Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Josef Mengele, the 'Angel of Death'

Deadly Charm

Despite his demonstrated ability to be both frigid and detached as well as cruel and brutal, Mengele also demonstrated a carefree, charming side, which he used to disarm both colleagues and victims alike. He acted in a caring, concerned manner when confronted with exhausted women and their children on the ramp, only to send them to the gas chambers a moment later. His movie star looks and his confident, authoritative manner made him sexually desirable to the very women that he degraded, tortured and murdered. The totally unpredictable nature of Mengele's personality became his most powerful tool for exerting control over both prisoners and prison personnel, for it instilled a deep-seated primal fear into all those with whom he came into contact.

In addition to the selections and beatings, Mengele occupied his time with other numerous acts of the most base cruelty, including the dissection of live infants; the castration of boys and men without the use of an anesthetic; and the administering of high-voltage electric shocks to women inmates under the auspices of testing their endurance. On one occasion Mengele even sterilized a group of Polish nuns with an X-ray machine, leaving the celibate women horribly burned. In 1981, the West German Prosecutor's Office drew up 78 different indictments against Mengele, charging him with the most heinous and bestial crimes against humanity, including:

Having actively and decisively taken part in selections in the prisoners' sick blocks, of such prisoners who through hunger, deprivations, exhaustion, sickness, disease, abuse or other reasons were unfit for work in the camp and whose speedy recovery was not envisaged... Those selected were killed either through injections or firing squads or by painful suffocation to death through prussic acid in the gas chambers in order to make room in the camp for the "fit" prisoners, selected by him or other SS doctors... The injections that killed were made with phenol, petrol, Evipal, chloroform, or air into the circulation, especially into the heart chamber, either with his own hands or he ordered the SS sanitary worker to do it while he watched.

Mengele even introduced sexual degradation to the already dehumanizing process of selection. Inmates from the various women's barracks were paraded before him, stripped totally nude. He often would make each woman stop and answer the basest questions regarding the intimate details of their sexual lives. While he constantly referred to Jewish woman as "dirty whores," it is impossible to escape the conclusion that Mengele's cruelty was at least in part rooted to a secret sexual longing for these women whom the Reich had deemed as verboten, forbidden.

Mengele provided endless examples of his devotion to the Nazi order, and the cruel and murderous lengths he was prepared to reach in order to preserve it. On one occasion a camp Kapo, a Jewish inmate who assisted the Nazis in driving inmates to the gas chambers, attempted to retrieve some inmates from the gas chamber line and place them in the labor line. Mengele was so furious that he murdered the Kapo with his own pistol. On another occasion, when the crematoria became too full to accommodate the thousands of Jews streaming into the camp, he had trenches dug, which were then filled with gasoline and set ablaze. Both the dead and the living, adults as well as children and infants, were thrown bodily into these pits to be destroyed under Mengele's supervision.

While it is nearly impossible to distinguish among Mengele's murderous acts as to which ones were worse than others, perhaps one incident exemplifies the demonic nature of the man perhaps better than most. A Russian inmate named Annani Silovich Pet'ko witnessed a scene that defies description and comprehension:

After a while a large group of SS officers arrived on motorcycles, Mengele among them. They drove into the yard and got off their motorcycles. Upon arriving they circled the flames; it (sic) burned horizontally. We watched to see what would follow. After a while trucks arrived, dump trucks, with children inside. There were about ten of these trucks. After they had entered the yard an officer gave an order and the trucks backed up to the fire and they started throwing those children right into the fire, into the pit. The children started to scream; some of them managed to crawl out of the burning pit. An officer walked around it with sticks and pushed back those who managed to get out. Hoess (the Auschwitz commandant) and Mengele were present and were giving orders.

The body of evidence against Mengele is staggering in both its enormity and variety in the acts of physical and emotional cruelty that he visited upon thousands of helpless victims. His behavior practically escapes description, while his motives are virtually beyond analysis. This is especially true in light of the fact that, for a man who so relished his role as SS doctor and researcher, who adhered so harshly to the Nazi concept of order and discipline, he consistently displayed not pleasure but detachment from the torment and suffering he both caused and witnessed. One psychoanalyst, Dr. Tobias Brocher, has postulated that "He (Mengele) didn't take pleasure in inflicting pain, but in the power (emphasis added) he exerted by being the man who had to decide between life and death within the ideology of a concentration camp doctor." While Mengele practiced this ideology within the context of selector, he also practiced it with equal fervor in the guise of researcher, the role for which he ostensibly had been sent to Auschwitz by his mentor, Professor von Verschuer.

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