 book, Lifton describes Mengele as sadistic, lacking empathy, and extremely antisemitic, believing the Jews should be eliminated entirely as an inferior and dangerous race. [47] Rolf Mengele later claimed that his father had shown no remorse for his wartime activities. [48]

A former Auschwitz inmate doctor said:

He was capable of being so kind to the children, to have them become fond of him, to bring them sugar, to think of small details in their daily lives, and to do things we would genuinely admire ... And then, next to that, ... the crematoria smoke, and these children, tomorrow or in a half-hour, he is going to send them there. Well, that is where the anomaly lay. [49]

Jewish twins kept alive in Auschwitz for use in Mengele's medical experiments. The Red Army liberated these children in January 1945. 66935A.jpeg
Jewish twins kept alive in Auschwitz for use in Mengele's medical experiments. The Red Army liberated these children in January 1945.

Twins were subjected to weekly examinations and measurements of their physical attributes by Mengele or one of his assistants. [50] The experiments he performed on twins included unnecessary amputation of limbs, intentionally infecting one twin with typhus or some other disease, and transfusing the blood of one twin into the other. Many of the victims died while undergoing these procedures, [51] and those who survived the experiments were sometimes killed and their bodies dissected once Mengele had no further use for them. [52] Nyiszli recalled one occasion on which Mengele personally killed fourteen twins in one night by injecting their hearts with chloroform. [32] If one twin died from disease, he would kill the other twin to allow comparative post-mortem reports to be produced for research purposes. [53]

Mengele's eye experiments included attempts to change the eye color by injecting chemicals into the eyes of living subjects, and he killed people with heterochromatic eyes so that the eyes could be removed and sent to Berlin for study. [54] His experiments on dwarfs and people with physical abnormalities included taking physical measurements, drawing blood, extracting healthy teeth, and treatment with unnecessary drugs and X-rays. [4] Many of his victims were dispatched to the gas chambers after about two weeks, and their skeletons sent to Berlin for further analysis. [55] Mengele sought out pregnant women, on whom he would perform experiments before sending them to the gas chambers. [56] Witness Vera Alexander described how he sewed two Romani twins together, back to back, in a crude attempt to create conjoined twins; [51] both children died of gangrene after several days of suffering. [57]

After Auschwitz

Photograph from Mengele's Argentine identification document (1956) WP Josef Mengele 1956.jpg
Photograph from Mengele's Argentine identification document (1956)

Along with several other Auschwitz doctors, Mengele transferred to Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Lower Silesia on 17 January 1945, taking with him two boxes of specimens and the records of his experiments at Auschwitz. Most of the camp medical records had already been destroyed by the SS [58] [59] by the time the Red Army liberated Auschwitz on 27 January. [60] Mengele fled Gross-Rosen on 18 February, a week before the Soviets arrived there, and traveled westward to Žatec in Czechoslovakia, disguised as a Wehrmacht officer. There he temporarily entrusted his incriminating documents to a nurse with whom he had struck up a relationship. [58] He and his unit then hurried west to avoid being captured by the Soviets, but were taken prisoners of war by the Americans in June 1945. Although Mengele was initially registered under his own name, he was not identified as being on the major war criminal list due to the disorganization of the Allies regarding the distribution of wanted lists, and the fact that he did not have the usual SS blood group tattoo. [61] He was released at the end of July and obtained false papers under the name "Fritz Ullman", documents he later altered to read "Fritz Hollmann". [62]

After several months on the run, including a trip back to the Soviet-occupied area to recover his Auschwitz records, Mengele found work near Rosenheim as a farmhand. [63] He eventually escaped from Germany on 17 April 1949, [64] [65] convinced that his capture would mean a trial and death sentence. Assisted by a network of former SS members, he used the ratline to travel to Genoa, where he obtained a passport from the International Committee of the Red Cross under the alias "Helmut Gregor", and sailed to Argentina in July 1949. [66] His wife refused to accompany him, and they divorced in 1954. [67]

In South America

Mengele worked as a carpenter in Buenos Aires, Argentina, while lodging in a boarding house in the suburb of Vicente López. [68] After a few weeks he moved to the house of a Nazi sympathizer in the more affluent neighborhood of Florida Este. He next worked as a salesman for his family's farm equipment company, Karl Mengele & Sons, and in 1951 he began making frequent trips to Paraguay as regional sales representative. [69] He moved into an apartment in central Buenos Aires in 1953, he used family funds to buy a part interest in a carpentry concern, and he then rented a house in the suburb of Olivos in 1954. [70] Files released by the Argentine government in 1992 indicate that Mengele may have practiced medicine without a license while living in Buenos Aires, including performing abortions. [71]

After obtaining a copy of his birth certificate through the West German embassy in 1956, Mengele was issued an Argentine foreign residence permit under his real name. He used this document to obtain a West German passport, also using his real name, and embarked on a trip to Europe. [72] [73] He met up with his son Rolf (who was told Mengele was his "Uncle Fritz") [74] and his widowed sister-in-law Martha, for a ski holiday in Switzerland; he also spent a week in his home town of Günzburg. [75] [76] When he returned to Argentina in September 1956, Mengele began living under his real name. Martha and her son Karl Heinz followed about a month later, and the three began living together. Josef and Martha were married in 1958 while on holiday in Uruguay, and they bought a house in Buenos Aires. [72] [77] Mengele's business interests now included part ownership of Fadro Farm, a pharmaceutical company. [75] Along with several other doctors, Mengele was questioned in 1958 on suspicion of practicing medicine without a license when a teenage girl died after an abortion, but he was released without charge. Aware that the publicity would lead to his Nazi background and wartime activities being discovered, he took an extended business trip to Paraguay and was granted citizenship there in 1959 under the name "José Mengele". [78] He returned to Buenos Aires several times to settle his business affairs and visit his family. Martha and Karl lived in a boarding house in the city until December 1960, when they returned to Germany. [79]

Mengele's name was mentioned several times during the Nuremberg trials in the mid-1940s, but the Allied forces believed that he was probably already dead. [80] Irene Mengele and the family in Günzburg also alleged that he had died. [81] Working in West Germany, Nazi hunters Simon Wiesenthal and Hermann Langbein collected information from witnesses about Mengele's wartime activities. In a search of the public records, Langbein discovered Mengele's divorce papers, which listed an address in Buenos Aires. He and Wiesenthal pressured the West German authorities into starting extradition proceedings, and an arrest warrant was drawn up on 5 June 1959. [82] [83] Argentina initially refused the extradition request because the fugitive was no longer living at the address given on the documents; by the time extradition was approved on 30 June, Mengele had already fled to Paraguay and was living on a farm near the Argentine border. [84]

Efforts by Mossad

In May 1960, Isser Harel, director of Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency), personally led the successful effort to capture Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires. He was also hoping to track down Mengele, so that he too could be brought to trial in Israel. [85] Under interrogation, Eichmann provided the address of a boarding house that had been used as a safe house for Nazi fugitives. Surveillance of the house did not reveal Mengele or any members of his family, and the neighborhood postman claimed that although Mengele had recently been receiving letters there under his real name, he had since relocated without leaving a forwarding address. Harel's inquiries at a machine shop where Mengele had been part owner also failed to generate any leads, so he was forced to abandon the search. [86]

Despite having provided Mengele with legal documents using his real name in 1956 (which had enabled him to formalize his permanent residency in Argentina), West Germany was now offering a reward for his capture. Continuing newspaper coverage of Mengele's wartime activities, with accompanying photographs, led him to relocate once again in 1960. Former pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel put him in touch with the Nazi supporter Wolfgang Gerhard, who helped Mengele to cross the border into Brazil. [79] [87] He stayed with Gerhard on his farm near São Paulo until more permanent accommodation could be found, with Hungarian expatriates Géza and Gitta Stammer. With the help of an investment from Mengele, the couple bought a farm in Nova Europa, which Mengele was given the job of managing for them. The three bought a coffee and cattle farm in Serra Negra in 1962, with Mengele owning a half interest. [88] Gerhard had initially told the Stammers that Mengele's name was "Peter Hochbichler", but they discovered his true identity in 1963. Gerhard persuaded the couple not to report Mengele's location to the authorities, by convincing them that they themselves could be implicated for harboring the fugitive. [89] In February 1961, West Germany widened its extradition request to include Brazil, having been tipped off to the possibility that Mengele had relocated there. [90]

Meanwhile, Zvi Aharoni, one of the Mossad agents who had been involved in the Eichmann capture, was placed in charge of a team of agents tasked with tracking down Mengele and bringing him to trial in Israel. Their inquiries in Paraguay revealed no clues to his whereabouts, and they were unable to intercept any correspondence between Mengele and his wife Martha, who was then living in Italy. Agents that were following Rudel's movements also failed to produce any leads. [91] Aharoni and his team followed Gerhard to a rural area near São Paulo, where they identified a European man whom they believed to be Mengele. [92] This potential breakthrough was reported to Harel, but the logistics of staging a capture, the budgetary constraints of the search operation, and the priority of focusing on Israel's deteriorating relationship with Egypt led the Mossad chief to call off the hunt for Mengele in 1962. [93]

Later life and death

In 1969, Mengele and the Stammers jointly purchased a farmhouse in Caieiras, with Mengele as half owner. [94] When Wolfgang Gerhard returned to Germany in 1971 to seek medical treatment for his ailing wife and son, he gave his identity card to Mengele. [95] The Stammers' friendship with Mengele deteriorated in late 1974 and when they bought a house in São Paulo, Mengele was not invited to join them. [lower-alpha 2] The Stammers later bought a bungalow in the Eldorado neighborhood of São Paulo, which they rented out to Mengele. [98] Rolf, who had not seen his father since the ski holiday in 1956, visited him at the bungalow in 1977; he found an unrepentant Nazi who claimed he had never personally harmed anyone, only having carried out his duty. [99]

Mengele's health had been steadily deteriorating since 1972. He suffered a stroke in 1976, [100] and he also had high blood pressure and an ear infection that affected his balance. On 7 February 1979, while visiting his friends Wolfram and Liselotte Bossert in the coastal resort of Bertioga, he suffered another stroke while swimming and drowned. [101] Mengele was buried in Embu das Artes under the name "Wolfgang Gerhard", whose identification he had been using since 1971. [102]

Other aliases used by Mengele in his later life included "Dr. Fausto Rindón" and "S. Josi Alvers Aspiazu". [103]


Meanwhile, sightings of Josef Mengele were being reported all over the world. Wiesenthal claimed to have information that placed Mengele on the Greek island of Kythnos in 1960, [104] in Cairo in 1961, [105] in Spain in 1971, [106] and in Paraguay in 1978, eighteen years after he had left the country. [107] He insisted as late as 1985 that Mengele was still alive—six years after he had died—having previously offered a reward of US$100,000 in 1982 for the fugitive's capture. [108] Worldwide interest in the case was heightened by a mock trial held in Jerusalem in February 1985, featuring the testimonies of over one hundred victims of Mengele's experiments. Shortly afterwards, the West German, Israeli, and U.S. governments launched a coordinated effort to determine Mengele's whereabouts. The West German and Israeli governments offered rewards for his capture, as did The Washington Times and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. [109]

On 31 May 1985, acting on intelligence received by the West German prosecutor's office, police raided the house of Hans Sedlmeier, a lifelong friend of Mengele and sales manager of the family firm in Günzburg. [110] They found a coded address book and copies of letters sent to and received from Mengele. Among the papers was a letter from Wolfram Bossert notifying Sedlmeier of Mengele's death. [111] German authorities alerted the police in São Paulo, who then contacted the Bosserts. Under interrogation, they revealed the location of Mengele's grave, [112] and the remains were exhumed on 6 June 1985. Extensive forensic examination indicated with a high degree of probability that the body was indeed that of Josef Mengele. [113] Rolf Mengele issued a statement on 10 June confirming that the body was his father's, and he admitted that the news of his father's death had been concealed in order to protect the people who had sheltered him for many years. [114]

In 1992, DNA testing confirmed Mengele's identity beyond doubt, [115] but family members refused repeated requests by Brazilian officials to repatriate the remains to Germany. [116] The skeleton is stored at the São Paulo Institute for Forensic Medicine, where it is used as an educational aid during forensic medicine courses at the University of São Paulo's medical school. [117]

Later developments

In 2007, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum received as a donation the Höcker Album, an album of photographs of Auschwitz staff taken by Karl-Friedrich Höcker. Eight of the photographs include Mengele. [118]

In February 2010, a 180-page volume of Mengele's diary was sold by Alexander Autographs at auction for an undisclosed sum to the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. The unidentified previous owner, who acquired the journals in Brazil, was reported to be close to the Mengele family. A Holocaust survivors' organization described the sale as "a cynical act of exploitation aimed at profiting from the writings of one of the most heinous Nazi criminals". [119] Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was glad to see the diary fall into Jewish hands. "At a time when Ahmadinejad's Iran regularly denies the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews is back in vogue, this acquisition is especially significant", he said. [120] In 2011, a further 31 volumes of Mengele's diaries were sold—again amidst protests—by the same auction house to an undisclosed collector of World War II memorabilia for US$245,000. [121]

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Informational notes

  1. Of the Hungarians who arrived in mid-1944, 85 percent were killed immediately. [28]
  2. Based on entries in Mengele's journals and interviews with his friends, historians such as Gerald Posner and Gerald Astor believe that Mengele had a sexual relationship with Gitta Stammer. [96] [97]


  1. 1 2 Levy 2006, p. 242.
  2. 1 2 3 4 USHMM: Josef Mengele.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Kubica 1998, p. 320.
  4. 1 2 3 Astor 1985, p. 102.
  5. Astor 1985, p. 12.
  6. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 4–5.
  7. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 6–7.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Kubica 1998, p. 318.
  9. Kershaw 2008, p. 81.
  10. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 8, 10.
  11. Weindling 2002, p. 53.
  12. Allison 2011, p. 52.
  13. Levy 2006, p. 234 (footnote).
  14. 1 2 3 Lifton 1986, p. 340.
  15. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 11.
  16. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 54.
  17. Evans 2008, p. 7.
  18. Longerich 2010, p. 132.
  19. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 16.
  20. Kubica 1998, pp. 318–319.
  21. 1 2 3 Kubica 1998, p. 319.
  22. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 16–18.
  23. Astor 1985, p. 27.
  24. Longerich 2010, pp. 282–283.
  25. Steinbacher 2005, pp. 94, 96.
  26. Steinbacher 2005, pp. 104–105.
  27. Rees 2005, p. 100.
  28. Steinbacher 2005, p. 109.
  29. Levy 2006, pp. 235–237.
  30. Astor 1985, p. 80.
  31. 1 2 Allison 2011, p. 53.
  32. 1 2 3 Lifton 1985.
  33. Astor 1985, p. 78.
  34. Levy 2006, pp. 248–249.
  35. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 29.
  36. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 27.
  37. Piper 1998, pp. 170, 172.
  38. Kubica 1998, pp. 328–329.
  39. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 33.
  40. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 33–34.
  41. Steinbacher 2005, p. 114.
  42. Lifton 1986, pp. 358–359.
  43. Nyiszli 2011, p. 57.
  44. Kubica 1998, pp. 320–321.
  45. Lagnado & Dekel 1991, p. 9.
  46. Lifton 1986, p. 341.
  47. Lifton 1986, pp. 376–377.
  48. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 48.
  49. Lifton 1985, p. 337.
  50. Lifton 1986, p. 350.
  51. 1 2 Posner & Ware 1986, p. 37.
  52. Lifton 1986, p. 351.
  53. Lifton 1986, pp. 347, 353.
  54. Lifton 1986, p. 362.
  55. Lifton 1986, p. 360.
  56. Brozan 1982.
  57. Mozes-Kor 1992, p. 57.
  58. 1 2 Levy 2006, p. 255.
  59. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 57.
  60. Steinbacher 2005, p. 128.
  61. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 63.
  62. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 63, 68.
  63. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 68, 88.
  64. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 87.
  65. Levy 2006, p. 263.
  66. Levy 2006, p. 264–265.
  67. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 88,108.
  68. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 95.
  69. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 104–105.
  70. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 107–108.
  71. Nash 1992.
  72. 1 2 Levy 2006, p. 267.
  73. Astor 1985, p. 166.
  74. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 2.
  75. 1 2 Astor 1985, p. 167.
  76. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 111.
  77. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 112.
  78. Levy 2006, pp. 269–270.
  79. 1 2 Levy 2006, p. 273.
  80. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 76, 82.
  81. Levy 2006, p. 261.
  82. Levy 2006, p. 271.
  83. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 121.
  84. Levy 2006, pp. 269–270, 272.
  85. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 139.
  86. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 142–143.
  87. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 162.
  88. Levy 2006, pp. 279–281.
  89. Levy 2006, pp. 280, 282.
  90. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 168.
  91. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 166–167.
  92. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 184–186.
  93. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 184, 187–188.
  94. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 223.
  95. Levy 2006, p. 289.
  96. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 178–179.
  97. Astor 1985, p. 224.
  98. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 242–243.
  99. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 2, 279.
  100. Levy 2006, pp. 289, 291.
  101. Levy 2006, pp. 294–295.
  102. Blumenthal 1985, p. 1.
  103. Zentner & Bedürftig 1991, p. 586.
  104. Segev 2010, p. 167.
  105. Walters 2009, p. 317.
  106. Walters 2009, p. 370.
  107. Levy 2006, p. 296.
  108. Levy 2006, pp. 297, 301.
  109. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 306–308.
  110. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 89, 313.
  111. Levy 2006, p. 302.
  112. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 315, 317.
  113. Posner & Ware 1986, pp. 319–321.
  114. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 322.
  115. Saad 2005.
  116. Simons 1988.
  117. The Guardian 2017.
  118. USHMM: SS Auschwitz album.
  119. Oster 2010.
  120. Hier 2010.
  121. Aderet 2011.
  122. Lifton 1986, p. 339.
  123. Lifton 1986, pp. 339–340.


Further reading