Dr. Josef Mengele – 1911 to 1979
We were people who’d been given a death-sentence, though it wasn’t carried out straightaway. Instead of killing us there and then, they made guinea-pigs of us, doing what is done these days in laboratories with cats or rats.
Josef Mengelewas the oldest of three children and was born in the village of Günzburg, Bavaria to upper-middle class parents, Karl and Walburga Mengele, who were devout Catholics. He grew up in a national atmosphere of humiliation of defeat in World War I and the sense of betrayal that infected German society, as well as the very real woes of economic depression.
In 1931, Mengele joined the fascist paramilitary organization – Stahlhelm(“Steel Helmets” i), like many other youth of his age. But he was not just a member of a group of thugs for he later earned a medical degree from the University of Munich in 1935.
He was a talented, well-educated young fascist and briefly served in the Sturmabteiling (SA) in 1934 before resigning due to a kidney problem; but was remembered when loyal followers of the Nazi regime were placed into various leadership positions when Adolf Hitlerwas appointed Chancellor of Germany on January 30th, 1933.
In 1937 he became a researcher at the new Third Reich Institute for Heredity, Biology, and Racial Purity at Frankfurt, working under Professor Omar Freiherr von Verschuer, a loyal Nazi. In 1938, Mengele became a Blackshirt, a member of the elite Schutzstaffel(SS). In 1939 Josef married Irene Schoenbein(first wife who died in 1954) with whom he would have a son, Rolf, born in 1944.
During the first three years of the war, Mengele served as a medical officer with the Waffen SS, first in France and then in the Soviet Union, where he distinguished himself by being awarded the Iron Cross First Class in January of 1942, after being wounded pulling two soldiers out of a burning tank while under enemy fire. After the injuries he was declared unfit for combat and was transferred at the end of 1942 to the Race and Resettlement Office in Berlin, and promoted to Hauptsturmführer(Captain).
In the meantime, the Nazi leadership had secretly completed the plans for the “Final Solution” – the extermination of those regarded as inferior to the Aryan race and it included the mentally and physically disabled.
In May of 1943, Mengele was appointed by Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the”Final Solution”, as a medical officer at Birkenau, a new annex to Auschwitz extermination camp in southern Poland.
|Mengele was a suave and handsome man with an engaging smile who decided the fate of prisoners that caused him to be called the Angel of Death. Calmly he inspected people getting off the transport trucks and would signal to left or right with his riding crop held in his gloved hand. Left was for people in good health between 18 and 35, which meant they were destined for slave labor; while the old, sick and weak, along with babies and their mothers, were sent to the right and the gas chamber designed to look like group showers. During his service at Auschwitz, 400,000 went to the gas chambers under his authority.
While his smile and demeanor was engaging, Mengele had a bad temper and sometimes in a fit of rage he would beat the nearest prisoner to death by shooting them in the head or ordering them thrown into pits of burning gasoline. In one recount, a mother resisted her separation from her 13-year-old daughter, so he drew his gun and shot them both before sending others to the truck to be gassed.
|Sometimes dwarfs were selected and twins (who became known as Mengele’s Children) – who were taken to Block 10, dubbed the “Zoo” where Mengele could perform scientific testing that included blood tests and transfusions, radiography, castration, and dissection. Others had dye injected into her eyes, often causing blindness, or organs transferred, usually without anesthetic. On one occasion he injected chloroform into the hearts of fourteen Gypsy twins and dissecting each one after they had died. When twins died, Mengele would keep select body parts on the wall of his office as a trophy.
Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops in January of 1945, but Mengele escaped before they arrived. He lived briefly at the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Silesia, and then fled again – this time being captured by Allied troops in Munich. However, he posed as another doctor, one whose papers he stole, and was released in August of 1945, when he immediately went into hiding fearing discovery as the Nuremberg Trials began in November of 1945. He worked for the next four years as a stableman in Bavaria. He then escaped Germany on an Italian ocean liner in 1949 to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is believed he was helped by the underground organization called ODESSA – a group of ex-Nazi SS members whose plans was to revive the Third Reich into the Fourth Reich. iiIt is estimated that up to 10,000 Nazi fugitives were aided by the ODESSA.
Mengele was tracked down by West German authorities in 1959, but he evaded extradition proceedings by moving to Paraguay, and then to Brazil, where he assumed the identity of Wolfgang Gerhard, a fellow Nazi. The Mossad, Israeli intelligence had come close to tracking him down, he was never brought to justice and died in 1979 after suffering a stroke while swimming near São Paula in Brazil.
Mengele was tried in absentiain Jerusalem in 1985, but it didn’t console the survivors of his butchery and outrageous medical experiments. As far as the Holocaust, as terrible as stories of survivors go, Mengele stands out as one of the most evil figures in Nazi history.
Steel helmets replaced the old one made of boiled leather.
|Otto Skorzeny, SS Commando Officer
– Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen (Organization of Former Members of the SS) – was a clandestine network established when it was obvious that Nazi Germany would fall to allied troops and who offered protection and assistance to senior Nazi and other European fascists as they tried to avoid capture and prosecution. Its existence was first discovered by Simon Wiesenthal, a Nazi war-crime hunter and became the subject of the best-selling novel (Odessa File) by Frederick Forsyth and also wrote The Day of the Jackal, which both later became subject for film. The key person who established the networks was Otto Skorzeny, an Austrian Nazi, who served in the Waffen-SS during the war. He was handpicked by Hitler to lead a commando raid in Italy that released Benito Mussolini from captivity in July of 1943. He also established towards the end of the war, “ratlines” (escape routes) to help Nazi escape war-torn Germany. In order to fund this organization, Skorzeny used treasure that rich Nazi and German industrialists had asked him to hide in the mountains of Bavaria. In May of 1945 he surrendered to the allies, and was held prisoner for more than two years before being tried as a war criminal at the Dachau Trials in 1947. He and officers of the Panzer Brigade 150 were charged for improperly using American uniforms to infiltrate American lines. Skorzeny was brought before a US military court in Dachau on August 18th, 1947 and faced charges of theft of Red Cross parcels from prisoners of war. While the Red Cross parcel charges were dropped, Skorzeny admitted to ordering his men to wear American uniforms, but the uniforms were discarded before combat started. Since a British agent had performed the same action, and called in as a witness, the tribunal acquitted the ten defendants since they could not prove Skorzeny had given orders to fight while in a US uniform. Read more details in his biography.