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Josef Mengele

The Auschwitz doctor prescribed death and experimented horribly in search of Aryan perfection. Dodging Nuremberg, he lived to old age an ironic injustice that still rankles.

Known as ‘The Angel of Death’, Dr. Josef Mengele was the chief doctor at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War.

Mengele was born in March 1911 into a wealthy Bavarian family, with a strict Catholic upbringing.

He studied philosophy in Munich, where he encountered the racial ideology of Alfred Rosenberg.

In 1931, at the age of 20, he joined the Stahlhelm (Steel Helmet), then the SA in 1933, and applied for party membership in 1937. Upon being accepted into the Nazi party, he applied for membership in the SS.

He later studied medicine at the University of Frankfurt, after which he joined the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in 1934. It was here that he developed his studies in physical anthropology and genetics.

Prior to his arrival at Auschwitz, he had published significant articles on genetic abnormalities and racial variations in primary features.

His career in academia looking bright, but the war interrupted his progress, and he was placed with reserve medical corps and a Waffen SS unit. Wounded, he was declared unfit for combat, but promoted to captain.

An ardent Nazi, he served as medical officer with the Waffen SS during WW2, and was appointed chief doctor at the Auschwitz concentration camp where Jews were selected either for labour, extermination or medical experimentation.

He became known as the ‘Angel of Death’, in charge of vast numbers of fatal, bizarre and brutal medical experiments which killed over 400 000 victims.

Controversy surrounds the outcomes of such horrific experiments, as their occasionally sophisticated findings have proved of undeniable use, for example, in the development of thinking on hereditary genetics and DNA.

After the war, he escaped, apparently surfacing in South America in 1961, where he met another Nazi, Wolfgang Gerhard, in Brazil.

Recent forensic advances, involving a body exhumed in 1985, suggest that he had assumed Gerhard’s identity upon his death, and was buried under that name.