Josef Mengele

One of the horrors you hear about when reading about Auschwitz was that of its chief doctor, Dr. Josef Mengele. Reportedly, he performed hundreds if not thousands of experiments upon prisoners, most of which were more akin to torture than to scientific research.

However, did he learn anything of importance? Anything used today? Not to condone his actions at all, but it seems there is a wide variety of things we can’t fully research because the research would cause undue pain or simply go outside the bounds of human decency. A situation like Mengele’s would be one of the few times to look into these things (not that his experiemtns weren’t cruel or outside of decency, rather that he didn’t care and wasn’t accountable to anyone).

Were his records ever read? Was anything used or useful? Would he even be credited if he did? I imagine that reccommending the Mengele Treatment would be a hard sell in the E.R.

“I guess one person can make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

There was a debate a few years ago in Israel about whether it was moral (or should be legal) to exploit Nazi research derived from human suffering. I never did hear the result.

Of course they were READ … all that stuff had to be vetted by the Nuremburg tribunal for all atrocities.
Mengele himself is best remembered as being particularly interested in twins, and he did a hell of a lot of research on twin children and what made them tick.
Seeing as how this was before the advanced knowledge of biology that we have today (which includes DNA and so on), I would venture to say that anything he had to say is now obsolete.
But other Nazi doctors and scientists besides Mengele came up with a few things that the US and others found of great, albeit top-secret, interest.
Two such things that come to mind immediately are the reaction of the human body to stages of vacuum and depressurization (performed in Nazi pressure chambers, and of great interest to the young space programs), and how best to save someone who is all but dead from extreme cold.
The latter was from experiments conducted on hundreds of concentration camp inmates and was intended to aid the plight of German pilots fished out of the North Sea. It involved submerging adults in icy water for a long time and then trying different means to revive them. By and large these experiments were failures (i.e. they all pretty much died), but they did provide a solid data field on the effects of ice-water immersion unobtainable by any other means.

It’s easy to find stuff regarding the experiments, quite another to find anything on their utility.

Mengele’s experiments were, as were the efforts of some, but not all, of the other Nazi doctors, designed to include the death of the patients. I couldn’t find anything that described his work as useful.

I did gather, though, that some researchers find some utility in Nazi data on hypothermia, phosgene gas and neuropathology.

Here’s a couple of links:

Holocaust survivors who survived tests by Mengele have sued pharmaceutical maker Bayer AG and two others, claiming the companies assisted Mengele in his work. From the ABC News site:


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide

OK, so we put aside the moral issue for a moment.

There is another problem with the data – it was NOT scientific. The persons conducting the “experiments” were largely sadists who WANTED to kill and hurt people. Therefore, their results are suspect. Simple example: a person dropped into the ice-cold tank might well have been beaten or starved before the “experiment”, so the fatality could arise from ill-treatment, independent of the cold.

In a very few instances, I believe the data has been “used” because there is (one hopes) no other way that there would be any data at all. However, the uses have been extremely limited because the experimental conditions were far far less than rigourous.

On the moral issues: The concept that the ice-water tortures were being done to help Nazi pilots who fell into the North Sea is a pile of sh-- um, rationalization. The victims in the death camps were starved, beaten, and naked: drawing conclusions for pilots who were well fed, young/healthy, and warmly dressed is silly. The torturers may have tried to soothe whatever was left of their conscience by such rationalizations, but those rationalizations are yet another example of the “big lie” that the Nazis used for self-deception and for deception of their tools (people who might otherwise object.)

There was a famous experiment done in the U.S. in the 50s, to see to what extent Americans would inflict pain on others. The stronger the rationalization, the more scientifically expressed, the more cooperative were the subjects in increasing the pain levels on their victims. Frightening, but the same thing.

If I remember my reading correctly, the Japanese also conducted “experiments” on prisoners - both military and civilians - during World War II. I also seem to remember that there was some sort of deal made, that the murderers traded their records and results for not being prosecuted. Remember that we had physically over run Germany, but not the Japanese. They had time to destroy and hide much of the evidence, and the Allied prosecutors were unsure of getting convictions, and there was some pressure to get the war trials over with. So supposedly, they cut a deal and the bastards got away.

Some of the research is detailed in the book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”. One of the most significant things I recall was the finding that a man submerged in ice water warmed up faster between two prostitutes. Now that’s research !

Actually, Dr. Mengele was later employed as a dentist in Akron, Ohio in the early sixties under the alias of Dr. Slife. “Vee don’t need no aneshhtetic for zis zimple egstrakshun !”

I might be wrong, but I thought the ice-water/hypothermia experiments did yield some useful information to the world. I thought there was a big debate over the ethics of this (mostly a moot argument, since the information couldn’t really be pried out of all the “How to save a hypothermic person” handbooks it would have propagated itself into).

I don’t know if Mengele had anything to do with it, but I thought the upshot was, Warm someone up pretty slowly if they’re hypothermic. Warm them up too quickly and they’ll die (of heart failure? can’t remember). The experiments were performed in heinous ways, no doubt about that, but I can conceive of some data about survival rates among people being thawed out at different speeds being yielded.

Mengele did lots of experiments on twins, but I’ve never heard of anything useful coming out of that. The results probably got folded into some “Aryans are superior everybody else is chopped liver” message.

Boris, as I recall, much of the twin “research” had to do with trying to make someone Aryan through use of injected dyes, other chemicals and/or surgery. That was partly what made me ask the OP, namely that Mengele had the chance to do some research no one else had ever had the chance to try and did he spend it learning something actually useful or waste it screwing around with torture and quackery. From the responses, it seems like a bit of both, although I’d think there were more Nazi experiments done besides just on hypothermia, pressure and pysogene (or whatever it was). Perhaps hypothermia is the only one with any even partially useful data? Or data that isn’t obsolete?

“I guess one person can make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

Anyone know which medical school gets to take credit for Dr. Mengele as one of their Alma mater?

About Mengele’s medical school? I think he was actually trained as a dentist. (Remember the movie Marathon Man - Is it safe?) No real physician could stand to put people through such torture and agony. A dentist, however…

According to his bio on Josef Mengele was awarded a medical degree by University of Frankfurt in July of 1938.


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide