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.
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.
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.
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.
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.