Imprimir Republish


The Sentimental Memoirs of the Angel of Death

Josef Mengele’s autobiography reveals a lack of empathy for the victims and guilt for the crimes

REPRODUCTIONA photo of Mengele in 1937 as he enters the SSREPRODUCTION

“Wherever a joyous bird sings, he sings for another. Wherever a tiny star twinkles far away, it twinkles for another.” The depraved author of the innocent poem was capable of injecting chemicals into children’s eyeballs to turn them blue, removing organs from persons still alive and sewing twins together, his obsession, “to create Siamese twins.” In Brazil, Josef Mengele (1911-1979), one of the most wanted Nazis on Earth, became a writer.

The “angel of death,” responsible for deciding who would live and who would die at Auschwitz, died himself from drowning in Bertioga, Brazil. It was not until 1985 that the police discovered his whereabouts and, at his home in Diadema, they found over 3,000 pages of writings that are today kept at Federal Police headquarters. “Among the writings there is an autobiography that provides a window for analysis of the criminal mind. Mengele wrote freely and felt no need to be concerned about public opinion, which condemned his acts. And so his general tone was candid as he assessed his life and acts,” according to Helmut Galle, a professor of literature at the University of São Paulo (USP) and author of a study on Mengele’s writings, which was part of the Thematic Project entitled Writings of violence, which FAPESP supported.

The 500-page autobiography is a third-person narrative and is written as fiction, with the protagonist “Andreas” as the Nazi’s alter ego. The book was meant to pass on “good advice” to his son and to justify his acts in the extermination camp. Both of Mengele’s objectives failed, and his son rejected his father’s total lack of guilt and his silence about the crimes in the memoirs. “It is painful to read these writings. There is an uneasy silence about the activities during the war and a ghastly satisfying vanity about the worthlessness of his childhood and his life after he fled in 1945.”

The protagonist’s birth and baptism alone span 74 pages. It is paradoxical in that there are very few references to the Jews for whose death he was responsible. One of the few references takes place during a conversation Andreas has with a farmer who accused Jewish money of causing the war. Mengele replied: “Although there is great exaggeration here, some of it must be true. Still, this war that international Judaism foisted on Germany made a peaceful solution of the Jewish question impossible. And if these events occurred in a time of war, they took on warlike forms, influenced by changed general situations and not ultimately by psychological reactions.”

AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT The “Angel of Death” diaries, with their commentsAFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT

Galle observed that “it is odd to imagine Mengele the Nazi in Brazil in the 1970s still blaming the Jews for their own genocide and his absolute ethical certainty that the Holocaust was legitimate.” Mengele showed himself to be the counterpoint to Jewish weakness, endowed with strength and determination when faced with obstacles. His memoirs take him to 1947 when, while fleeing, he took refuge on a farm in Germany, disguised as a farmer. “There can be no avoidance, flight or refusal because raw existence is at play. Andreas spewed this garbage forcefully and suppressed the horrible pain in the joints of his hand. He thought that it was possible to survive only by being harder than those who who lead an austere existence.”

According to the researcher’s analysis, “Mengele tries to put himself in his victims’ shoes to prove that he is stronger than they are, not succumbing to the fight for survival. For Galle, the “angel of death” seeks to shed the guilt by showing his experience and blaming the Jews for their fate. “Like the farmer, whose body wants to give up and nearly ‘screams’ in pain, Mengele creates a persona who he believes is himself, capable of suppressing these impulses, pretending to be indifferent to everyone. At Auschwitz, he was sentimental on the inside and at one point rebelled against his cruel ‘work.’ But this voice was extinguished by the emergence of the cold persona,” the researcher commented.

“There are no signs of empathy in the 500 pages of the book. Only the protagonist’s suffering can be seen along with the accusations of those who caused him to suffer. It can be assumed that he did not possess this brain function.” Galle goes on to say that the author and murderer sought to control his outside image, showing only strength and power, and produced these documents to gain control over the memory others had of him. “One of the most noteworthy scenes in the book is when the protagonist dreams that he is a baby, always either sleeping or screaming. Mengele sees himself as innocent and just; he imagines that he is that which he never accepted in himself and that he wanted to destroy in his victims: the physical creature, naked and defenseless.”

At no time does he address the matter of guilt because, for him,  “there are no judges, only avengers.” “He attributed the responsibility for his mother’s death to ‘incompetent’ doctors that the Allies brought in to replace ‘good’ Nazi doctors. Moreover, according to the researcher, he blames those who made ‘false accusations’ against him for the loss of his mother.” In a letter from 1974, he even expresses “remorse for the crimes we committed against the ‘chosen people’.” The quotation marks betray his real views since, even at a time of rare repentance, he considers Jews “absurd.” Finally, what he believed he saw around him seems to confirm his beliefs. He wrote: “Brazil is a nice country to live in despite the mixing of the races. But there are many people who, like me, believe and are sympathetic to the Nazi movement and racial ideology.” But he was uncomfortable with Brazilian women who “wore too much lipstick and makeup, and were always ready for sexual promiscuity.”

He disdains women in general. “Biology does not accept equal rights. Women should not work in high-level positions and their work should be based on filling a biological quota. Women with deficient genes should be forced into birth control through sterilization.” In addition to women, he expressed concerns about the overpopulation of the planet. He noted: “Our experiment with races failed, but drastic measures must be taken to combat human excesses. Humans must make a decision on how to survive in modern times. Since eugenics has not succeeded in the short run, we must find another equally radical solution.”

The comments reflect his study of genetics and anthropology in the thirties, which led him to prepare for a doctorate under the guidance of Professor Otmar von Verschuer, Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. He recalled the “good times” when he was studying and wrote: “We know that evolution controls nature through selection and extermination. Those who are unable to accept these rules of more capable humans will be exiled or brought to extinction. Weaker humans should not be permitted to reproduce. This is the only way for humankind to exist and sustain itself.” Beginning in 1943, the disciple began to send to the master “physical” evidence and reports of his “fascinating” experiments on living human beings at Auschwitz.

“As a young person I was immature and a loner. Everything would have been different if I had come from a happy home with people who cared about me,” wrote the man who ordered the “cleansing” of a shed with 750 Jews inside, spraying poisonous gas on them to contain an infestation of lice.