Josef Mengele was born the eldest of three children on 16 March 1911 to Karl and Walburga (Hupfauer) Mengele in Günzburg, Bavaria, Germany. His younger brothers were Karl Jr and Alois. Mengele’s father was founder of the Karl Mengele & Sons company, producers of farm machinery. Mengele did well in school and developed an interest in music, art, and skiing. He completed high school in April 1930 and went on to study medicine at Goethe University Frankfurt and philosophy at the University of Munich. Munich was the headquarters of the Nazi Party. In 1931 Mengele joined the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten, a paramilitary organization that was in 1934 absorbed into the Nazi Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment; SA). In 1935, Mengele earned a PhD in anthropology from the University of Munich. In January 1937, at the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt, he became the assistant to Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a scientist conducting genetics research, with a particular interest in twins. As an assistant to von Verschuer, Mengele focused on the genetic factors resulting in a cleft lip and palate or cleft chin. His thesis on the subject earned him a cum laude doctorate in medicine in 1938. Both of his degrees were later rescinded by the issuing universities. In a letter of recommendation, von Verschuer praised Mengele’s reliability and his ability to verbally present complex material in a clear manner. The American author Robert Jay Lifton notes that Mengele’s published works did not deviate much from the scientific mainstream of the time, and would probably have been viewed as valid scientific efforts even outside the borders of Nazi Germany.
US Department of Justice, Criminal Division
In the Matter of Josef Mengele
Report to the Attorney General
United States of America
Exhibits Prepared by : Office of Special Investigations Criminal Division, Neal M. Sher Director, Eli M. Rosenbaum Principal Deputy Director
Josef Mengele was an SS physician, infamous for his inhumane medical experimentation upon concentration camp prisoners at Auschwitz. Born on March 16, 1911, in Günzburg, near Ulm, he was the eldest son of Karl Mengele, a prosperous manufacturer of farming implements. In 1935, Mengele earned a Ph.D. in physical anthropology from the University of Munich. In January 1937, at the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt, he became the assistant of Dr. Otmar von Verschuer, a leading scientific figure widely known for his research with twins. In 1937 Mengele joined the Nazi Party. The following year, the same year in which he received his medical degree, he joined the SS. In June 1940, Mengele was drafted into the army, and thereafter volunteered into the medical service of the Combat Waffen-SS. Although documentation is scant and often contradictory regarding Mengele’s activities between this time and early 1943, it is clear that he first functioned as a medical expert for the Race and Settlement Main Office [Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt, or RuSHA] in summer 1940 at the Central Immigration Office [Einwandererstelle] North-East in Posen (today Poznan) and thereafter served as a medical officer with the SS Division Wiking (SS Pioneer Battalion V), with which he saw action on the Eastern Front. Wounded while on campaign, Mengele returned to Germany in January 1943, and began work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (KWI) for Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics, directed by his former mentor von Verschuer. In April of 1943, he received a promotion to the rank of SS captain; this advancement shortly preceded Mengele’s transfer to Auschwitz, on May 30, 1943.