Daily Archives: June 21, 2010

On This Day: Josef Mengele Identified

Few names in history evoke a more visceral response than that of Josef Mengele. If there can be such a thing, Mengele would easily win the award as “Worst Nazi.” After World War II, he escaped to South America where he disappeared for decades despite many ongoing searches for his identity and location. But on this day in 1992 all speculation regarding his rumored death were put to rest as his remains were conclusively identified.

Josef Mengele was born in Germany on March 16, 1911. A member of the military for many years, he was finally discharged in 1934 because of chronic kidney problems. Unfortunately this didn’t suppress his rise to power. In 1937 he was appointed as a research assistant at the Third Reich Institute for Heredity, Biology, and Racial Purity at the University of Frankfurt. I think the name of this Institute pretty much says it all.

In 1938 he received his medical degree from the University of Frankfurt and then reentered the Wehrmacht. He became very outspoken about his beliefs on Aryan superiority. He rose quickly up the ranks of the National Socialists and became a member of the elite Waffen SS. But it wasn’t until he arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943 that he became the “Angel of Death.”

His experiments at Auschwitz became the stuff of nightmares. He immersed prisoners in the freezing waters until they died so that he could learn about the effects of hypothermia, presumably to help German pilots who were shot down in the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea. He experimented with eye color, to of course produce blue-eyed Aryans, by operating on and injecting various materials into the eyes of the children. His work on twins was equally atrocious.

As with many Nazis at the end of World War II, he escaped from Europe as Germany fell to the Russians and the Allies and found his way to South America, where he lived in several countries but predominantly in Brazil. He then disappeared. Many people, in particular the famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, spent a great deal of time and effort tracking him. Sightings would occasionally pop up but each would evaporate almost as quickly as they appeared.

The big break came in 1985 when Lisolette Bossert confessed that Wolfgang Gerhard had drowned and that she had buried him in 1979. She also confessed that Wolfgang was actually Josef Mengele. The remains were exhumed and examined by forensic anthropologist in order to determine if this was indeed the skeletal remains of the infamous Angel of Death.

The initial investigations included x-rays, anthropological examinations, and reconstruction of the shattered skull. Using known dental records and photos of Mengele it was concluded that the remains were likely him but this could not be proven beyond a doubt. That all changed in 1992. Using DNA obtained from Mengele’s son and DNA obtained from the remains, forensic scientist proved once and for all that Wolfgang Gerhard was indeed Josef Mengele.

Adios Mother…….well you know the rest.

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