During WWII - in one of the darkest periods of world history - a drama of epic proportions unfolded behind the high brick walls of Germany's notorious concentration camp known as Auschwitz. Described by survivors as being a virtual hell on earth, the heartbreaking stories from Nazi death camps like Auschwitz are too numerous to count. This comes, in part, as a result of the fact that the camp ended the lives of approximately 1.6 million prisoners at Auschwitz alone. But as the infamous villain of the Holocaust, Dr. Josef Mengele, sought to destroy the innocent, there was an angel of light who used her power to undermine him at every turn, essentially changing the course of many lives. Known as the "Angel of Auschwitz" by those who loved her, Gisella Perl was a resourceful woman who used her medical abilities to provide mercy to the innocent in the only way possible - through death. During a time when the world was rife with political lunacy and people were hiding underground, this angel of light worked side by side with the angel of darkness to defy one of the most terrifying regimes in history and provide freedom to the most innocent of all - the unborn. While brutal Gisella Perl stories might not make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, they might just give you a sense of what it means to make difficult but heroic choices in the worst situation imaginable.
Before Auschwitz became a stark reality, Gisella Perl worked as a successful Jewish gynecologist in Romania where she lived with her husband and two children. When her town was invaded in 1944, she made the spontaneous decision to leave her daughter in the safe keeping of some non-Jewish neighbors just hours before the Nazis knocked on her door. Soon loaded on a train with her husband, son, and elderly parents, Perl would endure a harrowing eight-day journey towards the living hell known as Auschwitz. Upon arrival, the family was immediately separated, never to see each other again.
But Perl was not like the other women in her barrack - she was a medical doctor and a professional who could be useful to the Nazis. Her skills were valuable in a place where disease and death were rife, and she was soon placed in the camp's medical ward where she would meet the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele. As her captor and supervisor, she was subject to his every demand, even those that involved horrific experiments on human prisoners.
S.S. officers had an affinity for whipping the bare breasts of women at Auschwitz, and Perl was responsible for healing these wounds and performing surgery on pregnant woman in distress. The appalling medical conditions of the camp made her job painfully difficult, as there was little running water, no anesthesia, and no clean equipment. She tended to everything from diseases brought on by torture, filth, starvation, and vermin to skulls cracked open by violence.
Before Perl understood the implications of her role as Mengele's assistant, she tried to satisfy his wishes by rounding up all the pregnant women in the camp for his inspection. He told her he wanted to make sure they were being properly fed and cared for. But his true intentions became clear the day Perl delivered up 50 expecting mothers to his medical ward, only to see them herded into a Red Cross truck and driven directly to the ovens. Devastated by her lapse in judgment and riddled with guilt at the deaths of these innocent women, Perl could barely stand living another day.
Once Perl fully understood the intentions of Dr. Mengele, she made a conscious decision to work against him. She knew he was targeting pregnant women for his research - a fact that would only lead them to death - and she was determined to put a stop to his crimes. If he was hell bent on butchering the pregnant women at Auschwitz, she would have to help these innocent mothers find a way to escape their dire situation. So, she began performing secret abortions in the barracks at night - in filthy conditions - working in the dark so Mengele and the S.S. officers would not suspect anything. She knew their plight in the camps could not be permanent, and if she could just keep these pregnant women alive for a while longer, perhaps they could go on to have healthy families someday.
Dr. Josef Mengele was not just any doctor during the Holocaust - he was a medical maniac of the highest order. Interested in the difference between identical twins and people with physical abnormalities like heterochromia iridum (eyes of two different colors), Mengele performed endless experimental surgeries on prisoners who could offer no resistance at Auschwitz. Given the circumstances of the war, he was accountable to no one and was able to validate his work using grant money from the government. His medical ward was conveniently attached to the crematorium, which heightened the ease of his experimentation and made disposal of bodies simple. Perl bore witness to these atrocities, and, even worse, she was expected to assist him whenever he requested.