The remains of Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi leader who was known as the “Angel of Death” for his torturous experiments on prisoners, are now being used to teach medical students at a Brazilian university.
Mengele died in Brazil decades after fleeing Auschwitz. For 30 years his cranium and his bones had been left untouched in a blue plastic bag on a shelf at Sao Paulo’s Institute for Forensic Medicine.
Then last spring, Dr. Daniel Romero Munoz, head of the Department of Legal Medicine at the University of Sao Paulo’s Medical School, got permission to use the remains in his forensic medical courses.
“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,” Munoz told The Associated Press.
Mengele had been on the run for decades, hiding all over South America for performing experiments on concentration camp inmates and selecting thousands of them for gas chambers.
“I don’t know what I feel” about Mengele’s bones being studied, said Cyrla Gewertz, a 92-year-old Auschwitz survivor who lived in one of the same Brazilian towns as Mengele.
Gewertz, who was born in Poland, called Mengele’s experiments perverse. “I was hairless and naked at a barrack in Auschwitz and he made me submerge in boiling water and then in freezing cold water,” she told the JTA.
“I already have too many painful memories of him and what he did to me and others at Auschwitz. These are memories I cannot erase from my mind,” she told AP.
Mengele’s secretive life on the run is part of what make his bones a useful teaching tool, Munoz told AP.
“For example, examining Mengele’s remains, we saw a fractured left pelvis,” he said to a group of his students, adding that “information found in his army record said that he fractured his pelvis in a motorcycle accident in Auschwitz.”
Munoz also explained that a small hole in the left cheekbone of Mengele’s skull was the result of long-term sinusitis.
Mengele had been hiding in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil before he died swimming off the coast of Sao Paulo. In 1985, German authorities intercepted a letter by a German couple who had been hiding him, informing his family of his death.
They exhumed his body, and a team of forensic specialists – led by Dr. Munoz – confirmed that the body was indeed Mengele.
His family refused to have the remains repatriated to Germany, so they were left in the Brazilian morgue.
Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. She is a graduate journalism student at New York University, where she studies as a Fulbright scholar. She also holds a B.A. in Jewish history from the University of Munich.
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