|AUSCHWITZ: THE RACIAL CURE
|he was. Mengeles beauty, she was saying, and
her capacity to detach that beauty from his actions, provided magic sustenance.
Mengele fed his legend by dramatizing murderous policies, such as his
drawing a line on the wall of the childrens block between 150 and 156
centimeters (about 5 feet or 5 feet 2 inches) from the floor, and sending those
whose heads could not reach the line to the gas chamber. One survivor theorized
that this preoccupation with height had to do with Mengeles own
relatively short stature.
One prisoner doctor thought him
deranged after having witnessed Mengeles rage upon hearing
that an arriving group consisted of psychiatric patients and nurses.
Rage at Jews surviving the Nazi euthanasia policy of killing
mental patients could have been enough to explain this action but one suspects
a more general attitude toward all things psychiatric.
Inmates who were
not subject to his deadly whims could gain perspective on the man. One prisoner
doctor said that Mengele existed in a paradise of illusions; and
another prisoner, observing Mengele in the SS doctors general office where
I didnt have to be afraid of him, went on to say I
didn't notice any special elegance in him.
But noting his energy
and vitality, inmates saw him as a man who thrived in Auschwitz. One wrote that
Dr. Mengele had the air of a man who took great satisfaction in his work
and was pleased with his calling23 This
observation is consistent with that of Ernst B., the SS doctor, who said that
he never talked with his friend about inner conflicts because Mengele had
We can put the matter another way and say that
Mengeles harmony with Auschwitz rendered him unique unto himself, sui
generis, as a former prisoner tells us: You see a handsome, tall man
coming. Do you know if he is a doctor or not a doctor? You know it is Mengele,
A man who assumed
Mengeles level of omnipotence was inevitably seen at times as a savior.
Contributing to this image were his whimsical decisions to let people live, as
well as his insistence that those judged young and strong enough to work stay
in the correct line even when they resisted doing so. A typical account was
that of a woman of twenty-five resisted was directed to the right but when
Mengele turned away, got back to my mothers side (on the
left), was observed by Mengele and sent to her original line only to once more
run to my mothers side, and once more be sent back by
Mengele. Only he, and not the person in question, could decide upon death; and
to be granted life in the face of ones own insistence (however
inadvertent) upon remaining with the doomed could be perceived as a godlike
form of rescue.
Or on a medical block, precisely because Mengele was so
cold and unyielding, the few occasions when he responded to a plea were
rendered almost mythic. One survivor, for instance, believed that in the case
of people who were young and beautiful, maybe a spark