One avenue of research that has long been considered important to science is that of various twin studies carried out all over the world. Twins are seen as vital to the study of behavioral genetics and a wide range of other areas such as hereditary diseases, the genetics of obesity, the genetic basis of common diseases, and many others. Yet for all of the good that most twin studies have done, there are others that lurk in the shadows of history, and one of the most mysterious and evil were those of a Nazi doctor operating at the height of the regime's depravity.
During the horrific stain upon history that is the Nazis and their role in World War II, a looming sinister presence whose evil still reverberates today was the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, Poland. Ordered to be constructed on April 27, 1940, by chief Nazi scumbag Heinrich Himmler, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp would go on to rapidly expand into three main camps and 45 sub-camps by the time the war was over, and this Hell on Earth would be the final destination for an estimated 1.1 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, criminals, mentally or physically disabled persons, political opponents, and prisoners of war, transported there packed into cattle cars like animals. It has burned its way into history as one of the most horrific mass killing centers ever devised by humankind, synonymous with the Holocaust and evil in general, with death here coming in many guises such as starvation, relentless forced labor, disease, torture, and of course mass executions in the notorious Nazi gas chambers.
Among the many horrors of Auschwitz were the numerous medical experiments carried out here, most notably by Nazi doctors Carl Clauberg and Josef Mengele. Experiments covered a range of areas, including finding ways to sterilize Jewish women, the effects of many noxious substances on the human body, and trying to find ways to clone the “perfect Aryan.” Most often those chosen to be experimented on showed some unique physical traits, such as different colored eyes or having a genetic condition such as dwarfism or conversely gigantism, and reached such deranged, gruesome heights that Mengele would earn himself the ominous nickname “The Angel of Death.”
Certainly one of the more infamous lines of experimentation was carried out by Mengele on twins. Indeed, the mad doctor had a twisted fascination with twins, and he also believed that they were the key to saving the Aryan race if women could be somehow assured of giving birth to blonde haired, blue eyed twins. As he constantly surveyed the surging lines of bedraggled prisoners endlessly filing past the barbed wire and soldiers into the camp from the filthy cattle cars, Mengele’s eyes would light up whenever he spotted twins, which he would immediately have pulled aside from the crowds, saving them from hard labor or execution, yet dooming them to a perhaps worse fate.
The twins, which could be as young as 5 or 6 years old or sometimes even younger, were whisked away to a separate camp that consisted only of pairs of twins, and to them it probably did not seem a bad place to be at first. Conditions there were better than out in the rest of the camp, they ate reasonably well with extra rations, and Mengele was known to arrive at their barracks with toys, chocolates and candies, often playing with them and generally acting in a very cheerful, good natured way towards the children, to the point that they adored him and called him “Uncle Mengele.” The children did not have their heads shaved, often kept their own clothes, did not have to do any sort of hard labor, were not beaten or punished, and were even allowed outside to play like normal kids, and besides a daily blood sample taken from them it all must have seemed like heaven compared to what the others in the camp had to endure. However, this was all merely a facade to hide the truth, and the twins were completely oblivious to the horrors that awaited them.
Twins would be abruptly collected and ushered away when it was time for an experiment, and they put up no complaint or fight, nor did they even have any inkling that anything was amiss or that they were in any sort of danger. After all, they had been treated pretty well, lived life comparatively normally, and had no reason to fear their “Uncle Mengele.” Yet, once away from the barracks they were subjected to a wide range of twisted experiments. Some of these were done in order to find ways to perfect the “Master Race,” while others were to test out any sort of connection the twins had and still others that don’t seem to have served any purpose at all other than to satisfy Mengele’s depraved curiosity and for his own sadistic pleasure.
The experiments were quite varied, but always horrible. In some cases the twins were separated and kept in isolation from each other, whereupon one or the other would be tortured either mentally or physically in order to measure some sort of response in the other twin, as it was suspected that they may share some sort of psychic link. Sometimes one would be kept in sensory deprivation while the other twin was not. In other experiments they were injected with various mysterious substances that only Mengele knew the identities of, and these injections could have effects ranging from nothing to strange side effects, severe pain, illness, or death. The nature of these substances is still unknown, but likely included pathogens, dangerous chemicals, poisons, and drugs. In many cases only one twin was given these injections, so that they might more accurately measure the effects by comparing the two, with the other twin serving as a control group.
There were also complete blood transfusions carried out between the twins, injections directly into the eyes in an effort to change eye color, surgeries without anesthetic including organ removal, biopsies, castrations, and amputations. In some cases Mengele had the twins sewn together in order to create Siamese twins, which often ended in the death of both. When one twin died, as many inevitably did, the other would be killed and then the two dissected for analysis. Even if both twins both somehow survived the experiments they were routinely both killed at the end of the trials so that the autopsies could be performed. By the time the Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated it is estimated that around between 900 and 1,500 pairs of twins had been experimented on by Mengele, and the vast majority of these did not survive the ordeal.
While most of the twins involved in Mengele’s demented experiments died, there is a handful who did survive until well after the war was over, and it is from these survivors that we know most of our information on what Mengele did to them, as the Nazis had most official documentation on the twin program destroyed along with everything else on the concentration camps to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. One of these surviving twins is Vera Kriegel, who says that one of her most vivid memories of the time was being brought to Mengele’s laboratory and being greeted with the sight of hundreds of disembodied human eyes looking on into oblivion. She told the BBC:
I was looking at a whole wall of human eyes. A wall of blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes. These eyes they were staring at me like a collection of butterflies and I fell down on the floor.
When the experiments began, Kriegel and her sister were kept in tiny wooden crates like animals and subjected to numerous painful injections that she thinks were to change the color of their eyes. She also claims that they and many other twins were given injections of Noma’s disease, which causes painful boils on the mouth and genitals. Kriegel also has spoken of the experiments to remove organs. One of the most well-known and outspoken of the survivors of Mengele’s twin experiments is Eva Mozes Kor, who was brought to Auschwitz with her sister Miriam Mozes, who were 10 years old at the time and were there from 1944 to 1945. Their entire family, including their parents, grandparents, two older sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins were all killed at the death camp, and they were singled out for the twin experiments soon after arriving. She would say of this thus:
When the doors to our cattle car opened, I heard SS soldiers yelling, "Schnell! Schnell!", and ordering everybody out. My mother grabbed Miriam and me by the hand. She was always trying to protect us because we were the youngest. Everything was moving very fast, and as I looked around, I noticed my father and my two older sisters were gone. 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. "Are they twins?" he asked my mother. "Is that good?" she replied. He nodded yes. "They are twins," she said. 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.
Kor has spoken of many of the dark horrors that the twins went through. She recalls one set of Gypsy twins who were sewn together back to back and their organs and blood vessels connected, after which they could be heard screaming in anguish nonstop until their cries were silenced by eventual gangrene and death three days later. Kor remembers being taken in for experimentation 6 days a week, and often these entailed just making them sit naked for up to 8 hours at a time while they were observed and measured for inscrutable reasons. Then there were the scarier experiments, in which her and her sister were given mysterious injections, and during which their despair seemed to invoke pleasure in Mengele, of which she has explained:
On alternate days we would be taken to another lab that I call the blood lab. This is where they would take a lot of blood from my left arm and give me several injections in my right arm. Those were the deadly ones. We didn't know the contents then and we don't know today. After one of those injections, I became very ill with a very high fever. I had also tremendous swelling in my arms and legs as well as red spots throughout my body. Maybe it was spotted fever, I don't know. Nobody ever diagnosed it.
I was given five injections. That evening I developed extremely high fever. I was trembling. My arms and my legs were swollen, huge size. Mengele and Dr. Konig and three other doctors came in the next morning. They looked at my fever chart, and Dr. Mengele said, laughingly, 'Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live.
Unbelievably, both Eva and Miriam survived the ordeal, and were among the only twins left alive when the Soviet Army liberated them from Auschwitz. Kor says that at the time she was too young to understand what was being done to them, and that it wasn’t until years after gaining her freedom that she realized what had really happened to them. Kor spent many years tracking down other surviving twins, and through her program CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) was able to locate 122 pairs sprawled out across ten countries and four continents, who she made efforts to bring together to share their experiences and which culminated in a meeting in Jerusalem in February of 1985. Kor has said of this in an article for Quora:
We talked to many of them. What I found out was that there were many, many other experiments. For instance, the twins who were older than 16 or were of reproductive age would be put in a lab and used in cross-gender blood transfusions. So blood was going from the male to the female and vice versa. Sadly they did not check of course to see if the blood was compatible and most of these twins died. There are twins in Australia who survived, Stephanie and Annette Heller, and there is a twin in Israel who was a fraternal twin— Judit Malick, and her twins' brother's name was Sullivan. I heard Judit testify in Jerusalem that she was used in this experiment with a male twin of reproductive age. She remembered being on a table during the experiment when the other twin's body was turning cold. He died. She survived but had a lot of health problems.
The question is how many of these twins did survive? Most of them obviously died. I also know for a fact that Mengele did strange experiments on kidneys. Mengele himself suffered from renal problems when he was 16 in 1927. He was out of school three or four months according to his SS file. He was deeply interested in the way the kidneys worked. I know of three cases where twins developed severe kidney infections that did not respond to antibiotics.
Indeed, Miriam too developed severe kidney problems later in life due to an injection she had received that seems to have stunted the organs’ growth. After the birth of her children the kidney problem got progressively worse and none of it seemed to respond at all to antibiotics. Eva would eventually donate one of her own kidneys to save her sister in 1987, but Miriam would die of kidney complications in 1993 and doctors are still not sure what was injected into her to cause all of this.
Kor has gone on to speak of her experiences all over the world, is the founder of the Holocaust Museum and Education center in Terre Haute, Indiana, and has written books on her ordeal, including one titled Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin at Auschwitz. Unbelievably, despite the evil she has looked right in the face and the gruesome nature of her experience she has long advocated forgiveness towards her vile captors. Indeed, in 1995 Kor made the brave decision to face Nazi physician Hans Munch, who had since the end of the war come to regret what he and his kind had done. Kor and Munch even travelled together to Auschwitz to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp, and she has said of her decision to forgive Munch:
I forgave the doctor, who oversaw the gas chambers where the rest of my family was killed. And I realized I had the power to even forgive the Angel of Death. Now, I am no longer a victim of Auschwitz. This act of forgiveness is an act of self healing. I believe forgiveness is a modern miracle of medicine. Forgive your worst enemy and forgive everyone who has hurt you- it will heal your soul and set you free.
To this day it is a mystery as to just what these various twin experiments were trying to accomplish or what results they procured, as Mengele never did release his findings or elaborate much on his methods or true goals, taking them with him to his eventual grave. It is unknown just what was injected into these patients, why these surgeries were carried out, what purpose any of this all had, or whether Mengele ever found what he was looking for. At about this point in the article you may be wondering what happened to Mengele himself, and that is a mystery unto itself.
When the Soviets liberated the death camp, Mengele went on the run, escaping to head west, but he was soon captured by American soldiers. Unfortunately, since he did not have a tattoo marking him as SS and his face wasn’t recognized, no one had any idea that he was a Nazi and he managed to get released even though he was considered a highly wanted war fugitive. He would eventually flee Europe and head to Argentina in 1949, and he would defy all efforts to track him down and have him arrested for decades, evading justice and moving from country to country before finally drowning at a holiday resort in Brazil in 1979. Very little is known about just what Mengele got up to during his decades in exile, and this time of his life is mostly a big historical blank, but there has been speculation and ideas.
Interestingly, there have been conspiracy theories that Mengele never did give up on his obsessed experimentation with twins, even after fleeing to South America, which has been illuminated by Argentine historian Jorge Camarasa in his book Mengele: the Angel of Death in South America. After spending years piecing together the mysterious time that Mengele spent in the region, he found that German residents of the town of Candido Godoi, Brazil, claimed that Mengele made numerous visits during the 1960s posing as a veterinarian and then a doctor offering various medical services to women in the village. Shortly after these visits the town began to experience a spike in twin births, far over the normal rate and many of them with blonde hair and blue eyes. The town has a remarkable rate of one twin birth in every five pregnancies, and scientists have never really been able to figure out why, but Camarasa thinks he knows, and has told The Telegraph of this:
I think Candido Godoi may have been Mengele's laboratory, where he finally managed to fulfil his dreams of creating a master race of blond haired, blue eyed Aryans.There is testimony that he attended women, followed their pregnancies, treated them with new types of drugs and preparations, that he talked of artificial insemination in human beings, and that he continued working with animals, proclaiming that he was capable of getting cows to produce male twins. Nobody knows for sure exactly what date Mengele arrived in Candido Godoi, but the first twins were born in 1963, the year in which we first hear reports of his presence.
Did Mengele, the Nazi Angel of Death truly continue with his research in South America, and did he finally find what he was looking for, completing his goal decades after and half a world away from where he began? No one really knows. The only thing that can be said for certain is that Mengele has left an indelible taint upon history and remains a dark spot on twin studies and indeed scientific medical research in general, inhabiting the dank cracks and crevices beneath the mossy rock that is the Nazi legacy. We will probably never know what he was up to, what results he had, or whether he ever was successful to any extent, but we can hope that this grim time in history is never again repeated.