Angel of Death’ on the Block

A U.S. auction house put up for sale numerous handwritten documents from Josef Mengele’s estate, which offer a glimpse into what interested Auschwitz’s infamous doctor 15 years after the war.

The drawing pictured below is part of the estate of Dr. Josef Mengele, Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death,” the doctor who experimented on prisoners in the extermination camp. On Thursday, a Connecticut auction house put it up for sale, along with manuscripts from the Nazi war criminal’s estate.

Update: Ultra-Orthodox man buys diaries of Nazi doctor Mengele for $245,000

Pencil sketch by Mengele July 22, 2011 (Alexander Autographs)
Courtesy of Alexander Autographs

The entire collection contains about 3,000 pages of documents in Mengele’s handwriting, including stories, poems, philosophical reflections, minutes from conversations and paintings. The asking price is between $300,000 and $400,000. The Alexander Autographs auction house is behind the sale. As is standard, the seller himself has remained anonymous. The auction house nevertheless confirmed that it is not one of Mengele’s descendents, who live in Germany and share their patriarch’s family name.

The director of the auction house, Bill Panagopulos, is very familiar with the criticism related to commercialization of the Holocaust − earning money from selling Nazi-era souvenirs and turning senior Nazi officials’ paintings and manuscripts into expensive collectors’ items. Thus, before offering Mengele’s journals for sale, he tried to sell them to institutions and museums for Holocaust research. A representative from Yad Vashem perused the material. Nobody was willing to pay for it.

“Yad Vashem does not generally purchase documentation of this type. The auction house asked a very high price for the material, so we said we wouldn’t buy the collection,” said a source at the Jerusalem institution.

Joseph Mengele
Getty images

“Though public sentiment has changed a great deal in the past 20 years, the subject is still considered ‘tainted’ or ‘dirty,’” said Panagopulos in an interview over e-mail. “What people fail to realize is that history is not just Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, or our American Revolution ... It’s also the Holocaust, and the massacres of American Indians, the lynching of blacks accused of even looking at white women, Pol Pot, Stalin and Mao’s purges ... even Nixon illegally bombing Cambodia. We also must learn from the ugly episodes in history, not just from the ‘pretty’ ones.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center just paid $150,000 for a Hitler letter discussing reasons for his anti-Semitism. Ours is a bargain in comparison. Sorry − I don’t want to sound like I’m selling used cars, because this is serious business,” he added.

“I know that if the journals do not sell now, they will disappear for years, and may be broken up and sold separately. This is possibly the last chance for the archive to be sold as a whole, and I am not speaking as a salesman, only as a historian,” said Panagopulos. He also expressed concern that the diaries could come into the hands of neo-Nazis.

The Nazi’s philosophy

Josef Mengele was born in 1911 to a family of agricultural equipment manufacturers from Bavaria, in southern Germany. After studying medicine, he joined the Nazi Party in 1938. In 1943 he was posted as a doctor in the Auschwitz extermination camp, where he carried out experiments on human beings. Especially infamous were his experiments on twins.

At the end of the war, he fled Germany to Argentina and from there to Paraguay and Brazil.

Part of the time he lived under an assumed name, under the protection of his family and friends. Israel’s Mossad found him, but due to operational and political reasons he wasn’t captured, as opposed to his colleague Adolf Eichmann, who was kidnapped in Argentina, put on trial in Jerusalem and executed. In 1979 Mengele drowned in the sea in Brazil. For years there were conspiracy theories claiming he wasn’t really dead. Only in 1992 did DNA tests finally confirm he is indeed buried in Brazil.

In 2004, the German police seized his journals in a raid on the home of the couple with whom Mengele lived in Sao Paulo; the journals were later given to his son, Rolf Mengele. From there they were passed on, and excerpts were published. They ultimately reached an American collector who is now offering them for sale, said the auction house.

The estate includes many philosophical reflections and meditations. Some follow the Nazi worldview and its race theory. Others are more a confused collection of incomprehensible statements. Two journal entries, which are being published here for the first time, offer a glimpse at what preoccupied Mengele years after the war.

On August 6, 1960, a few months after Eichmann was kidnapped by the Mossad, Mengele wrote in his journal about the situation in Germany 15 years after the war: “I began reading the newspapers and magazines that ‘captivated’ me late into the night. Deeply saddened I went to bed at 11 o’clock.

“The mudslinging [misrepresentation] in the ‘German’ magazines is unbelievable. [Unbelievable are] the magazines and the pictured proofs of the spineless current German rulers, who tolerate or even encourage this act of undignified self-defilement. The political lie and the contemporary history is being twisted and warped. It’s dripping of humanity and Christianity and our dear God is the most quoted. Behind all this is only the old testamentary hate against everything Germanic, heroic and human supremacy.”

Later Mengele discussed the historical place of what he called the “great” leaders, without mentioning names.

“One should never regard the great historic characters as enemies, no matter in what area, but as the ones that moved the development of the whole of humanity forward. Whenever such a so-called ‘dualism’ existed, it was a benefit for the development of the western world. Without it [dualism], meaning an outstanding personality without an opponent, the results were bad or insignificant for the future,” he wrote.

Mengele did not spare criticism for the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which defeated Germany in World War II: “When speaking of the ‘century of fear’ I only agree when thinking of the current leaders. Do people like [Nikita] Khrushchev [premier of the Soviet Union], with his petty bourgeois brutality, or [U.S. President Dwight] Eisenhower, in his timid mediocrity, guarantee that one day, when they are at wits end with their basic political and economic beliefs, they will not just take the atomic bomb and eventually eradicate mankind on this planet. But even that − as mentioned earlier, would not matter in the bigger picture.”

Other entries show the doctor’s anti-Semitism. “I heard the anecdote about the old Jew, who, before his death, told his son to climb onto the table and fall backward into the arms of his father. The moral of the story is the advice: Don’t trust anybody, not even your own father. Without going into specifics, such human behavior ‏(in the figurative sense‏) seems to be typical for and between Jews. But I am not one and I hope that my son doesn’t have Jewish blood either.

“Caution and legitimate lack of trust are certainly recommended in order to protect yourself from disappointment. Up to this point that’s all right. But there have to be limits even to lack of trust, otherwise real and honest relations between people are impossible. There must not be a lack of trust between a father and son. If the relations are like that, then they become spoiled in a hereditary manner, from inside. I can’t understand the suggestion of the old Jew from the story. They are clear to me like the fourth commandment: ‘Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days on earth may be long [sic].’”

In addition to Mengele’s dairies, the auction house put other items from the Nazi period on the block. Among other things, they included a signed picture of Hitler taken a few days before he was arrested for participating in the 1924 Munich beer celler putsch ‏(with an asking price of about $15,000‏); the writ of defense of Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, in his Nuremberg trial ‏(about $10,000‏); a greeting card sent by Hitler to an unknown addressee, who shared his birthday ‏(about $10,000‏); and the promotion papers of an SD security service officer, signed by Reinhard Heydrich ‏(about $3,000‏).