Born in 1911, Josef Mengele earned an M.D. and Ph.D. in physical anthropology from the University of Munich in 1935. In 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 1940, Mengele served in the medical service of the Waffen-SS on the Eastern front. Wounded in January 1943, he returned to Germany and began work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (KWI) for Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics in Berlin, under the direction of his former mentor Dr. von Verschuer.
In April 1943, he was promoted to SS captain and transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp in May 1943. As an SS officer officer and physician at the death camp, Mengele joined a team of doctors who selected victims for the gas chamber or deadly human experiments. Mengele’s own ghastly experiments focused primarily on twins.
Mengele left Auschwitz in January 1945, avoiding the arrival of the Russian army. In the immediate postwar period he was briefly in US custody, but unrecognized as a war criminal, he was quickly released. From the summer 1945 until spring 1949, he worked with false identification papers as a farmhand in Bavaria. Thereafter, his prosperous family helped him emigrate to Argentina.
When the International Military Tribunal issued a warrant for his extradition in 1960, Mengele moved to Paraguay and then to Brazil where he lived near Sao Pãolo for the rest of his life. He reportedly suffered a stroke while swimming at a vacation resort in Brazil in 1979 and drowned. He was buried near Sao Pãolo under the name “Wolfgang Gerhard.”