Dr. Josef Mengele

Book Review: Astor, Gerald. The Last Nazi: The Life and Times of Dr. Joseph Mengele. New York: D.I. Fine, 1985

            This book employs a biographical approach to the life of Dr. Joseph Mengele, discussing his family history, his youth, his medical education, his military career and involvement with the SS, his pivotal appointment as lead physician at Auschwitz-Birkenau in May of 1943 and the events that occurred thereafter, and even reports of his activities in hiding after the war. Conveniently divided into thematic chapters, Astor analyzes Mengele in different lights. For example, he discusses the various stages and responsibilities of the man's career, namely as a young Nazi, selector, healer and scientist, therein illustrating the historical context and commenting on the mind of the infamous "Angel of Death".

            While the text presents a rich range of historical information and biographical insight, thus seeming dense and tedious in parts, it nevertheless describes and discusses fascinating issues about Mengele and the twisted ideology that contributed to the Final Solution. Astor draws on a wide array of sources, including other scholarly works, newspaper and magazine articles and eyewitness accounts to name a few. These sources provide powerful insight into the context and meaning of the Holocaust, strengthening the validity of Astor's biography as well as in own assertions about Mengele and the Nazi way of thinking and acting.


  •         "The Germans began programs testing humans in 1939-40 with observations of the effects of phosgene and mustard gas on 220 prisoners. For the high-altitude experiments he [Rascher] placed men inside a pressure chamber. In some tests lungs ruptured." (p. 111)

  • "Surely, some might say, Mengele, for all of this, must have realized he was committing awful crimes. But the capacity of humans to self-justify, to self-deceive is enormous." (p. 137)

  • "Time's essay said Mengele 'defiled science. He defiled Germany'". (p. 278)

  • "Mengele turned his hand to hair color, anointing scalps of his subjects with different substances, and mostly producing pain rather than any insight.Vera Kriegel, another twin, describes how she was taken into the laboratory where across an entire wall she saw scores of human eyes 'pinned like butterflies'". (p. 98)

  • ".Robert Jay Lifton [.] is less inclined to believe Mengele seriously thought he could change genetic patterns through chemical intervention. The collection of pieces of anatomy was standard practice in Auschwitz. Erne Spiegel [.] saw a bathtub filled with unknown fluid. Into it Mengele put bodies of Jewish dwarfs, mongoloids, and twins 'so that their flesh would fall off and he could view their skeletons'". (p. 99)

(From this source I compiled several insightful quotes and interpreted the information within the text in order to construct the project's thesis and develop an argument.

Website Reviews

"Court TV's Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Method - Josef Mengele (Serial Killers/Killers from History)", www.crimelibrary.com/mengele/main.htm

            This site briefly summarizes both the Mengele's youth and his years after the war in hiding, providing several pictures of the infamous Nazi doctor. The bulk of the website discusses Mengele's career with the SS and his assignment to Auschwitz in 1943, covering the most relevant facts of his career without going into too much detail. Most importantly, the site presents the details of his research in a manner that renders the ghastly nature of Mengele yet does not purposely attempt to sicken its visitors.

Key Facts:

        Dr. Mengele commanded the selection process prisoners underwent upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The fate of the prisoners who arrived was held in his hands, governed by his assessment of their health.

        Begins medical school at the Munich University in 1930. Joins the "Steel Helmets" the following year. Chosen to study at the Third Reich Institute for Hereditary, Biology and Racial Purity at the University of Frankfort 1937.

        Joins Waffen SS to fight in WWII in 1940. Receives both the second and first class Iron Cross awards for his feat in battle.

        Appointed physician at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943.

        Regarded by witnesses as being coolly kind, yet murderously cruel at the same time. His nickname, "Angel of Death", originates from this notion of bipolarity.

        He uses live humans as guinea pigs in a vast array of vain medical experiments, and acquires a particular interest in twin subjects.

        He flees from Auschwitz in 1945 as the Soviets advance across Nazi lines. He emigrates to Argentina in 1949 and assumes a false identity, remaining in South America undiscovered until 1985 when interest in trying him as a war criminal resurfaced. Their investigations led them to the discovery that Josef Mengele had drowned in 1979.

(I summarized the purpose of the site and included several interesting facts it offers.)

"Victims of Mengele: Mengele's Twins - Children of Auschwitz", http://auschwitz.dk/Mengele

            This site deals specifically with eyewitness accounts of both workers and victims of Dr. Mengele at Auschwitz. His gruesome experiments are described in great detail by survivors of his torture, and are complimented by several shocking yet invaluable photographs of Mengele's victims and their injuries. While this site does not provide a comprehensive history and examination of Auschwitz and Nazi doctors, it does descriptively encompass the inhumane nature of Nazi doctors and especially Dr. Josef Mengele.

 (I summarized the purpose of the site and included several interesting facts it offers.)

Thumbnail Images

Dr. Mengele (far right) stands having a cigarette during the selection process at Auschwitz (c. 1943)


Mengele in SS uniform (1943)


Dr. Mengele as a young man (c. 1940)

(www.bdp.it/~copc0001/ebraismo/ sperimen.htm)

Medical photograph of young boys at Auschwitz

(www.leksikon.org/html/ dk/auschwitz.htm)

Victim of a medical experiment at Auschwitz


Main entrance at Auschwitz

(www.denktag.de/denktag2001/ projekte/29/denktag.html)

The infamous "Angel of Death" transcends urban legend into Hollywood, influencing this 1976 film into using him as a villainous character. (http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0074860/) In this 1978 film entitled The Boys from Brazil, Mengele plots to clone Hitler and resurrect the Third Reich. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077269/posters)




  • Astor, Gerald. The Last Nazi: The Life and Times of Dr. Joseph Mengele. New York: D.I. Fine, 1985