Chilling Facts About Nazi Doctor Josef Mengele

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 transformed him from the Nazi doctor who created a tangible Hell in Auschwitz into a boogeyman that still haunts the secret history of Europe and America into the 21st century.

This list records some strange facts that you may not read in a standard Josef Mengele biography. Who was Dr. Mengele? There is no easy way to talk about one of the most heinous war criminals of the 20th century. He did truly horrible things that earned him a reputation similar to a super villain straight out of a Captain America story, undoubtedly inspiring in his wake as many writers as he did real live sadists. 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 the things he did at Auschwitz even more complex and terrifying.

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 chilling fascination with twins. His experiments began as a way to further explore the Nazi Party's pet concept of eugenics, a philosophy advocating the improvement of human genetic traits through a systematic weeding out of perceived negative parts of DNA. After working with Professor Otmar Freiherr von Vershuer, Mengele believed that in studying twins, he could gain insight into understanding how one goes about physically removing genetic makeup.

    Because twins were valuable to Mengele, they were afforded some basic human rights that other of the prisoners at Auschwitz were denied, like keeping their hair and wearing clothes. That's where the benefits of being considered one of "Mengele's Children" ended. The twins were subjected to brutal experiments that ultimately seemed to be more about inflicting terror than genuine scientific investigation. 

  • He May Have Created A Village Of Twins In South America

    In 2009, Argentine historian Jorge Camarasa 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. Since Camarasa floated this theory, researchers have argued about the possibility of something like this even occurring, with most scientists claiming that the insular nature of the community has more to do with the twin birth rate than a mad scientist. 

  • The US Actually Had Him In Custody

    The US Actually Had Him In Custody
    Photo: National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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 in 1945, Mengele was held in US custody. However, because US officials were unaware that Mengele was on a list of wanted war criminals, they released him.

    Then, from the Summer of 1945 until Spring 1949, the physician worked as a farmhand near Rosenheim, Bavaria, under false papers before his wealthy family helped him flee to South America.

  • He Gave People With Medical Anomalies Preferential Treatment In Auschwitz

    He Gave People With Medical Anomalies Preferential Treatment In Auschwitz
    Photo: Ernst Hofmann or Bernhard Walte, German Federal Archives / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    Mengele based a lot of his experiments around subjects with physical abnormalities. This may have been partially because he thought the key to perfecting eugenics lay somewhere in the bodies of the deformed, disabled, and different. He also may have just been fascinated with genetic outliers. So much has been written about Mengele's love for twins that people gloss over his odd fascination with a specific family who arrived in Auschwitz. Mengele was obsessed with the Ovtizes, a Transylvanian family with 10 children, seven of whom were dwarves. 

    He allowed them to keep their clothes and their hair while siphoning their blood, removing their teeth, and placing them under intense psychological scrutiny. Though their time in the camp was torturous, the entire Ovitz family survived their time in the camp.

  • He Took Another Man's Identity To Live In Anonymity

    He Took Another Man's Identity To Live In Anonymity
    Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    After 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, an avid Nazi supporter. Gerhard was so thrilled to meet a prominent figure like Mengele that he gave the doctor his ID card.

    To remain in hiding, Mengele used the Austrian's identity for the rest of his life and, after his death in 1979, was even buried under a headstone bearing Gerhard's name. It wasn't until a a 1985 interview that Mengele's son exposed the charade. 

  • Mengele's Son Knew Where He 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 a 1985 interview, Rolf stayed in contact with his father throughout the '50s, '60s, and '70s.

    Even though he didn't agree with what his father had done, Rolf still didn't want him to face execution for his crimes. He admitted that his family sent Josef between 300 and 500 deutsche marks every month.