Thursday, May 24, 2007

May 24

An eager 32-year-old physician and anthropologist started a new job on this date in 1943. After battle injuries cut short his stint with the SS on the eastern front, Josef Mengele was offered the chance to oversee the “Gypsy camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau -- a position that gave him the opportunity to work with the only group of people he loathed more than the Jews. Among his first decisions at Birkenau, Mengele ordered 600 hospitalized women to be sent to the gas chambers. Nicknamed the “Angel of Death” by those incarcerated at the facility, one of Mengele’s central responsibilities was to stand on the camp’s railroad platform and determine which arrivals would be executed immediately and which would be conscripted as laborers -- and as subjects for his “research.” By all accounts, Mengele carried out this responsibility with special relish, whistling and using a riding crop to sort the living from the dead. Other doctors were unable to perform similar duties without being drunk.

A true believer in Nazi racial ideology, Mengele used his position at Auschwitz-Birkenau to pursue scientific research into anomalies and diseases he considered genetic in origin. He was especially interested in twins, whom he believed held the secrets of heredity. He kept them in a separate barracks he called “the Zoo,” where they were spared from the gas chambers and forced labor but were subjected to the doctor’s perverse and scientifically useless experiments.

During his two years at the camp, Mengele carried out a variety of grotesque experiments on children, dwarfs and people with physical “defects.” He injected the eyes of his subjects with various chemicals to see if iris color could be deliberately altered; he ordered surgical amputations and useless spinal taps; he broke their limbs with a vice; he personally murdered numerous inmates, sometimes for the simple reason that he wished to conduct a dissection; he exposed his subjects to various diseases to see how long they might survive. On one occasion, he sterilized a group of Polish nuns with an X-ray machine.

Miklos Nyiszli, Mengele’s pathologist, described in a 1945 deposition the calm manner in which his colleague exterminated his subjects
In the work room next to the dissecting room, 14 gypsy twins were waiting . . . and crying bitterly. Dr. Mengele didn't say a single word to us, and prepared a 10 cc. and 5 cc. syringe. From a box he took evipan, and from another box he took chloroform, which was in 20 cubic-centimeter glass containers, and put these on the operating table. After that, the first twin was brought in . . . a 14-year-old girl. Dr. Mengele ordered me to undress the girl and put her on the dissecting table. Then he injected the evipan into her right arm intravenously. After the child had fallen asleep, he felt for the left ventricle of the heart and injected 10 cc. of chloroform. After one little twitch the child was dead, whereupon Dr. Mengele had it taken into the corpse chamber. In this manner, all 14 twins were killed during the night.
After the war, Mengele fled to South America, where he lived out the remainder of his life as a fugitive in Argentina and Brazil. In February 1979, the Angel of Death suffered a stroke and drowned while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.

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