On June 6, 1985, in Our Lady of the Rosary cemetery in Embu, Brazil, the grave of Wolfgang Gerhard was opened and the skeletal remains were clumsily removed. The Brazilian police, acting on information received from German authorities, believed they were digging up the final hideout of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele.
Within days, six forensic scientists were dispatched from the United States to help with the identification of the corpse, which had lain undisturbed since February 1979. Dr. John Fitzpatrick, head of the Department of Radiology at Cook County Hospital, and Dr. Clyde Snow, forensic anthropology consultant to the Cook County medical examiner, were among the six specialists. In Sao Paulo, they met with teams from Germany, Israel, and Brazil, worked long hours for four days, and came to the conclusion that the Embu skeleton was that of Josef Mengele, "within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty."
For most of the world, that announcement closed the book on the evil doctor of Auschwitz. In the world of international diplomacy, however, the book stayed open. Snow and Fitzpatrick and their colleagues had said that the Embu man was Mengele "within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty." They had not said "beyond a reasonable doubt."
In Terre Haute, Indiana, a reasonable doubter stepped forward in the person of Eva Kor, a short, blond-haired realtor, 50 years old, who had known Josef Mengele far better than any of the specialists who had flown to Brazil. Kor has the number 7063 tattooed on her arm, and her twin sister Miriam, who died last spring, carried the number 7064. Both tattoos were applied when the sisters, age nine, arrived at Auschwitz in 1944. They were two of the 3,000 twins who were set aside as fodder for Josef Mengele's experiments, and they were two of the 400 twins who survived.
In 1984, 40 years after their arrival in Auschwitz and a year before the discovery of the body in Brazil, the two sisters set out to locate and organize the twins who had survived the camp. They formed a group named CANDLES (an acronym for Children Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors), which now has 120 members in ten countries on four continents. On January 27, 1985, five months before the exhumation in Embu, the twins organization visited Auschwitz to mark the 40th anniversary of the camp's liberation. They went on from Auschwitz to Jerusalem, where they held a mock trial of Mengele at which 106 survivors of his research lined up to testify. Television stations all over the world carried reports of the event, and in its wake the United States, Israel, and Germany agreed to join forces in their search for the old Nazi. Soon more than $3.5 million in reward money had been posted by governments, organizations, and individuals, and newspaper, magazine, and television reporters all wanted to talk to Eva Kor.
So when the Embu corpse turned up just a few months later, Kor was very suspicious. It seemed particularly odd that just as the new effort to find Mengele was being launched, the body would conveniently turn up. It also seemed unlikely that the Mengele family in Germany, long pestered by questions about the whereabouts of Josef, would not have shouted the news of his death from the rooftops six years earlier in an attempt to put the family scourge behind them. The survivors speculated that Mengele and his wealthy family had felt the heat, found a ringer, and staged a hoax.
Questions raised by Kor and others about the identification of the Embu man resulted in a certain official silence on the part of the governments of Israel, West Germany, and the United States. After the Embu dig months passed and then years, and the reports filed with the Department of Justice by Fitzpatrick and Snow and their colleagues were not released. Although officially it seemed that the search had ended, the Department of Justice produced no report, and neither did the German or Israeli authorities.
Eva Kor continued to speak her mind and work very hard. She has visited the Mengele factory in Gunzburg. She has talked with Dieter Mengele, the Nazi's nephew, who runs the firm and who kept his uncle's location secret for decades. She has spoken with Irene Hackenjos, Mengele's first wife and the mother of his son Rolf. Unrelenting, she recently interviewed Dr. Hans Munch, a former SS doctor at Auschwitz, who is a pivotal figure in her theory that Josef Mengele is not dead.
Kor has not been alone in her doubts, but in the years since the discovery of the body in Brazil, she has been the loudest doubter. She presides over the twins organization fearlessly, denouncing governments and individuals casually and in no uncertain terms. The forensic scientists who made the identification in Sao Paulo, she said in a recent interview, are bad people, opportunists, and liars, and the Embu remains are "the phony baloney bones."
Josef Mengele grew up in Gunzburg, Germany, a small town in which the Mengele family name came to be well known, not for Josef's atrocities but for the family firm, Karl Mengele & Sons, a farm equipment manufacturer that is today the town's largest employer. Josef studied anthropology and medicine, joined the SS, and was sent to the Russian front in June 1941. He did not assume the role of concentration camp doctor until May 1943. He achieved his reputation as "the Angel of Death" in just 20 months; the Auschwitz complex was overrun by the Russian army in January 1945.
During that short period Mengele committed a great variety of crimes against individuals and groups of people; an indictment filed in Frankfurt in 1961 runs 33 pages in its English translation. Among other charges, it alleges that: Mengele participated in the selections on the railway platform--the sorting out of people to be kept alive as laborers from those who would be killed directly. Sometimes he also supervised the gas chambers. After the arrival of one transport, an elderly Jew complained about being separated from his healthy son; Mengele struck the old man on the head with an iron-studded stick, killing him on the spot. In sorting out another transport, a woman protested when she and her adolescent daughter were separated; Mengele shot her, and in his continuing rage ordered all of those who had already been selected for work to be gassed instead. On Mengele's orders, 300 children who arrived on a train in August 1944 were burned to death, and he had 1,035 gypsies gassed on May 25, 1943, because some were suspected of having typhoid fever. Mengele also was alleged to have personally killed prisoners by injecting phenol, gasoline, chloroform, or air into the blood stream or the heart chambers, sometimes under the guise of providing treatment for illnesses.
While working at Auschwitz, Mengele conducted various research projects. He injected infections. He ran electrical currents through bodies. He exposed a group of Polish nuns to extreme amounts of radiation. In August 1944 he needed some subjects for dissection, so he shot approximately 100 children in the back of the head. He killed an unknown number of people in order to use their eyes in demonstrations; he was known to dispatch jars full of eyes with the camp mail. He had a special fascination with twins, in part because the Nazis wanted to increase the birth rate of the master race, and so he carried out hideous experiments on numerous sets of brothers and sisters. He tried to change the eye color of some by injecting dye. He sterilized some of the female twins and castrated some of the males. He injected typhus and tuberculosis germs to trace the course of the disease in the children. If one twin died for any reason, often the other would be killed to permit a simultaneous dissection.
Of the twins who survived, many would suffer, physically and psychologically, as a result of Mengele's experiments; but because they were children and adolescents at the time and because Mengele did not explain what he was doing, they have no way of knowing what the doctor injected, what he exposed them to, or what knowledge he hoped to gain by his acts. Eva Kor, for example, knows she was injected with something that gave her a tremendous fever and was expected to cause her death, but she does not know what that was. She and the other twins, however, believe reports of Mengele's experiments may still exist, and they hope one day to uncover them.
Mengele escaped prosecution immediately after World War II for several reasons. Despite the number and severity of the crimes he had committed, there were other fugitives who were considered far worse and who were higher on the list of those sought by the Allied forces. Mengele also had no SS tattoo, so he was not picked out of the ranks of POWs as other SS men were. In the chaos of postwar Europe, American prosecutors came to believe first that he was dead--his wife Irene had arranged for a memorial Mass to be said for him, although she knew he was alive--and later that he had already been put on trial by the Polish government.
Mengele was in fact hiding out on a farm in rural Germany, working as a laborer. His family contributed to his support and aided his eventual escape to South America. In the 1950s he came to live quite openly in Buenos Aires, with the Mengele name listed in the phone book and on his front door. In 1956 he filed an application for a passport with the German embassy, making no attempt to disguise his name. He received the passport, but 1959 brought renewed interest in his wartime exploits and he was forced to go into hiding again. In May of that year Adolf Eichmann, also living in Buenos Aires, was kidnapped and taken to Israel to stand trial; Mengele feared he might be next. In June he was indicted in Germany "on emphatic suspicion of murder and attempted murder," and preliminary inquiries were made in order to extradite him from Argentina. By that time he had already fled to Paraguay. In late 1960 he moved to Brazil.
Over the years, various theories surfaced about the doctor's location. In 1977 Simon Wiesenthal announced that Mengele was living in Paraguay in a grand house surrounded by armed guards with walkie-talkies, and that he was a frequent visitor to the German Club in Asuncion, where he demonstrated his manliness by slamming his gun down on the bar. Later Wiesenthal announcements had Mengele living in Nazi colonies in Chile, in Bolivia, and in Uruguay. The U.S. government believed he was being shielded by Alfredo Stroessner's government in Paraguay and pressed Stroessner to produce him for extradition.
While Nazi hunters foraged about, Mengele's family in Germany knew quite well where he was. The family firm was helping to support him, funneling him money through Hans Sedlmeier, the sales manager. While on vacation in the fall of 1984, Sedlmeier and his wife dined with a German university professor at a hotel and Sedlmeier made casual mention of the fact that he had sent Mengele money through the years. The professor passed the information on to the police, who raided Sedlmeier's house the following May. They found an address book full of phone numbers from Sao Paulo and photocopies of letters to and from Mengele that Sedlmeier's wife had kept as souvenirs, unknown to her husband.
Among the letters was one written in 1979 by Sao Paulo residents Wolfram and Liselotte Bossert. The letter begins, "It is with great grief that today I am carrying out the painful obligation of having to inform you and all relatives of the death of our mutual friend." The mutual friend, referred to as "Uncle" but never by name, had died by drowning despite Wolfram Bossert's attempt to rescue him; the letter described the death and burial. It also indicated an intention to "continue secrecy now as before. This is intended not only to avoid personal unpleasantness but also to compel the opposition to continue wasting money and effort on something that has already been superseded by events."
After finding the letter the West German police contacted Brazilian authorities, and the Brazilians interrogated the Bosserts. The Bosserts said that Mengele was indeed the "Uncle" of the letter and that he was buried in the Embu cemetery under the name of Wolfgang Gerhard. The Brazilians then did their exhumation, and forensic specialists and Mengele investigators from Germany, Israel, and the United States boarded planes to Sao Paulo.
Radiologist John Fitzpatrick first met anthropologist Clyde Snow in the wake of the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 at O'Hare on May 25, 1979. Snow was then on the staff of the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aero Medical Institute. He had initially been hired to investigate high-impact plane crashes with an eye to improving protection for passengers and crews, but over the course of many years he had also developed considerable expertise in identifying skeletal remains. When the DC-10 went down at O'Hare, Snow was called in to help sort out the remains of the 273 people killed in the crash. He found himself working with Dr. Lowell Levine, a forensic odontologist from New York, and Dr. Robert Kirschner, a forensic pathologist and deputy medical examiner of Cook County. Identifying 273 people from a collection of more than 15,000 fragments is no small task. Dr. Robert Stein, Cook County medical examiner, recognized the need for a radiologist, someone who could take X rays of body parts and match them with X rays supplied by grieving families, so he called on John Fitzpatrick, head of the radiology department at Cook County Hospital.
Fitzpatrick was a relative newcomer to forensic work. While serving in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969 he had made X rays of a few dead pilots, and he had once helped in the identification of an unknown female corpse in a Chicago case, but his real expertise was with the living not the dead. Nevertheless he proved adept and the group worked well together, and they have since appeared in various parts of the world helping to investigate human rights abuses. Fitzpatrick has built a considerable reputation in the process and is now recognized as the world's foremost authority on forensic radiology. After taking part in a mission to Argentina in March 1985, he stopped off on his way home to deliver a lecture in Brazil. When he returned to Brazil in June to help with the Mengele identification, he found that he had already met some of the Brazilian team. Inspired by his earlier visit, they had already X-rayed the corpse.
Unfortunately, there were no predeath X rays to compare to those taken of the Embu corpse. The diaries left behind by the man believed to be Mengele indicated that he had been X-rayed three times, once because of a colon problem, once because of back pain, and a third time for a root canal. The author of the diary seemed paranoid, however, and his entries were often in code or in abbreviations, making the doctors and dentist difficult to identify. Brazilian investigators eventually located the doctors who had operated on the man's colon, and these doctors vividly recalled the patient, whom they knew as Peter Hochbichler, but they told the police that Hochbichler had insisted on retaining sole possession of the X rays after his treatment. The physician involved in the back treatment was never found. Investigators found a dentist with the same name as the one in the diary, but he said he had never treated Hochbichler or anyone who resembled the Josef Mengele in the photographs recovered from the two families who had hidden him.
While the Brazilian police were going about trying to find X rays, the forensic teams were working over the skeleton. In their account of the investigation in the book Witnesses From the Grave (Little, Brown, 1991), Christopher Joyce and Eric Stover described the tasks taken on by each set of specialists. The three anthropologists--Americans Clyde Snow and Ellis Kerley and Brazilian Daniel Munoz--measured the dimensions of the skull and thereby established that the skeleton belonged to a Caucasian. The large brow ridge and the characteristics of the hip bones indicated that the skeleton was not female. Using a formula applied to measurements of the femur (the thigh bone) and the tibia (the shin bone), the three scientists determined that the dead man had been 173.5 centimeters tall, and by comparing the right humerus (the long bone of the upper arm) and femur with those on the left they learned that the Embu man had been right-handed. Kerley took a thin cross section of the femur, put it under a microscope, and counted the blood-carrying canals; the canals increase as a person ages. From that count, Kerley determined that the man had most likely been 68 or 69 years old when he died.
All of that was consistent with information gleaned from Mengele's SS file. The file indicated that Mengele was 174 centimeters tall and that he would have been a month shy of his 68th birthday when he supposedly died. The Bosserts had said that Mengele was right-handed, and although the forensic specialists were trying to arrive at a conclusion independent of information from Mengele's protectors, who were ardent Nazis, they noted that consistency. A photo in the SS file showed that Mengele had a high brow, and that was also present in the Embu skull.
In one of the SS photos, a smiling Mengele displayed a prominent gap between his front teeth, a condition known to dentists as a diastema that occurs in 5 to 7 percent of Caucasians. The Embu skull had no gap because the front teeth were missing, having been replaced by a denture. From the X rays of the skull, however, Lowell Levine determined that the Embu man had a wide incisor canal, a feature common in people who have a gap between their front teeth. Unfortunately, it was not a hard and fast correlation, as some people with wide incisor canals do not have gap-toothed smiles.
The SS file reported that the doctor had suffered from osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone marrow, and that was corroborated by two doctors who had known Mengele. There was some question, however, about where the infection had occurred. The SS file indicated that Mengele had the disease at the age of 15, but it did not indicate which bone had been infected. One of Mengele's classmates in medical school recalled that the disease was on the tibia, that it was serious enough to require an operation to remove a sequestrum (a section of dead bone caused by the infection), and that the leg was visibly deformed. The second doctor, however, who had met Mengele briefly just after the war ended, told Justice Department investigators that Mengele said he had had a mild case of the disease, that the infection was located in his right hip, and that no sequestrum had formed. While a mild case might not show up on an elderly skeleton, a serious case would definitely be visible, particularly one that had necessitated surgery.
Fitzpatrick pored over the X rays but could find no trace of the disease. "Sometimes the historical information you get from people is inaccurate," he says. "It happened to us when we were identifying the victims of John Gacy and some parents told us that their son had a metal plate in his head. We eliminated him from the list of possible victims because none had a metal plate. Then I went though all the antemortem X rays looking for things that Clyde [Snow] might not have seen when he went through the skeleton, and everything seemed to match with this guy we had already eliminated except that the skull didn't show a metal plate. So we got the police to go back and get the actual medical records, and the records showed that he had had a depressed fracture but there was no metal plate. And so the historical evidence that we got from the family had been incorrect.
"And even in the DC-10 crash, there was a guy who had supposedly been shot with a .22 in a store. It finally turned out that he'd been shot with a BB gun. It took a long time to get the right historical information. And if you talk to your own mother or my mother the things that they recall will not always be anatomically accurate. A person could have a sore, it could be getting very red, and the doctor might say, 'He could develop osteomyelitis.' And your parents say, 'What's that?' and the doctor says, 'It's an infection of the bone,' and that is what sticks in the parents' head. Because if Mengele had had a bad case of osteomyelitis, we would have seen some changes. And that is what people outside of the scientists who went down there were worried about later--that there was no osteomyelitis in the skeleton."
Other pieces of the puzzle, however, were falling into place. Handwriting experts and document examiners sent by the U.S. Department of Justice had also been given samples of the SS file, written by Mengele, to compare with more recent documents found in the possession of the Bosserts. They found the handwriting and signatures to have been committed by the same hand. They later established that the inks used in the documents had all been manufactured prior to 1979, the year the Embu man was buried.
Richard Helmer, a forensic anthropologist sent by the Germans, applied his own tests to the skull. Helmer specialized in skull-face superimposition, a technique in which a video of a skull is superimposed upon a video of a face. Various measurements applied to the resulting image can determine if the face and skull belong to the same person, and Helmer had developed the art to such an extent that it had been accepted as a means of identification by German courts. Helmer reconstructed the Embu skull, which had been broken by an energetic digger in the course of the exhumation. (After seeing clips of the dig on television, Clyde Snow had told a journalist from NBC that "having the police dig up a skeleton is a little bit like having a chimpanzee do a heart transplant.") Helmer compared that skull to various photographs of Mengele from his years in the SS and to photographs confiscated from the Bosserts. Everything lined up: the nose cavity fell where the nose was, the eye sockets matched the eyes, the jaw lined up with the mouth. Helmer was absolutely convinced that he had found Mengele, and he presented his work to the other scientists present, who were duly impressed.
After spending four days with the skeleton, the American scientists retired to put together their report. There was some debate. The consistencies were significant: the sex, the race, the height, the prominent brow, the suggestion of a gap between the front teeth--all matched what was known about Mengele. There was no osteomyelitis, but there was a match in the handwriting samples, and there was a report from a German team that had compared the SS photos and the Sao Paulo photos and found 24 matching physical traits. Finally, there was Helmer's impressive skull-face superimposition.
But there was also reason to be cautious. Helmer's technique was not universally accepted. It seemed to depend to some extent on the ability of the person using it. Various experts had been fooled two years earlier by the Hitler diaries, forged by a collector of Hitler memorabilia. And Ellis Kerley, the anthropologist who had established the age of the Embu man using a microscope, had recently made a terrible blunder. A few months before the Embu dig, he and two other anthropologists had been asked to examine some photos provided by Nazi-hunting New York Post reporters; the three scientists, working independently, concluded that the elderly man in the photos was the same as the man in photos taken from Mengele's SS file. The Post's suspect eventually proved to be a completely innocent Uruguayan.
"We agonized," Snow says. "We had a meeting until four or five in the morning trying to come up with the proper phraseology, with the proper weight for the statement. In cases of this sort we usually use the term 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' which generally means we are 100 percent certain. We didn't feel then that based on the biological evidence--not considering the documentary evidence--just from what we could tell from the bones, that we had enough so that if we had been working on a case in Cook County we would have said 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' So we said, 'It is our opinion that this skeleton is Josef Mengele within a reasonable scientific certainty.' We felt that was a little short of 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' but it conveyed the weight of the biological evidence."
The scientists' statement ended with the line, "A more detailed report will be issued at a later date."
After he returned to the United States, Snow met with representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "People were suspicious," he recalls. "There was a theory that Mengele had found a ringer, and when the time came and things got too hot he dumped the ringer so everyone would call off their search.
"There was a lot of mythology about Mengele. He was supposed to be some supergenius. There was this legend that he would be surrounded by beautiful women, guard dogs, and ex-SS men in some big mansion in the jungle in Paraguay. There were a lot of romantics looking for him. Instead we find this crotchety old man living under very modest circumstances on the outskirts of Sao Paulo--one of the worst places in the world to have to live. Things just didn't fit the picture. Those who objected most intensely were the survivors. Some of them were very hostile. This just couldn't be their Dr. Mengele. And other survivors just got depressed. It was almost as if for many years the idea that kept some of them alive was that sooner or later they would catch this son of a bitch and bring him to justice, and then he eluded it. It kind of pulled an emotional rug out from under them."
One of those who was dissatisfied was Eva Kor. In November 1985, five months after the resurrection of the body, Kor took out a second mortgage on her house and used the money to organize an "inquest" in Terre Haute. The resulting report raised questions about the identification of the body and about various reported sightings of Mengele that had occurred after 1979. It concluded by asking the German government to address the issue of compensation for Mengele's victims. "Today they suffer a series of medical problems," the report said, "including but not limited to kidney ailments, cardiac difficulties, degenerating spines and recurring infections, among other chronic conditions." Kor sent the report to every member of Congress, asking them for an open hearing, but received only two letters in return.
Three months later Clyde Snow, Lowell Levine, and other veterans of the Embu effort appeared at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Kor was in the audience wearing a picket sign in the form of a dunce cap on her head, and afterward she denounced Levine as a "bad Jew."
In May, six months after the inquest, Kor went to Washington, D.C., to attend a Holocaust memorial service in the Capitol rotunda, a service attended by Vice President Bush and other dignitaries. At the service she held up a sign saying "Memorial services are not enough. We need an open hearing on Mengelegate. I am on hunger strike." She was quickly and roughly arrested.
But Kor was not the only one questioning the Embu identification. The World Jewish Congress was also skeptical, and syndicated columnist Jack Anderson was raising doubts. In his columns, Anderson pointed out that the bedrock of identification was missing: the skin tissue on the skeletal fingers had decomposed so no fingerprints were available, and no one had been able to locate X rays of teeth or any other part of the body. Anderson also raised the question of the lack of osteomyelitis in the skeleton.
It was in part because of the questions raised by survivors and Jewish organizations that the Justice Department, the German authorities, and the Israeli government declined to close the file after receiving the preliminary report from the scientists in Sao Paulo. On Clyde Snow's suggestion, the Department of Justice dispatched Dr. Donald Ortner, an anthropologist affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, to try to find some evidence of osteomyelitis.
Ortner specializes in detecting evidence of disease that might not show up on X rays. After handling the bones in Sao Paulo, Ortner reported that he had found a small circular depression on the ilium bone in the right hip that might be evidence of osteomyelitis suffered during a period of high growth; usually such growth spurts occur during adolescence and young adulthood. On the other hand, Ortner said, the depression could have been the result of a fracture.
While the osteomyelitis question was being debated, Stephen Dachi, the U.S. consul general in Sao Paulo, began some detective work concerning Mengele's teeth. Dachi, an oral pathologist and former teacher of dentistry, had wrestled with excerpts from the Mengele diaries indicating that the aging Nazi had visited a dentist named Gama in a city named Sama for root canal work in December 1978. The city did not exist. The Brazilian police had interviewed several doctors named Gama to no avail. After one more failed outing, it dawned on Dachi that Sama might be an abbreviation for Santa Amaro, a Sao Paulo suburb. He found a Dr. Gama there who recognized the photo of Mengele from the newspapers, but who said he had never treated the man. A police detective who had come along with Dachi asked to see Gama's records. After 45 minutes the investigators found an eight-year-old record of visits for root canal work for Pedro Hochbichler. Dr. Gama was amazed. Unfortunately he had no X rays, he said, as it was his custom to send them back to the patient's referring dentist, but it happened that this particular dentist, Dr. Kasumasa Tutiya, had an office not far away. Dachi and the policeman went to see Tutiya immediately. The dentist produced a series of eight X rays from Hochbichler's file. Dachi was well pleased.
On November 6, 1986, almost a year and a half after promising a more detailed report, the American forensic team filed just such a document with the Department of Justice.
Lowell Levine, having examined Tutiya's X rays, reported that there was nothing in the sketchy dental chart in Mengele's SS file that was inconsistent with the X rays of Pedro Hochbichler. Tutiya's X rays of Hochbichler's mouth showed that he had had a large gap between his front teeth. Levine concluded "with an absolute certainty" that the Embu man was Josef Mengele.
Clyde Snow addressed a seeming inconsistency in the corpse's head circumference: Mengele's SS file had listed his head circumference as 57 centimeters, but German forensic specialists had come up with a figure of 53 to 54 centimeters for the Embu man. Snow factored in the shrinkage that normally occurs during skeletonization and based his calculations on a study of scalp thickness in German males and an equation predicting head circumference from head length and breadth. As a result, he came up with 57 centimeters, the same figure that appeared in the SS file. He also took care to point out that a 1972 study of South and Central American military men indicated that only about one in ten Latin American males would have a head circumference as large as Mengele's. "This fact is of interest," Snow wrote, "since it suggests that Mengele, if he wished to stage his disappearance by substituting a body in the Embu grave, would have had some difficulty procuring one closely matching his known head size from the local population."
In Fitzpatrick's section of the report, the radiologist concluded that the changes Ortner had seen in the hip bones were the result of a fracture and that Mengele had probably been misdiagnosed when he was told he had osteomyelitis. Fitzpatrick thought that Mengele might have been told that he had osteomyelitis (an infection of the bone marrow) when in fact he had osteitis (an infection of the bone) or periostitis (an infection of the fibrous membrane that covers the bone), neither of which would be likely to leave their mark on skeletal remains. The Justice Department later turned up a German surgical textbook, published in the 1930s, that used the term osteomyelitis broadly, applying it to all three conditions.
In their conclusion, the six forensic scientists left no room for doubt. "The remains exhumed at Embu Cemetery, near Sao Paulo, Brazil," they said, "were those of Doctor Josef Mengele."
Representatives of the Department of Justice met with their Israeli counterparts seven months later, hoping to convince them to close the case. When the meetings ended, however, the Americans had been prevailed upon to keep the case open, pending further investigation of the skeleton by an Israeli specialist, further questioning of the conspirator Mrs. Bossert, and an extensive search for Mengele's school records, which might indicate whether he had an illness as a teenager and what it was. The Israelis also hoped to get DNA samples from the Nazi's first wife, Irene Hackenjos, and his son Rolf, which might then be compared to DNA samples from the Embu skeleton. The comparison would be, in essence, a paternity test of a corpse.
Over the next four years, most of those Israeli requests were satisfied. Mengele's ex-wife and son, however, adamantly refused to provide blood samples.
While investigators from the United States were trying to close the case, Eva Kor was trying to keep it open.
In 1987 she began meeting with various Israeli officials and discovered that Lieutenant Colonel Menachem Russek, the head of the national police department's Nazi crimes unit, was sympathetic to her arguments. Russek, an Auschwitz survivor, had represented the Israeli government when the remains were examined in Sao Paulo, and he too had severe doubts about the identification of those remains. He had incorporated those doubts into a report, but the report was classified secret and Kor could not pry a copy loose.
In August 1989, Kor organized an "inquest" in Jerusalem, running up a $20,000 credit card bill in the process. She scheduled a variety of witnesses, some critical of the Israeli government's seemingly feeble attempts to capture old Nazis, four claiming to have seen Mengele since his alleged death (one of the four was an Auschwitz survivor who had been Mengele's pharmacist at the camp). She had hoped that Russek would testify, but at the last minute the lieutenant colonel canceled his appearance.
In May 1991, while on another trip to Israel, she received a leaked copy of Russek's still secret report. It was a skeptic's gold mine. Russek presented a good number of unanswered questions raised by the scientific data and the stories of Mengele's death and burial. Given that the SS was known for its brutal efficiency, he asked, how could its file on Mengele contain so many errors? How could it be wrong on both the head circumference and the osteomyelitis? Russek went on to point out that the Embu man's left leg was 1.5 centimeters shorter than his right. Russek believed that that difference probably would have resulted in at least a slight limp, yet no one--not even Mengele's son or his first wife--had ever stated that Mengele had difficulty walking. Russek was also suspicious of Dr. Tutiya. The policeman thought that the dentist's schedule had been tampered with and pointed out that Tutiya's appointment book showed some of Mengele's visits in the morning while Mengele's diary indicated that they were in the afternoon. Russek also thought the Bosserts' story was too neat. Why had Mrs. Bossert called for an ambulance even before her husband pulled the drowning man out of the water? Why did it take three hours for the corpse and Mrs. Bossert to travel the 18 miles between the beach and the Institute of Forensic Medicine? (Mrs. Bossert said the delay was caused by a tree that had been hit by lightning and had fallen across the road.) Why did the doctor at the Institute of Forensic Medicine perform no postmortem? Why did he take no photographs or fingerprints? Why did he notice no discrepancy between the age of the man on the slab and that on the dead man's ID card? (The ID card, in the name of Wolfgang Gerhard, listed the bearer's age as 54, while Mengele was actually 67.) Why did Mrs. Bossert see to Mengele's burial on her own, instead of staging a funeral and inviting other coconspirators to mourn? And if the corpse she buried was indeed Mengele, why in the year after the corpse's exhumation had the Mengele family not asked that the remains be turned over to them for burial in some family plot?
Russek was also disturbed by the letter informing the Mengeles of the death of "Uncle" and the Mengele family's response. The letter from the Bosserts carried no date. The letter in response was in two parts. The first part was typed by Almuth, Rolf's wife, before she knew that Josef Mengele was dead, and so her portion of the letter is addressed to him. Almuth sends him warm birthday greetings, passes on news of his seven-month-old granddaughter, and ends by saying that she is turning the typewriter over to Rolf. Rolf's message is handwritten and is addressed to the Bosserts. "Here my best wishes and news were to have been added," he says. "The letter remained lying around for some time since initially we had to absorb the news. A tragic fate has come to an end; only with difficulty are we able to realize it. It is certainly one consolation for us, that is the victory of humanity and friendship that overcame all obstacles and this security up to the last minute."
Russek was troubled by the letter because he could not believe that a man writing about the death of his father would not pick up a fresh piece of paper, but would instead send on birthday wishes to a dead man.
Russek was troubled even more by a meeting set up by Karl Heinz Mengele and Hans Sedlmeier in December 1982. Karl Heinz Mengele is Josef Mengele's nephew and stepson. (The Nazi doctor married Martha Mengele, his brother's widow, in Argentina in 1956, and Josef, Martha, and young Karl lived together for several years.) In 1982 Karl, accompanied by Sedlmeier, visited Dr. Hans Munch, who had been an SS doctor at Auschwitz. (Munch had refused to take part in selections at Auschwitz, and for that reason he had been acquitted at a 1947 war crimes trial.) Karl asked Munch if there was any possibility that his uncle would be acquitted if he returned to Germany and stood trial. Munch said there was no chance.
What troubled Russek about the meeting was that it occurred more than three years after Mengele was supposed to have died.
By the time Kor got a copy of Russek's report, however, it was already several years old, and in the course of those years the investigator had lost the ear of his government. In late 1989 Russek was replaced as head of the Nazi crimes unit. In a recent telephone interview, Russek said that he saw the naming of his replacement "as a clear and understandable signal" that it was time for him to leave. He retired on January 1, 1990, at the age of 67. Eva Kor released his report to the Israeli media at a press conference in Tel Aviv in May 1991. Russek was present, but he would not comment.
Three months after that press conference, Kor and three other twins traveled to Gunzburg, Germany, to stage a protest in front of the Mengele family factory. They walked around the plant carrying posters that said, "We had to give lots of blood in Auschwitz. We demand that Rolf give one drop of blood for DNA test and the truth!" Although the twins had notified the German and international media well in advance, the only observers were a freelance crew from CNN.
The Justice Department had been preparing for DNA testing of the Embu remains for years, always in the hope that someday Rolf and his mother would agree to give blood samples. Scientists in the FBI laboratory had experience in extracting DNA from fresh human bones, but they had never tried to extract DNA from bones that had been buried for six years. In 1989 they ran tests on pieces of a skeleton that was the same age as the one buried in Embu, but the only DNA that turned up was not human but derived from bacteria that had grown in the bone. The same team also tried to extract DNA from hair samples taken from the Embu man, but no trace was found in the 500 hair roots provided.
The West Germans tried their hand at the testing but failed. The state prosecutor in Frankfurt, who was active in trying to force Rolf and Irene to donate blood, then turned to two leading British authorities on DNA, Dr. Alec Jeffreys and Dr. Erika Hagelberg. In April 1990, Dr. Hagelberg succeeded in extracting trace amounts of human DNA from a section of the Embu man's femur and humerus. Dr. Jeffreys put the samples in storage, waiting for the day when he had something to compare them to.
That day arrived almost two years later. In late 1991, Rolf Mengele and Irene Hackenjos finally capitulated after the German state prosecutor indicated that he would dig up the grave of some other Mengele relative to get a DNA sample. On February 12, 1992, Rolf's and Irene's blood samples were handed over to Dr. Jeffreys at the University of Leicester. Jeffreys pulled out the Embu DNA, ran his comparative tests, and emerged with the conclusion that the skeleton and Rolf were, "beyond reasonable doubt," father and son.
That finally convinced the Israeli officials and they closed their Mengele file, allowing the Germans and the United States to do the same. In October 1992, 7 years after the Embu exhumation and 13 years after Mengele's death, the U.S. Department of Justice finally published its long-delayed report. It ran 197 pages, with a 442-page appendix, and attempted to allay all reasonable doubts that the Embu man was indeed the old Nazi.
But Mengele's twins still retain their skepticism. Eva Kor argues that the DNA tests prove only that the three samples come from the same family, and she criticizes the security involved in the collection. She believes that a representative of the twins organization should have been present when Rolf's and Irene's samples were taken. She believes that a family as resourceful as the Mengeles, a family that successfully hid the world's most famous war criminal for decades, could have planted a ringer in the grave at Embu and then produced blood samples from the ringer's family, not from Mengele's.
And so she labors on, interviewing witnesses, gathering documents, speaking at universities, educating the public about the horrors of Auschwitz and slipping in her other message--her belief that the Angel of Death is not yet dead. Eva Kor does not plead, she asks for no one's indulgence, and she resents any attempt to paint her as a "poor pathetic creature who cannot accept the facts of life." She will tell any listener that she is not poor, that she sells real estate, makes good money at it, and needs a logical mind in order to do that. "My logic," she says, "does not disappear when I deal with the Mengele investigation."
She says that as a Jew born in Europe in the 1930s she was born politically incorrect, and with her quest to find the truth about Mengele she remains so today. She feels patronized by those who weep for the children who went through the concentration camps but who have no time for the concerns of those children today. She does not despair when reporters ignore her, when they do not report her theories or her point of view. She knows that most will not believe her until she drags Mengele by the hand to a press conference. And someday, before he dies again, she hopes to do just that.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Lloyd DeGrane, Richard Helmer.