doctor of Auschwitz, Josef Mengele, has become an enigma
of the twentieth century. Mengele's handsome physical
appearance, fastidious dress, and calm demeanor greatly
contradicted his attraction to murder and gruesome
Mengele relaxing at Solahutte
retreat outside of Auschwitz.
seeming omnipresence at the ramp as well as his
fascination with twins have incited images of a mad, evil
monster. His ability to elude capture had increased his
notoriety as well as given him a mystical and devious
But in May 1943,
Mengele entered Auschwitz as an educated, experienced,
medical researcher. With funding for his experiments, he
worked alongside some of the top medical researchers of
the time. Anxious to make a name for himself, Mengele
searched for the secrets of heredity. The Nazi ideal of
the future would benefit from the help of genetics: if
Aryan women could assuredly give birth to twins who were
sure to be blond and blue eyed - then the future could be
Mengele, as he
learned while working for Professor Otmar Freiherr von
Vershuer, believed that twins held these secrets.
Auschwitz seemed the best location for such research
because of the large number of available twins to use as
Mengele took his
turn as the selector on the ramp, but unlike most of the
other selectors, he arrived sober. With a small flick of
his finger or riding crop, a person would either be sent
to the left or to the right, to the gas chamber or to
hard labor. Mengele would get very excited when finding
twins. The other SS who helped unload the transports had
been given special instructions to find twins, dwarfs,
giants, or anyone else with a unique hereditary trait
like a club foot or heterochromia (each eye a different
color). Mengele's seeming omnipresence on the ramp
stemmed not only from his selection duty, but his
additional appearance when it was not his turn as
selector to ensure twins would not be missed.
As the unsuspecting people were herded off the train and
ordered into separate lines, SS would shout "Zwillinge!"
("twins!"). Parents were forced to make a quick decision.
Unsure of their situation, already being separated from
family members when forced to form lines, seeing barbed
wire, smelling an unfamiliar stench - was it good or bad
to be a twin?
and Rene Guttmann were subjected to injection
and x-ray experiments by Josef Mengele.
(Courtesy of USHMM)
Some parents did
announce their twins. Some relatives, friends, or
neighbors would announce the twins. Some mothers tried to
hide their twins. The SS and Mengele would search through
the surging ranks of people in search of twins and anyone
with unusual traits. While many twins were either
announced or discovered, some sets of twins were
successfully hidden and walked with their mother into the
Which was the
right decision - to announce or not to announce their
twins? I don't think there necessarily was one.
Approximately three thousand twins were pulled from the
masses on the ramp, most of them children; only around
two hundred survived.
When the twins
were found, they were taken away from their
the SS guard knew we were twins, Miriam and I
were taken away from our mother, without any
warning or explanation.
screams fell on deaf ears. I remember looking
back and seeing my mother's arms stretched
out in despair as we were led away by a
was the last time I saw
As the twins
were led away to be processed, their parents and family
stayed on the ramp and went through selection.
Occasionally, if the twins were very young Mengele would
allow the mother to join her children in order for their
health to be assured for the experiments.
After the twins
had been taken from their parents, they were taken to the
showers. Since they were "Mengele's children," they were
treated differently than other prisoners. Besides the
obvious, suffering through medical experiments, the twins
were often allowed to keep their hair and allowed to keep
their own clothes.
The twins were
then tattooed. They were given a number from a special
sequence.2 They were then taken to the
twin's barracks where they were required to fill out a
form. The form asked for a brief history and basic
measurements such as age and height. Many of the twins
were too young to fill the form out by themselves so the
Zwillingsvater ("Twin's Father") helped them. (This
inmate was assigned to the job of taking care of the male
twins.) Once the form was filled out, the twins were
taken to Mengele. Mengele asked them more questions and
looked for any unusual traits.
for the Twins
life for the twins began at six o'clock. The twins were
required to report for roll call in front of their
barracks no matter what the weather. After roll call,
they ate a small breakfast. Then each morning, Mengele
would appear for an inspection.
presence did not necessarily connote fear in the
children. He was often known to appear with pockets full
of candy and chocolates, to pat them on the head, to talk
with them, and sometimes even play. Many of the children,
especially the younger ones, called him "Uncle
The twins were
given brief instruction in makeshift "classes" and were
sometimes even allowed to play soccer.4
The children were not required to do hard work and had
jobs like being a messenger. Twins were also spared from
punishments as well as from the frequent selections
within the camp.
the twins were one of the best in Auschwitz, until the
trucks came to take them to the experiments.
day, every twin had to have blood drawn.
Blood, often in
large quantities, was drawn from twins' fingers and arms,
and sometimes both their arms simultaneously. The
youngest children, whose arms and hands were very small,
suffered the most: Blood was drawn from their necks, a
painful and frightening
It was estimated
that approximately ten cubic centimeters of blood was
blood drawn, the twins were to undergo various medical
experiments. Mengele kept his exact reasoning for his
experiments a secret. Many of the twins that he
experimented on weren't sure for what purpose the
individual experiments were for nor what exactly what was
being injected or done to them.
the twins would wonder what was in store for them that
day. Would their number be called? If yes, then the
trucks would pick them up and take them to one of several
The twins were
forced to undress and lay next to each other. Then every
detail of their anatomy was carefully examined, studied,
and measured. What was the same was deemed to be
hereditary and was different was deemed to be the result
of the environment. These tests would last for several
included mass transfusions of blood from one twin to
In attempts to
fabricate blue eyes, drops or injections of chemicals
would be put in the eyes. This often caused severe pain,
infections, and temporary or permanent blindness.
injections that caused severe pain. Injections into the
spine and spinal taps with no anesthesia. Diseases,
including typhus and tuberculosis, would be purposely
given to one twin and not the other. When one died, the
other was often killed to examine and compare the effects
of the disease.
surgeries without anesthesia including organ removal,
castration, and amputations.
day, my twin brother, Tibi, was taken away
for some special experiments.
Dr. Mengele had always been more
interested in Tibi. I am not sure why -
perhaps because he was the older
made several operations on Tibi. One surgery
on his spine left my brother paralyzed. He
could not walk anymore. Then they took out
his sexual organs. After the fourth
operation, I did not see Tibi
cannot tell you how I felt. It is impossible
to put into words how I felt. They had taken
away my father, my mother, my two older
brothers - and now, my
Nyiszli was Mengele's prisoner pathologist. The autopsies
became the final experiment. Dr. Nyiszli performed
autopsies on twins whom had died from the experiments or
whom had been purposely killed just for after-death
measurements and examination. Some of the twins had been
stabbed with a needle that pierced their heart and then
were injected with chloroform or phenol which caused near
immediate blood coagulation and death.
Some of the
organs, eyes, blood samples, and tissues would be sent to
Verschuer for further study.
1. Eva Mozes as
quoted in Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel,
Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold
Story of the Twins of Auschwitz (New York: William Morrow
and Company, Inc., 1991) 56.
2. Robert Jay
Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide (BasicBooks, 1986) 348.
6. Lifton, Nazi
7. Moshe Offer
as quoted in Lagnado, Children 71.
Matalon and Sheila Cohn Dekel. Children of the Flames:
Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of
New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.,
Jay. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology
of Genocide. BasicBooks, 1986.
Miklos. Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account. 1960.
New York: Arcade Publishing, 1993.