Josef Mengele: Angel of Death or Angel of Life?
With the possible exceptions of Hitler and Himmler, no man has been so vilified in recent years as the personification of Nazi evil as Dr. Josef Mengele...
In countless newspapers and magazine articles, Mengele has been routinely accused of sending 400,000 people to their deaths in gas chambers while serving as the chief physician at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943 and 1944. The man dubbed the "Angel of Death" supposedly conducted gruesome "experiments" on selected Jewish victims and habitually delighted in sadistic atrocities. For example, according to U.S. News and World Report (June 24, 1985) he enjoyed "giving candy to children he tossed alive into the ovens while he hummed Mozart and Wagner." The Washington Post (March 8, 1985) reported that Mengele "routinely tossed babies into ovens alive" and "ordered pregnant women onto their backs, then stomped them until they aborted."
While no sane person would excuse or whitewash atrocities, no matter who commits them, a basic regard for truth and decency compels another, more thoughtful look at the Mengele legend. How much truth is there to the fantastic accusations?
Nationally syndicated columnist Jeffrey Hart told readers that he doubted many of the "monster Mengele" stories being peddled in the mass media. "... As a professional historian, I would urge some caution about many of the anecdotes that are being routinely accepted as fact," wrote Hart. "My own historical hunch is that much of this kind of thing is mythology, concocted as a kind of metaphor ... I doubt the story that he killed a women by crushing her throat with his boot. It will be a long time before scholars sift the fact from the fiction about Mengele." (The Washington Times, July 9, 1985)...
It's conceivable, of course, that Mengele could have murdered inmates, although camp officials who committed such crimes risked severe punishment. For example, the Buchenwald camp physician, Dr. Waldemar Hoven, was sentenced to death by an SS court for murdering inmates there.
The evidence seems rather clear that Mengele did, in fact, perform medical research operations on Auschwitz inmates. In this regard it's perhaps worth noting that the U.S. government conducted similar medical "experiments" both during and after the Second World War. American military physicians infected Negroes with syphilis without their knowledge as part of an investigation of new ways to treat venereal disease. And during the 1950s the CIA financed psychiatric experiments involving LSD, sleep deprivation, massive shock therapy and attempted brain-washing of hospital patients without their knowledge or consent. One survivor, Louis Weinstein, is now reportedly a "human guinea pig, a poor, pathetic man with no memory, no life." The U.S. government has been sued for redress on behalf of Weinstein and eight other persons. (The Washington Post, August 1, 1985, editorial)
Many Jews survived the war as a result of medical care in the camp infirmary, which was under Dr. Mengele's general supervision. One such person was Otto Frank, father of the famous Anne Frank. After coming down sick, Otto was transferred to the camp hospital, where he remained until Soviet troops reached Auschwitz in January 1945. When the Germans evacuated the camp shortly beforehand, they left behind those who could not move, including sick, elderly and infirm inmates, and a number of children. The most horrific charges made against Mengele, such as the tale that he tossed live babies into ovens, are sick and absurd fables that contradict what is known about the doctor's character. For example, as Time magazine reported (June 24, 1985), Mengele was "given to occasional flourishes of gallantry: after transferring a pregnant Jewish doctor to Cracow to do research for him, Mengele sent her flowers upon the birth of her son."
Mengele repeatedly insisted that he had not committed any crime, and that instead he had become a victim of great injustice. (New York Times, June 14, 1985; Baltimore Sun, June 14, 1985)
Lessons of the Mengele Affair
From The Journal of Historical Review, Fall 1985 (Vol. 6, No. 3), pages 377-383.
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