Josef Mengele was born March 16, 1911, in Gunzburg, Bavaria.  His parents were Karl and Walburga Mengele.  They were very cold-hearted and stern, but despite this, Josef was a bright, intelligent boy who received high marks in school.  As he grew up, he became very handsome and popular with the ladies.


Josef was always very particular in what he wore- his clothes were always tailored and without a wrinkle, and his trademark was the pair white gloves that he could be seen in almost always.


Mengele as a young man.


Josef’s father had plans for him (his oldest son) to work in his factory, but Josef wanted to study science and anthropology.  Josef graduated from Gunzburg High School in 1930 and passed his college examination called the Abitur.  He was accepted into Munich University in Munich, the capitol of Bavaria.


Munich, Bavaria was the central point of a growing National Socialist movement led by Adolf Hitler.  Josef was a student of philosophy and medicine at Munich University.  At the time of his studies the Nazis were the second largest party in the German parliament.  Hitler’s speeches held his audiences in awe.  His main goal was for all races to be Aryan- that is, blonde hair and blue eyes.


Mengele was in no political party until he went to Munich University.  He was then roped into the Nazi Party.  This new political field was thought to boost his career as a scientist.  Mengele joined a group called Stalhelm (Steel Helmets) in 1931.  Stalhelm held the same of the Nazi party.  In 1934 Hitler’s Brownshirts added Stalhelm to their reign. Since Mengele was a member of Stalhelm, he automatically became a Brownshirt.


Shortly after Mengele became a Brownshirt, he had a problem with his kidneys that left him weak.  He quit the organization and devoted all his time to his studies.  In his fifth year at Munich, he was awarded a Ph.D. for a thesis he wrote on the lower jaw of different racial groups.  His discoveries enabled him to tell the difference between Jews and non-Jews.


In 1936, Mengele passed the state medical test and went to Leipzig to work at a clinic.  In 1937, Mengele was requested for job with the Third Reich Institute for Heredity, Biology, and Racial Purity.  He worked for Professor Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer.  Von Verschuer was like a like a father to Mengele and a very important mentor.


Also in 1937, Mengele became an official member with the Nazi movement.  In May of 1938, Mengele was accepted into the SS, or Shutzstaffel.  By the age of 28, Mengele was in a place of great power.

Mengle in the army.


In 1939, war broke out, and Mengele wanted very much to join, but had to wait until 1940 because of his kidney problem.  He was accepted into the Waffen SS.  As a lieutenant in 1941, he was a warded the iron Cross Second Class medal on the Ukrainian front.  In January of 1942, Mengele rescued two Germans from a burning tank and was awarded Iron Cross first Class and also the Black Badge for the Wounded and The Medal for the Care of the German People.  He couldn’t return to battle because of his wounds, so he was posted at the Race and Resettlement Office in Berlin.  Here he was also promoted to the rank of Captain.  In 1943 Mengele was called to his next assignment, a doctor in the Nazi controlled concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland.



Mengele was sent to Auschwitz in 1943 to study genetics and unlock the mysteries of human genetics.  His work was funded through a grant given by von Verschuer.  Mengele was the only doctor as Auschwitz to display his clothing and medals proudly.  His impeccable uniform was always tailored perfectly.


Only a few short days after he arrived, a typhus epidemic broke out in camp.  Mengele ordered 1000 Gypsy men and women to the gas chambers without hesitation, but he spared the lives German Gypsies.  Only two doctors at Auschwitz seemed to enjoy the selections: Doctor Mengele and Dr. Fritz Klein.  Some of the officers had to get drunk before a selection, but not these two.  Mengele even showed up at selections he wasn’t assigned to.  Mengele was very handsome and used his looks to trick women into believing whatever he said.  He had an unpredictable personality, and everyone, including other SS officers, feared him.



Mengele had a fascination with twins because he believed they held the mysteries of the passing of Aryan genetics: blonde hair and blue eyes.  Some 1500 sets of twins were brought to Mengele through selections.  Mengele also had interests in people with other physical abnormalities such as dwarves, midgets, and hunchbacks.  In a selection, twins were almost always separated from their parents.  Sometimes, though, a mother was allowed to stay with the twins if they were young and needed health assurance for Mengele.  Twins were given better barracks than other prisoners and extra food rations.  As long as they were useful to Mengele, they were kept healthy.


Life for the twins at Auschwitz started when they got there: they were called out of the crowd and most were allowed to keep their own hair and clothes.  Then they were tattooed and Mengele would briefly ask them questions about their history and they would be measured in height and weight.  In the morning twins reported for roll call and ate a small breakfast.  Then Mengele would come and talk with some of them, give them candy, or even play a game occasionally.  Quite a few of the twins called him “Uncle Mengele”, mostly the younger children.  The twins had some of the best conditions in Auschwitz: they were sometimes allowed to play games, given extra food, and didn’t have to do hard work.  Life wasn’t so bad, until they were taken to the experiments.



Everyday twins were selected for experimentation.  A requirement that twins had to undergo everyday was the drawing of blood.  It came from fingers, limbs, and for smaller children, from the neck.  This was a very painful and frightening experience.  It has been guessed that about ten cubic centimeters of blood was drawn daily.  Sometimes so much blood was drawn that twin would faint.  Huge blood transfusions were made from one twin to another.  Mengele often attempted to change eye color by injecting chemicals or giving them drops which caused pain, eye infections, and/or temporary or permanent blindness.  Mengele injected lethal germs, did sex change operations, and removed, organs and limbs all without anesthesia.  Twins as young as five and six years old were killed from experiments, then their bodies were dissected.  Mengele even attempted to create Siamese twins by sewing their backs together and trying to connect blood vessels and organs.  This was extremely painful, and after a few days, the twins got gangrene, and died.


Other experiments included isolation endurance, reactions to various stimuli, spinal taps without anesthesia, castrations, amputations, the removal of sexual organs, and incestuous impregnations.  Sometimes one twin would be given a terrible disease but the other twin wouldn’t.  When one twin died of the disease, the other would be killed and both would be dissected to see the effects of the disease.  Some samples of the bodies were sent to von Verschuer for further study.  Documents on his experiments were never found, but are scientifically and medically useless.



Out of the 1500 pairs of twins to Mengele at Auschwitz, only 200 survived.  Surviving twins live on four different continents, and in ten different countries.  Two surviving twins named Eva and Miriam Mozes founded CANDLES, or Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Laboratory Experiment Survivors, in an effort to reunite lost twins and their families.


One Mengele’s many aliases after the war was working as a farmhand in Eastern Germany.  He escaped Buenos Aires in 1949 and lived in both Brazil and Paraguay.  He died in 1979.  He was swimming in the ocean when he suffered a massive stroke and began to drown.  He lived thirty-five years after the war under different aliases and names.  His remains were found in 1985 in Embu, Brazil and his family turned over his diaries to investigators.  Now the Angel of Death is only a memory. . . .

Mengele in 1960.



Ashley Heptig

7th Social Studies

Rossville Jr. High

Holocaust Project

Spring 2003