Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Mengele did not become an infamous public figure immediately after the war. He was of course known to Auschwitz survivors, was the object of testimony given in 1945, and was mentioned occasionally during the Nuremberg investigations, but he was not among the accused either there or in subsequent medical trials during the 1940s. It was only in 1958 that he began to reach a status of public infamy, partly through the efforts of the German writer Ernst Schnabel, who learned about Mengele’s Auschwitz activities in the course of research for a book on Anne Frank.¹ Survivors from all over the world began to speak out and provide testimony for developing German legal inquiries. And as Mengele moved through various parts of South America to prevent capture or extradition, these testimonies of survivors continued unabated, along with more dubious reports and claims emanating from those less qualified to speak. While he is known to have spent considerable time in Argentina and Paraguay, his long stay in Brazil has been less recognized: his legend has been extended by reports of encounters in those places, including even a false claim of someone’s having killed him.

Surely no Nazi war criminal has evoked so much fantasy and fiction. In a 1976 novel, made into a widely distributed film, The Boys from Brazil, Mengele is portrayed as a brilliant, fiendish scientist engaged in the cloning of Adolf Hitler. A little over a decade earlier, in a more serious dramatic exploration of Nazi genocide, the play The Deputy, Rolf Hochhuth created a Mengele-like character known only as “the doctor” who “has the stature of Absolute Evil, far more unequivocally so than Hitler.” In a play that generally renders a character sensitively in terms of moral and psychological conflicts, Hochhuth goes on to claim that this Mengele figure so contrasts with “anything that has been learned about human beings” as to resemble an “uncanny visitant from another world,” so that there is no point to exploring his “human features .”² Thus, inadvertently, Hochhuth too has contributed to the cult of demonic personality. And on a leading American television news program, Isser Harrel, who headed the Israeli Secret Police at the time of the Eichmann capture, told an interviewer that “the moment the name of Mengele was mentioned, Eichmann went into a panic”; on that same program, Mengele’s power was reflected in the statement of a man who claimed to see him regularly in Paraguay and lauded his Auschwitz effort “to rid ourselves of society’s cripples,”³ but in a way that “didn’t do anything more than scratch the surface.” We need to take a step back from the legend and look at the man, at what he did in Auschwitz.
What we know about the thirty-two-year-old man who arrived in Auschwitz on 30 May 1943 is not especially remarkable. He was the second son of a well-to-do Bavarian industrialist — not from an “old” German family but from one that could be considered nouveau riche. The family is de- […scribed]  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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