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Dr. Josef Mengele
The Holocaust remains one of the most tragic events in history
with the cruel and inhuman treatment of many innocent people. Auschwitz,
a Nazi concentration death camp located in Poland, is notorious for experiments
Dr. Josef Mengele performed on twins during their imprisonment. Mengele’s
two main roles while at Auschwitz included working on the selection plank
and scientific research done in the laboratories. In the selection process,
Mengele chose who would live and who would die: the stronger of the prisoner’s
lives being spared to become workers in the camp, while the old, sick,
and weak were directed to their death. Mengele appeared to enjoy and take
great pride in working on the selection plank, being there allowed Mengele
to choose firsthand the next guinea pigs for his medical experiments.
Mengele was the second son of a well-to-do strict Catholic German
family, and he chose to identify himself on all official forms as Catholic
instead of the more favored Nazi term of “believer in God”. Mengele’s
particular interest in genetics and physical anthropology eventually made
it possible to begin work under Otmar Von Verschuer at the Frankfurt University
Institute of Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene. Mengele and Von Verscher
worked together under the Nuremberg race laws as racial experts (Lifton338-340).
Mengele joined the General SS in 1938, being drafted at the outbreak of
the war into the elite Waffen SS. In 1943, the doctor assumed the position
as chief over the women’s section in Auschwitz after being injured in
the war. This is the era in which the doctor became infamous for the part
he played in selections and medical experiments with a particular interest
in identical twins. A grant from the German Research Council awarded to
Von Verschuer funded these experiments; the human-specimen material collected
from inmates at Auschwitz was forwarded to the Kaiser Wilheim Institute
in Berlin-Dahlem headed by Von Verschuer. Inmates were killed and maimed
strictly to obtain their heads, eyes, and blood samples: the large captive
population served as a unique laboratory for research. Mengele thought
of these experiments as a way of reaching a personal goal in his academic
career, “ habilitation” a requirement for an appointment at the university
Eva Moses Kor, a twin who survived Dr. Mengele’s brutal experiments tells
the story of being a guinea pig at Auschwitz. Upon arriving at Auschwitz,
Kor saw tall smoking chimneys high above the buildings, and a very distinct
odor filled the air. According to Kor, there is not another slice of land
where so many lives have been changed in such a short period. Kor remembered
being packed in a cattle car on a train with her family and other Jews
for two days with nothing to eat or drink before finally reaching their
destination. The Kor family—once consisting of a mother, a father, two
older sisters, and Eva’s twin sister, Miriam—ceased to exist moments after
stepping off the train onto the selection plank. Eva's mther grabbed the
twin’s hands tightly, with her Father holding the hands of the two older
siblings. Kor remembered turning around to see her Father and older sisters
being pulled in a different direction. The SS officer shouting, “Twins!
Twins,” demanding to know if she and Miriam were twins while her Mother
was being pulled away crying, with her arms reaching for the girls. Kor
stated that in an instant nothing would ever be the same; life changed
Moreover, the life of a ten year old little girl would now become that
of a guinea pig. Walking into the barrack Kor remembered seeing corpses
of three children laying on the floor naked, with their eyes open as if
they were staring at her. Numbers were tattooed on the children’s arms
as a form of identification. There were days when the twins were taken
to rooms where they were required to sit for six to eight hours naked
while their heads and other body parts were measured and compared; eye
color, shape and size compared to charts. Other days they were taken to
blood labs, Kor remembered both arms being tied off to restrict blood
flow while being injected with unknown substances. After one of these
injections Kor became very ill and was taken to the hospital, describing
the other patients she saw there as “the living dead”. While doing rounds
Mengele and four other doctors came to visit; announcing Kor only had
two weeks to live after checking her chart, but Kor refused to die. Later
her twin sister, Miriam told her that during the time Eva had been hospitalized,
she was taken to a different barrack. Had Eva died Miriam would have been
taken immediately to the lab and killed by an injection into the heart
so Mengele would have both twin’s bodies for comparative autopsies (Kor).
According to the book “Auschwitz” Mengele had a schizophrenic nature.
Vera Alexander, a Czechoslovakian inmate working as a Kapo states, “Mengele
used to come to the camp every day—he used to bring chocolate…When I shouted
and told the children off, they usually reacted [by saying], ‘We will
tell Uncle you are bad. ’Mengele was the ‘Good Uncle’ (Rees180). Mengele
full of charm and a smile on his face would visit the children in the
barracks only to have the “Good Uncle” perform cruel experiments on them
later, sending them back to the barracks crying in pain.
“The rumor at the camp was that he was trying to understand the exact
circumstances in which multiple births occur, and therefore wanted to
undertake research that might eventually allow women in Reich to have
more children more quickly. But it is more likely he was chiefly motivated
by the desire to understand the role of genetic inheritance in development
and behavior –this was a topic that obsessed many Nazi scientists” (Rees
Even if the intentions of early eugenicists meant well, to treat and eliminate
disease, the so called “racial hygiene” practiced by the Nazis ‘Third
Reich soiled the reputation by the extreme nature of the experiments.
“To further their idea of “racial cleansing,” Nazi physicians used other
alternatives to curb the reproduction of innocent “inferior” citizens.
These alternatives included sending those individuals to the gas chambers
or using them for medical trials—experimental medicine taken to extreme
measures. Indescribably inhumane acts were performed on the so-called
“abnormal” people, including twins, children with diseases, and Jews,
in the secretive laboratories of German Physicians. These acts included
determining the most efficient way of murdering a human being and finding
the secret of multiple births to rapidly increase the German population”
“Knowledge can be dangerous if it’s not applied properly” (Kor).
Kor, Eva Moses. MSU Campus, Springfield, Missouri. 26
Feb. 2012. Lecture.
Lifton, Robert Jay. "Dr. Auschwitz: Josef Mengele." The Nazi
Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York: Basic,
1986. 337+. Print.
Mehta, Parendi. "Human Eugenics: Whose Perception of Perfection?"
The History Teacher 33.2 (2000): 222-40. JSTOR. Web.4 Apr. 2013.
Rees, Lawrence. "Corruption." Auschwitz : A New History. New
York: Public Affairs, 2005. Print.
Seidelman, William E. "Mengele Medicus: Medicine's Nazi Heritage."
The Milbank Quarterly 66.2 (1988): 221-39. JSTOR. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
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