Doctor Josef Mengele selected thousands for the gas chambers on the platform of the train station at the Auschwitz death camp. The survivors called him the Angel of Death. He was brilliant, urbane and charming, and he performed vivisection on the prisoners he spared from the Zyklon B. Then he spent forty years being hunted.
Although at one time he was in the hands of the U. S. Army, Mengele was never charged with war crimes. He moved about with the help of dozens of people, sometime unwittingly, though often knowing full well who he was. He evaded scores of professional Nazi hunters and spies for forty years even though his wife’s name was in the Buenos Aires phone book. The stories told about him by the Simon Wiesenthal and the other pursuers grew in proportion to the years that they searched for him as did his fear and sense of isolation as well as the price on his head.
Now, read the facts and the fantasies surrounding the Angel of Death in South America.
I began collecting material on Mengele in 1985 when his grave was discovered in Brazil. The circus surrounding his exhumation and the flood of information suddenly flowing from the people who harbored him was surreal. Since then much has been revealed about how he passed his time in hiding virtually under the noses of those who wanted so badly to hang him.
Face of the Angel is a fictionalized version of the truth that retains the more bizarre rumors of his life in South America that have been discounted by at least some of the researchers. It is, after all, a story, one that I hope you will find both informative and entertaining.
Targeted Age Group:: 16+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
In 1985 when Mengele’s grave was discovered in Brazil I became fascinated with the story and collected every newspaper article I could find. Almost thirty years later I found a box in the garage with dusty file folders. One of them contained the Mengele articles. I had just published The Hundred Years Farce and was looking for source material for my next book, and there it was. I had just been to South America and visited some of the places Mengele hid, so after some more research, I was ready to write.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Mengele created his own character. After his death, people who knew him gave numerous interviews, so his habits and mannerisms were in the historical record. The Simon Wiesenthal character evolved from research. I was surprised to learn that he was largely a fraud, and had once been a standup comedian. His fictionalized character had to be a joker. Wiesenthal’s assistant, Max, is not described in any detail in sources I consulted, so I created him as a long-suffering foil to Wiesenthal.
The air carried a fetid odor and a fine ash fell over the camp. The doctor stood on the platform in the uniform of a Waffen SS Hauptsturmführer with lightening bolts on one collar badge and three pips on the other. He wore his deaths head cap at a rakish angle and the smile on his handsome face revealed a conspicuous gap between the front teeth. He used his ebony cane with a silver ferrule and skull handle to direct the throng disembarking from the cattle car to the left or to the right—a stooped old man and a crone to the left, a broad shouldered boy to the right.
Ah! And they and they are even pretty. He thought as his eyes grew wide at the sight of twin girls clinging to each other sobbing. His cane indicated that they should follow to the right.
When all the cars emptied, Doctor Josef Mengele went to the office of his assistant, Doctor Puzyna, and said, “Another pair of twins just arrived. As soon as they are tattooed, I want you to examine them and bring the results to me, please.”
Puzyna sighed and went looking for the newcomers. The fair-haired children stood trembling in the line to have their identification numbers applied onto their pale forearms. The doctor gently took one by the arm and said, “Come with me, girls.” She led them to the inmate applying the tattoos and inserted them at the front of the line. When the first twin sat to be marked a second inmate at a writing table asked for her name.
“Beata Ostrowski,” she sobbed barely audibly. Puzyna also noted the name on her clipboard while the girl shrieked as the tattoo needle punctured her milky skin.
When she rose Puzyna took charge of her and her sister assumed the seat. “Bogna Ostrowski,” was her timid reply to the question of her name.
The Polish anthropologist was not inured to the fate of her “patients,” but she was resigned to the task before her. She led Bogna and Beata to her examination room. “Young ladies,” she said, “I am not going to hurt you. You must have a complete physical examination so I want you to get undressed and lie down on this table. You may cover yourself with this sheet. Who wants to go first?”
For over an hour Puzyna measured Beata Ostrowski in bewildering detail while her sister shivered from cold and fear. Then it was Bogna’s turn to be cataloged. At the end of the examinations Puzyna told her orderly to take them to their barracks.
When the Polish girls saw their bunkmates, Bogna said, “Why are they all twins?”
The orderly shrugged and said, “Doctor Mengele likes twins.”
As instructed, Puzyna carried the results of her examinations to Mengele. He was in his specimen room examining a wall arrayed with eyeballs of all colors that were affixed to the boards by hatpins. Puzyna shuddered when she handed the clipboard to him. “Excellent,” he said looking at the forms, “you say they are menstruating?”
“Yes, both of them. That’s not unusual.”
Mengele scowled. “I too am a physician, Martina. Have them brought here. No, take them to my office. I don’t want them to be disturbed by the specimens.”
In his office, which though Spartan, was warm and comfortable, Mengele greeted the twins politely. “Misses Ostrowski, please be seated and have a chocolate,” he offered them a box. The famished girls stuffed a bonbon into their mouths. “Eat as many as you like. You do speak German, don’t you?” They nodded and he continued. “Excellent! Where did you learn it?”
“Germany,” Bogna whispered.
“And what took you to Germany?”
Beata hesitated before saying, “We went to school for a time in Berlin while father lectured there.”
“Your father is a professor, then?”
The girls nodded.
“Where in Poland did you come from?” Mengele asked.
“Lvov,” Bogna said. “Can we see our papa and mutti?”
“Tell me their given names and I’ll see if they can be located. Now, I’m afraid that I need to give one of you a shot. Which one shall it be?”
Each of them pointed at the other.
“What kind of way is that for sisters to behave? Well, did your mother ever tell you which one of you was born first?”
Beata raised her hand.
“Then the oldest must protect her little sister.” He removed a vial from a small refrigerator and a syringe from the stainless tray on top of it. “Now, Beata this won’t hurt at all.” That was a lie. Her bony arm barely had enough muscle to take the needle, it penetrated to the bone. Mengele saw the terror in her eyes that paralyzed her and she never made a sound.
Each morning after shaving and donning his immaculately pressed uniform and spit polished boots, Mengele liked to pass a few moments in his office drinking ersatz coffee and listening to Mozart, Wagner or Puccini on his phonograph while he read the daily report of the current location of the Russian front. Afterward he visited the female twins barrack where light shone through the cracks between the planks on the walls and wind whistled incessantly. Beata got her shot and Bogna a reassuring pat on the hand. “Are you getting enough to eat?” he always asked. The girls nodded mutely.
“Doctor,” Beata said, “did you ever find our parents?”
“Not yet, dear. It’s a very big camp. My orderly is still looking for them.” Mengele smiled sympathetically as he lied. Meticulously kept German records clearly indicated that Professor and Mrs. Ostrowski, who had been transported in a car separate from their daughters, had been directed to the left when Mengele made his selections on the day of their arrival at Auschwitz.
He moved to two Romanian girls who could not understand him. “We must see if there are two heartbeats,” he said soothingly as he raised the nightshirt of one and pressed his stethoscope to her swelling abdomen. He shook his head and repeated the process on her sibling. “I’m afraid the Russians are not going give us enough time for you to come to term,” he said to the uncomprehending pair who had been impregnated on his orders by identical German Jews who, though not unwilling to comply, had difficulty performing on command while Mengele watched, whistling Horst Wessel Lied. “We will just have to open you up to count the fetuses then, won’t we?” He had two more pairs of young women who were part of his experiment to induce multiple births by breeding twins with twins. Fortunately for them, they could not understand what he said.
As the front inched closer and 1944 waned, the trains directed to Auschwitz dwindled to near zero, giving Mengele more time to devote to his genetics research. On a cold morning with the wind blowing dry snow through the gaps in the barracks walls, he stood in his lab beside his tiny electric heater peering at tissue samples through a microscope. A lieutenant from the communications office tapped on the door before entering and snapping to attention and saluting with the obligatory heel click. The scientist grimaced at the interruption, then softened in admiration of the soldier’s military bearing. He returned the salute, smiled, and said, “Ja, Untersturmführer, how can I help you?”
“Train arriving, sir, at eleven-hundred. The Commandant sent me to remind the Hauptsturmführer that you have the duty.”
“Damn the man! Tell him that I am in the middle of important research and can’t be bothered,” Mengele barked. The man’s eyes widened at the prospect of delivering such a message to Commandant Hoess. Realizing the impossibility of such an order, Mengele retracted. “Never mind, Untersturmführer, I’ll drop what I’m doing and do my duty to the new arrivals.”
Instead of doing his duty he went to the office of Dr. Werner Rhöde where he found him dictating a report to his secretary. “Werner, my friend,” Mengele began upon interrupting, “could I beg a favor? A train is coming and I have the duty, but I am on the verge of a breakthrough in my twins research. Have you time to do the selections?”
“Why would anybody send a train here when we are going to have to evacuate any day now?” Rhöde asked with disdainful consternation.
“I am not Himmler but I’m sure there is a reason. Will you do it or not?”
“Ach, Mengele, you know I hate to do that.”
“Yes, but I also know you don’t mind steeling yourself to it with a pint of schnapps, especially on a cold day.”
“You come to ask a favor and you insult me?” Rhöde said hotly. “But you’re quite right, I haven’t the spleen, as you do, to make the selections without being numb. However, I do not relish getting drunk in the middle of the morning so that you are not disturbed from your research. The answer is no.” His stenographer fidgeted uncomfortably examining his fingernails.
“I expected nothing less.” Mengele left without saying more.
When he heard the train whistle he put his tissue samples on ice, buttoned his greatcoat, adjusted the angle of his death’s head cap and inspected it in the mirror before ascending to the platform where he performed his duty. That day he found no twins and few candidates for the work crews. Almost the entire trainload of deportees got the gesture to the left. The question of where they would go—since the gas chambers had been dismantled in anticipation of the Russians’ arrival—was not his problem.
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