He was not punished for his war crimes, he was not hung or condemned to the electric chair. He lived in hiding and on February 7, 1979 he drowned in a swimming accident off the coast of Brazil. He was 67 years old.
Josef Mengele earned his title, “The Angel of Death.” He fully embraced the core concepts of Nazism, primarily that the Aryan master race was at the top of the food chain, and that the Jews and Slavs must be purged form the face of the earth.
He started out as a sort of war hero. He was a medical officer and saved two German soldiers from a burning tank in 1941, earning several awards. Later he would be wounded, and was not allowed to continue to serve on the front. After a series of reassignments and a promotion, he left for Auschwitz.
Auschwitz was the labor and extermination camp infamous and iconic for the horrors of the Holocaust. It is one of the concentration camps that Elie Wiesel suffered through, as he chronicles his harrowing experiences in the book, “Night.” An estimated 1.1 million people were killed in Auschwitz — an unfathomable number for a single location.
Though he was posted there as the primary physician, Mengele used this opportunity to dive headfirst into genetic research on his newfound test subjects, where he earned his nickname in blood. He would often operate the gas chambers, killing all incoming Jews who were not fit to work right away — the elderly, children, pregnant women — while he was never required to do the killing personally, he often did anyway. He used the opportunity to find test subjects for his experiments, particularly twins.
Taking the twin experiments as an example: if one twin died during his experiments, he would kill the other so he could study the differences. He would amputate limbs or expose them to infectious diseases, then study upon further alterations. If they survived his experiments, he would kill them, dissect them and study them. He once attempted to sew two twins together, in an attempt to turn them into conjoined twins. They both died of gangrene.
He would wear his signature white gloves as he conducted these tests. He injected people with all sorts of chemicals, simply to study their effects on the human body. This includes chloroform injections to the heart, or injections of gasoline. He would experiment on pregnant women, dwarfs or people with handicaps. Mutilation was common, even among children.
He was the epitome of an empowered sadist, and this is just a fraction of what he did.
Yet he managed to escape at the end of the war. Mossad particularly wanted to find him, but West Germany and other countries searched for him too. Some came close, others did not. Instead he died when he had a stroke in the water just off the coastal resort of Bertioga in 1979. He was well hidden though, and it wasn’t until 1985 that the body was confirmed to be his.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons — Mengele is in the center.