Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: "Forget You Not"™
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Mengele's Children: The Twins of Auschwitz
by Jennifer Rosenberg
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Dr. Mengele

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.Dr. Mengele relaxing at Solahutte 
retreat outside of Auschwitz.
The notorious 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 experiments.

Mengele's 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 persona.

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 saved.

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 specimens.

 
The Ramp

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.

Twins at Auschwitz

  

Renate and Rene Guttmann were subjected to injection and x-ray experiments by Josef Mengele.
(Courtesy of USHMM)
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?

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 gas chamber.

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 parents.

Once the SS guard knew we were twins, Miriam and I were taken away from our mother, without any warning or explanation.

Our 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 soldier.

That was the last time I saw her.1

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.

 
Processing

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.

 
Life for the Twins

Each morning, 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.

Mengele's 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 Mengele."3

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.

Conditions for the twins were one of the best in Auschwitz, until the trucks came to take them to the experiments.

 
Experiments

Generally, every 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 procedure.5

It was estimated that approximately ten cubic centimeters of blood was drawn daily.6

Besides having 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.

Each morning, 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 laboratories.

  • Measurements

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 hours.
 

  • Blood

Blood tests included mass transfusions of blood from one twin to another.
 

  • Eyes

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.

  • Shots and Diseases

Mysterious 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

Various surgeries without anesthesia including organ removal, castration, and amputations.

One 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 twin.

Mengele 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 anymore.

I 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 twin.7

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  • Death

Dr Miklos 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.

 

Notes

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.

3. Lagnado, Children 68.

4. Lagnado, Children 67.

5. Lagnado, Children 62.

6. Lifton, Nazi 350.

7. Moshe Offer as quoted in Lagnado, Children 71.

 

Bibliography

Lagnado, Lucette Matalon 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.

Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. BasicBooks, 1986.

Nyiszli, Dr. Miklos. Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account. 1960. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1993.

 

 

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