Josef Mengele and Experimentation on Human Twins at Auschwitz

(from Children of the Flames; Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel, and Mengele; the Complete Story by Gerald Posner and John Ware)

The Stern sisters, as young girls and later in life, in Israel

Hedvah and Leah Stern:

When they opened the door to our cattle car,our mother became very frightened, "Stay with me, children," she told usrefusing to let go of our hands. But hen some prisoners told her in Yiddish, "Tell them you have twins. There is a Dr. Mengele here who wants twins."

Eva Mozes:

As I clutched my mother's hand, an SS man hurried by shouting, "Twins, twins!" He stopped to look at us. Miriam and I looked very much alike. We were wearing similar clothes. "Are they twins?" he asked my mother. "Is that good?" replied my mother. He nodded yes. "They are twins," she said.

Josef Mengele, aka Auschwitz's "Angel of Death," held a fascination with twins. As Auschwitz's senior "physician" he conducted "genetic experiments" on nearly 1500 sets of twins between 1943 and 1944. For this purpose, it was imperative to the weed out of twin sets from the lines of prisoners coming off the cattle cars. With the blessing and support of his senior and mentor Otmar Von Verscher at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, Mengele tested various genetic theories with the aim of illuminating Hitler's racial dogmas. Twins were particularly useful because a set of twins share an identical gene pool and their reactions to mutual treatments could be monitered with this in mind. Mengele also picked out individuals with any other physical abnormalities: midgits, dwarfs, hunchbacks. Because 10,000 prisoners might pass through this death camp in a given day, numerous pairs of twins could be found and plucked out as subjects for his "research."

Twins were kept in separate barracks from the other prisoners, and sometimes given preferential treatment. They were better fed than other prisoners, and monitered by gaurds who might be blamed if any of the twins fell ill or died. Unfortunately, this preferential treatment was short-term. Of the 3000 twins who passed through Mengele's labs, only 200 survived the war. Depending on the type of experiment endured by the twins, they were driven to various labs at Auschwitz or neighboring Birkenau camp. Most received routine blood and x-ray tests, often on a daily basis. Mengele's assistants in his experiments were often Jewish inmates with medical backgrounds who had been spared the gas chambers because of their skills.

Twins undergoing his experiments didn't know what the objectives were. It is known that he had a special pathology lab where he performed autopsies on twins who had died from experiements. It was located next to the cremetorium. Mengele's experiments both physical and psychological; experimental surgeries performed without anesthesia, transfusions of blood from one twin to another, isolation endurance, reaction to various stimuli, injections with lethal germs, sex change operations, the removal of organs and limbs, incestuous impregnations. One twin recalls the death of his brother:

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.

Mengele injected chemicals into the eyes of children in an attempt to change their eye color. "One day we were given eye drops, " say Hedvah and Leah Stern, "Afterwards we could not see for several days. We were very frightened of the experiements. They took a lot of blood ... We fainted several times." Unfortunately a strict veil of secrecy over the experiments enabled Mengele to do his work more effectively, and "twins who were subjected to the most grusome procedures took his secrets to their graves." The full extent of his grusome work will never be known because the records he sent to Dr. Von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute were shipped out "in two truckloads" and destroyed by the latter. Any remaining notes Mengele carried with him on his escape to South America and those were never found. Some forty years after the war, only a 100 sets of these twins could be found, many living in Israel and the United States. Strangely enough, many of them recall Mengele as a gentle, affable man who befriended them as children and gave them chocolates. Since many had immediately been separated from their families upon entering the camp, Mengele became a sort of father figure. Still a tension existed, that at any time they could be killed if they did not keep a low profile. Older twins "recognized his kindness as a deception--yet another of his perverse experiments to test (our) mental endurance."

Following the war, Mengele took an alias and worked as farmhand in eastern Germany. He managed to escape to Buenos Aires in 1949. Despite international efforts to track him down, he was never apprehended and lived for 35 years hiding under various aliases. He lived in Paraguay and Brazil until his death by stroke in 1979. His remains were discovered in 1985 in Embu, Brazil, and it was then that his family admitted they had shielded him all those years and they turned over his diaries and letters to investigators.

The surviving twins are spread among four continents, and in 10 different countries. Many grew up to become successful, though haunted people. Others suffered psychological problems they could never overcome. Twins Eva and Miriam Mozes, founded CANDLES, or Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Laboratory Experiments Survivors, in an effort to reunite all surviving twins. Gerald Posner, and attorney, attempted to obtain legal compensation from the Mengele family for the remaining twins in 1981 and eventually collaberated with John Ware, a journalist, on the aforementioned book on Mengele's life. (I'm not sure whether this confrontation of the Mengele family resulted in compesations for the Mengele twins.)