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The Skeleton of Infamous Nazi Doctor Josef Mengele Is Now a Teaching Aid For Medical Students

Learning from the past.

PETER DOCKRILL
12 JAN 2017
 

Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor who notoriously conducted human experiments on prisoners including children at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, is now himself the subject of medical study.

 

The remains of Mengele, who died in exile in Brazil in 1979 having fled Europe after the war, are now being used in classes at the University of São Paulo to help medical students learn about forensic science.

The idea came from pathologist Daniel Romero Muñoz – one of the researchers who identified Mengele's skeleton when it was exhumed in 1985, and is now a lecturer in the university's medical school.

"The bones will be helpful to teach how to examine the remains of an individual and then match that information with data in documents related to the person," Muñoz told the Associated Press.

Mengele's eventual identification in 1985 – later confirmed by DNA analysis in 1992 – followed an international operation by the US, West German, and Israeli governments to track down the physician, who had eluded capture for almost four decades after WWII.

But despite the coordinated effort, once the body was found, the bones spent more than 30 years in storage at São Paulo's Legal Medical Institute, after his family refused to repatriate his body to Germany.

 

It was only much later when Muñoz realised that the remains of the man nicknamed the "Angel of Death" could serve as a remarkable teaching aid for students.

What makes Mengele's bones ripe for medical study isn't just the man's gruesome history as a Nazi scientist, but also the forensic traces of his life in military service and the health issues that plagued him during his years in hiding and exile.

"For example, examining Mengele's remains, we saw a fractured left pelvis," Muñoz said, an injury that can be linked to "information found in his army record [indicating] that he fractured his pelvis in a motorcycle accident in Auschwitz".

Mengele's skull also shows evidence of a small hole in its left cheekbone, the legacy of an enduring case of sinusitis (nasal inflammation), which proved instrumental in identifying his skeleton.

And if students observe closely, they may be able to spot traces of Mengele's dental abscesses – which, while in hiding, he is reported to have treated himself with a razor blade.

But while Mengele's remains are now being studied by a new generation of scientists, Holocaust survivors are still coming to terms with the torturous experiments the man once submitted them to several decades ago.

"He made me shower in scalding water that stripped off my hair and skin. When I complained it was too hot he said if I didn't stay in the water he would kill me," Holocaust survivor Cyrla Gewertz, who later emigrated to São Paulo, told media in 2016.

"This perverse torture was not even enough for him. After the hot water he put me in cold water. I'll never forget this for my whole life."

Other Mengele experiments were even more horrific, including injecting dyes into the eyes of children, starving babies to see how long they could survive without food, and sewing twins together to research conjoined twins.

Thousands more who didn't die as a result of his gruesome experiments were sent by Mengele to perish in gas chambers.

The researchers at São Paulo hope that using Mengele's remains in the study of forensic science will also help students learn about the history of the Nazi scientists – and their ultimate effects.

"[P]hysicians, psychiatrists, and other leading scientists were in the service of the Reich, lending their knowledge to exclude the ethnic groups classified as belonging to inferior races," historian Luiza Tucci Carneiro, from the university's Laboratory for the Study of Ethnicity, Racism, and Discrimination, told the Associated Press.

"An exclusion that culminated in genocide."

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