Born in 1911, Josef Mengele was a philosophy student who would go on to become one of the most frightening faces of the Holocaust. Known as the Angel of Death, many facts about Josef Mengele have become interwoven with rumors and conjecture that have changed him from the Nazi doctor that created a tangible Hell in Auschwitz to a boogeyman who still haunts the secret history of Europe and America into the 21st century.
Who was Josef Mengele? As you’ll come to discover, he was a complicated and unusual blotch on German society, and despite being an unrepentant champion of the decimation of an entire race of people, some of his medical findings strengthened the foundation of modern medicine. This list records some strange facts that you may not read in a standard Josef Mengele biography.
There is no easy way to talk about one of the most heinous war criminals of the 20th century. Josef Mengele was a horrible human being whose reputation has turned him into a super villain straight out of a Captain America story. But as you’ll come to see, he was a regular person doing terrible things because he believed they were the right thing to do - which makes everything he accomplished at Auschwitz even more terrifying. We want people like Josef Mengele to be larger-than-life creeps who live in the shadows and feast on live rats, not chubby Austrians who listen to Mozart.
Just so you know, you’ll probably have to take a few breaks to clear your head while reading this list of facts about Josef Mengele.
Mengele Was Obsessed with Studying Twins
One of the most well-known facts about Mengele is his sick fascination with twins. His experiments began as a way to further explore the Nazi's pet concept of eugenics, a philosophy advocating the improvement of human genetic traits through a systematic weeding out of perceived negative pieces of DNA, and after working with Professor Otmar Freiherr von Vershuer, Mengele believed that twins held a secret to understanding how one goes about physically removing genetic makeup.
Because twins were special to Mengele, they were afforded some of the basic human rights that the rest of the prisoners at Auschwitz were denied. You know, stuff like keeping their hair and wearing clothes. Sadly, that's where the positives of being considered one of "Mengele's Children" ended. The twins were subjected to brutal experiments that were obviously more about inflicting terror than real scientific investigation.
He May Have Created a Village of Twins in South America
In 2009, Jorge Camarasa, an Argentine historian, claimed that Josef Mengele used the Brazilian farming enclave of Candido Godoi as a laboratory to continue his experiments with twins. Camarasa's evidence is mostly predicated on the fact that beginning in 1963, the town's twin birthrate skyrocketed.
According to people who lived in Candido Godoi, Mengele came to town under the auspices of being a "rural doctor" who went from house to house helping with minor medical ailments and withdrawing vials of blood from everyone he treated (because duh, of course he did).
Since Camarasa floated this far-fetched theory, researchers have been arguing about the possibilities of something like this even occurring, with most scientists claiming that the isolation of the community has more to do with the twins than a mad scientist.
The US Actually Had Him in Custody
This is definitely one of the most frustrating parts of the Mengele story, and it shows just how chaotic things were at the end of the war. Immediately after Germany surrendered, Mengele was held in US custody, but because US officials were unaware that Mengele's name already stood on a list of wanted war criminals, they released him. Then, from the summer of 1945 until spring 1949, the physician, under false papers, worked as a farmhand near Rosenheim, Bavaria, before his wealthy family aided his emigration to South America.
He Gave People with Medical Anomalies Special Treatment in Auschwitz
Mengele was obsessed with physical abnormalities: not only because he thought that the key to perfecting eugenics lay somewhere in the bodies of the deformed, disabled, and different; but also he was just a really weird guy. So much has been written about Mengele's love for twins that people gloss over his odd fascination with a family suffering from dwarfism who arrived in Auschwitz. Mengele was so obsessed with the Ovtizes, a family of seven little people from Transylvania, that he allowed them to keep their clothes and their hair while siphoning their blood, removing their teeth, and placing them under intense psychological scrutiny.
After the War He Became an Identity Thief
Here's something to make you lose all faith in the concept of karma. After the World War II, Mengele escaped Germany and made a move across the Atlantic to South America, where he bumped into an Austrian named Wolfgang Gerhard, who was a real Nazi fanboy. Gerhard was so gerhard to meet one of his favorite super villains that he gave Mengele his ID card, which allowed the doctor to live out the rest of his life in anonymity. After his death, he was even buried under a headstone bearing Gerhard's name, but Mengele's son exposed the charade in an interview in 1985.
His Son Knew Where Mengele Was After the War
One of the longest-standing rumors about Mengele is that his family, specifically his son Rolf, knew exactly where their patriarch was after the fall of the Nazi party. According to Rolf, even though he didn't agree with what his father had done, he still didn't want to see him face execution for his crimes. In 1985, he admitted to sending Josef "300 and 500 deutsche marks" per month.
He Never Stopped Being a Racist
After an anonymous buyer purchased Mengele's post-Holocaust journals for £185,000 at auction, some of the pages were released and what was inside was exactly the kind of idiotic, racist rhetoric you would expect. In the journal, Mengele wrote bon mots like: “Mixing Italians, Austrians and Slavs into one race proves ignorance,” and about the "dreadful mixing of the races with the northern Europeans - when you start mixing the races, there is a decline in civilisation."
Mengele Found Eyeballs Fascinating
Along with all of the other weird stuff that Mengele was into, he had a fascination with heterochromia, a condition in which an individual's two irises differ in coloration. In his eyeball experiments he would try to change the color of a subject's eyes by injecting ink into their irises, and when that didn't work, he would just rip out the entire eyeball and send it off to his eye man, Karin Magnussen, for further research.