Copyright 1985 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
July 21, 1985, Sunday, Late City Final Edition
SECTION: Section 6; Page 16, Column 1; Magazine Desk
By Robert Jay Lifton
Robert Jay Lifton is Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. This article is adapted from a book on Nazi doctors scheduled for publication next year by Basic Books.
HIS BONES DO NOT SATISFY. JOSEF Mengele had come to symbolize the entire Nazi killing project. The need was to capture him and put him on trial, hear his confession, put him at our mercy. For many, that anticipated event took on the significance of confronting the Holocaust and restoring a moral universe.
For Mengele has long been the focus of what could be called a cult of demonic personality. He has been seen as the embodiment of absolute evil, a doctor pledged to heal who kills instead. But this demonization made him something of a deity, a nonhuman or even superhuman force, and served as a barrier to any explanation of his behavior. One reason Auschwitz survivors have hungered for his capture and trial is to divest him of this status. One of them, for instance, spoke to me of his yearning to see ''this metamorphosis of turning him back into a person instead of God Almighty.'' Mengele was a man, not a demon, and that is our problem. Indeed, during recent weeks he had already begun to fall from grace as a symbol of pure evil. The most notorious Nazi fugitive, unsuccessfully pursued for decades, had suddenly appeared - as bones in a Brazilian grave. The world watched in fascination as scientific examination seemed to confirm that these were the right bones.
It was reported that Mengele had lived out much of his last 25 years in lonely, despairing isolation, that he had fallen in love with a housemaid. An exemplar of pure evil is not supposed to experience loneliness or to care for another person.
What has been lost in the preoccupation with the corpse has been the nature of the man: What made Mengele Mengele? How can we explain his murderous behavior in Auschwitz? Over the last eight years, while conducting research for a book on Nazi doctors, I have sought answers to these questions. I have conducted psychological interviews with 28 former Nazi doctors; a number of Nazi lawyers, economists and other nonmedical professionals, and also with more than 80 former Auschwitz inmates who were engaged in medical work in the camp. The study has required me to probe moral as well as psychological issues and to raise questions about the nature of evil.
Hannah Arendt gave currency to a concept of the banality of evil in her portrayal of Adolf Eichmann as a rather unremarkable bureaucrat who killed by meeting schedules and quotas. She is surely correct in her claim that an ordinary person is capable of extreme evil. But over the course of committing evil acts, an ordinary person becomes something different. In a process I call ''doubling,'' a new self takes shape that adapts to the evil environment, and the evil acts become part of that self. At this point, the person and his behavior are anything but banal.
Mengele possessed unusually intense destructive potential, but there were no apparent signs of aberrant behavior prior to the Nazis and Auschwitz. Without Auschwitz, he would probably have kept his destructive potential under control. As a wise former inmate physician told me, ''In ordinary times, Mengele could have been a slightly sadistic German professor.''
It was the coming together of the man and the place, the ''fit'' between the two, that created the Auschwitz Mengele.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE man who arrived in Auschwitz in May 1943 is not especially remarkable. The son of a well-to-do Bavarian industrialist, Mengele is remembered by an acquaintance as a popular young man, an enthusiastic friend. He was also intelligent, a serious student who showed ''a very distinct ambitiousness.''
In 1931, at the age of 20, Mengele joined a right-wing, nationalistic organization. He was an early Nazi enthusiast, enlisting with the SA (the storm troopers) in 1933, applying for party membership in 1937 and for SS membership the following year. There are rumors that, while studying in Munich, he met such high-ranking Nazis as Alfred Rosenberg, a leading ideologue, and even Hitler himself.
Mengele became a true ideologue: a man who understood his life to be in the service of a larger vision.
According to an Auschwitz friend and fellow-SS physician, Mengele espoused the visionary SS ideology that the Nordic race was the only truly creative race, that it had been weakened by Christian morality of Jewish origin, and that Germany needed to revert to ancient German myths in creating an SS ''order'' to purify the Nordic race. According to his friend, Mengele was an extreme anti-Semite, ''fully convinced that the annihilation of the Jews is a provision for the recovery of the world and Germany.'' And Mengele considered these views to be scientifically derived. (I have preserved the anonymity of the people I interviewed. Those who are identified had previously made themselves known in books or other public documents.) Mengele's ideology considerably influenced his intellectual choices. Matriculating not only at Munich but also at Bonn, Vienna and Frankfurt, he came to concentrate on physical anthropology and genetics, eventually working under Professor Freiherr Otmar von Verschuer at the Institute of Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene at Frankfurt. He earned a degree in anthropology as well as medicine.
Mengele produced three publications before he came to Auschwitz. They dealt with physical characteristics and abnormalities and, in each case, emphasized the role of heredity -an emphasis in keeping with trends in German and international scholarship at the time. Though jammed with charts, diagrams and photographs that claim more than they prove, the papers are relatively respectable scientific works of that era. But their conclusions uniformly reflect Mengele's commitment to bringing science into the service of the Nazi vision.
Mengele seemed well on his way toward an academic career. He had the strong backing of Verschuer who, in a letter of recommendation, praised his reliability and his capacity for clear verbal presentation of difficult intellectual problems. Mengele's marriage to a professor's daughter was in keeping with his academic aspirations.
His military experience loomed large in his idea of himself. In 1938-39, Mengele served six months with a specially trained mountain light-infantry regiment, followed by a year in the reserve medical corps. He spent three years with a Waffen SS unit, mostly in the East, including action in Russia, where, according to SS records, he was wounded and declared medically unfit for combat. A commendation declared that he had ''acquitted himself brilliantly in the face of the enemy,'' and he received five decorations, including the Iron Cross First Class and Second Class.
Mengele, his friend said, was the only doctor in Auschwitz who possessed that array of medals, and he was enormously proud of them; he frequently referred to his combat experience to bolster his arguments on a variety of matters. According to his friend, Mengele arrived at the camp with a special aura because he was coming more or less directly from the front.
His friend suggests something else special about Mengele: He had asked to be sent to the Auschwitz death camp because of the opportunities it could provide for his research. He continued to have the support and collaboration of his teacher, Verschuer, who convinced the German Research Society to provide financial support for Mengele's work.
AUSCHWITZ WAS BOTH AN ANNIHILA-tion camp and a work camp for German industry. Like other SS doctors there, Mengele had the task of ''selecting'' prisoners for the gas chamber - the vast majority - and for the slave labor force. SS doctors also controlled and supervised the inmate doctors who alone did whatever actual medical treatment was done. Mengele was the chief doctor of Birkenau, an Auschwitz subcamp, but seemed to many inmates to have authority beyond his position. Dr. Olga Lengyel, an inmate doctor, described Mengele as ''far and away the chief provider for the gas chamber and the crematory ovens.'' Another inmate doctor spoke of Mengele's role as ''very important, more than that of the others.''
One reason he appeared to be especially important was that he was extraordinarily energetic. While many SS doctors did no more than what was required of them, Mengele was always on the move, busy with his work, initiating new projects. More than any other SS doctor, he seemed to find his calling in Auschwitz.
Many inmates thought that Mengele alone conducted the large ''selections.'' When they arrived at Auschwitz, packed by the hundreds into freight and cattle cars, they were unloaded and herded down a ramp. The Nazi doctors were assigned, on a rotating basis, to stand on the ramp and select those prisoners who would live, as workers at the camp, and those who would be killed.
The evidence is that Mengele took his turn at the ramp, like everyone else, but he also appeared there frequently to make sure that any twins in a ''transport,'' as the trains were called, would be collected and saved for his research. But the prisoners saw it differently. At a trial of former Auschwitz personnel, in Frankfurt in 1964, an inmate who had been assigned to unload the transports recalled only the name of Mengele. When the judge commented, ''Mengele cannot have been there all the time,'' the witness answered: ''In my opinion, always. Night and day.'' Mengele brought such flamboyance and posturing to the selections task that it was his image inmates remembered.
He was an elegant figure on the ramp - handsome, well-groomed, extremely upright in posture. Prisoners sometimes described him as ''very Aryan looking'' or ''tall and blond,'' when he was actually of medium height, with dark hair and a dark complexion. Inmates said Mengele ''conveyed the impression of a gentle and cultured man'' and spoke of the ''cheerful expression on his face . . . almost like he had fun . . . he was very playful.''
There was an easy rhythm in his approach to selections. He walked back and forth, an inmate recalled, ''a nice-looking man'' with a riding crop in his hand who ''looked at the bodies and the faces just a couple of seconds'' and said, ''Links [left], Rechts [right], Links, Rechts...Links, Rechts...Links, Rechts.''
Prisoners were struck by the stark contrast between his calm, playful manner and the horror of what he was doing. Occasionally, though, his detachment could give way to outbreaks of rage and violence, especially when he encountered resistance to his sense of ''the rules.'' In one instance, a mother refused to be separated from her teen-age daughter and scratched the face of the SS trooper who tried to enforce Mengele's decision. Mengele drew his gun and shot both the woman and her child. Still raging, he ordered that all the people from that transport whom he had previously selected as workers be sent to the gas chamber.
In the hospital blocks where medical treatment was given to prisoners in order to maintain the workforce, there was another kind of ''selection'' process. Nazi doctors would weed out for the gas chamber the weakest patients, those thought unlikely to recover in two or three weeks. Mengele, Dr. Lengyel recalled, ''could show up suddenly at any hour, day or night. . . . when we least expected him.'' The prisoners would ''march before him with their arms in the air while he continued to whistle his Wagner - or it might be Verdi or Johann Strauss.'' THOUGH USUALLY COOL IN HIS CONDUCT OF SELEC-tions, Mengele was passionate in pursuing his ''scientific research.'' His main interest was the study of twins, but he carried out a variety of projects with different groups of human subjects. He collected and studied dwarfs in an effort to determine the genetic reasons for their condition.
He investigated a gangrenous condition of the face and mouth called noma.
Though ordinarily a rare condition, it was common among gypsy inmates of Auschwitz. It was known to be caused by the kind of debilitation that inmates were subject to, but Mengele focused on what he deemed to be genetic and racial factors.
He sought out inmates with a condition known as heterochromia of the iris - in which the two eyes are of different colors -and, after their death, sent their eyes to his old professor, Verschuer, at the Berlin-Dahlem Institute of Racial Biology. With some of these inmates, Mengele took the bizarre step of attempting to change eye color in an Aryan direction by injecting methylene blue into the brown eyes of blond inmate children.
But the research that most occupied Mengele, to which he devoted the greatest time and energy, was his study of twins. In fact, he probably came to Auschwitz for that specific purpose - as a continuation of work he had done under Verschuer at the University of Frankfurt a few years earlier.
As early as 1935, Verschuer had written of the absolute necessity of research on twins to achieve ''complete and reliable determination of what is hereditary in man.''
Because identical twins (derived from the same ovum) possess the same genetic constitution, they have traditionally been used in research on hereditary influences. Their shared physical and sometimes psychological characteristics, normal and abnormal, can be assumed to be genetically determined. Such characteristics can be assumed to be genetically determined in other people as well.
Mengele recognized that Auschwitz would permit him to pursue his mentor's dream. From the hundreds of thousands of prisoners, he could collect twins in quantities never before available to a scientist. What is more, he could exercise total control over them.
He could compare measurements and bodily features. He could try medications meant to prevent, treat or induce a particular illness on an individual twin, or both of a pair of twins. He could then make comparisons of various kinds, in which he sought to demonstrate the importance of heredity rather than environment. He had no need or inclination to concern himself with ethical considerations, sharing as he did the general SS doctor's view that one was doing no harm since Auschwitz inmates, especially Jews, were in any case doomed.
Mengele had a fanatic's commitment to twin research. A number of survivors reported seeing him on the transport ramp, shouting ''Zwillinge heraus! [Twins out!],'' ''Zwillinge heraustreten! [Twins step forward!].'' An inmate anthropolo-gist whom Mengele had eagerly recruited to assist him described the arrival of a group of Hungarian Jews ''like a river . . . women, men, women with children, and suddenly I saw Mengele going quickly...the same speed [as] the crowd [crying out] only 'Zwillinge heraus!' . . . with such a face that I would think he's mad.''
Mengele had the same frenzied attitude in carrying out his research. To inmates, he seemed to have an inner compulsion to get a great deal accomplished quickly in a personal race against time. He undoubtedly came to recognize increasingly that the days of the Auschwitz research bonanza were numbered.
MAINLY TO PURSUE HIS studies of twins, Mengele set up an Auschwitz caricature of an academic research institute. Inmate doctors, mostly Jewish, with specialized training in various laboratory and clinical areas, were called upon to contribute to his work by diagnosing, sometimes treating, X-raying and performing post-mortem examinations of his research subjects. For his pathologist, Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, he provided a special dissection room complete with porcelain sinks and a dissecting table of polished marble. The overall arrangement, as Dr. Nyiszli later wrote, was ''the exact replica of any large city's institute of pathology.'' In addition to the area used by SS physicians, Mengele had three offices of his own, mainly for work with twins.
The precise number of twins Mengele studied is not known, but during the spring and summer of 1944, the time of the influx and mass murder of enormous numbers of Hungarian Jews, he accumulated what inmates of the men's and women's camps estimated to be a total of 175 sets of twins; it was an extraordinarily large number to have available simultaneously in a single place. Most were children, but the twins ranged up to the age of 70. The relative number of identical twins, as opposed to nonidentical twins, is also uncertain. (Nonidentical twins come from different ova and are genetically similar only to the extent of ordinary siblings.) Mengele's capacity or inclination to maintain, in his work, the crucial distinction between these two kinds of twins is unclear. Since it is known that a few ordinary siblings masqueraded as twins, upon discovering the advantages of doing so, there is reason to doubt the reliability of Mengele's research.
Being a twin gave one a much better chance to survive. That was especially true for children, who were otherwise routinely selected for the gas chamber on arrival.
Twins had unique status. They felt themselves, as one put it, ''completely elevated, segregated from the hurly-burly of the camp.'' They lived in special blocks, usually within medical units. They were frequently permitted to keep their own clothing. Their heads were not shaved. Their diet was rich by Auschwitz standards, often including white bread and milk. They were never beaten, as one surviving twin explained - even if they were caught in such a normally ''ultimate sin'' as stealing food - because the word was out ''not to ruin us physically.''
Mothers of young female twins were sometimes allowed to stay with their children, though usually only temporarily, in order to help the twins remain in good physical and mental condition - and on occasion to contribute to information about heredity and family history. We may say that the lives of twins had unique existential value in Auschwitz.
Mengele's research method, according to the inmate anthropologist, was standard for the time - and much the same as that used by her own well-regarded professor at the Polish university where she had obtained her advanced degree. That professor, she said, stressed ''the biological foundation of [the] social environment'' and the delineation of ''racial types.'' Mengele's approach was different only in being ''terribly detailed.''
Measurements were taken of the twins' skulls and bodies and various characteristics of the nose, lips, ears, hair and eyes. The inmate anthropologist used quality Swiss instruments and wore a white coat ''like a physician.''
Identical twins, Mengele's most treasured research objects, were often examined together. As one of them described: ''It was like a laboratory. . . . There isn't a piece of body that wasn't measured and compared. . . . We were always sitting together - always nude. . . . We would sit for hours together.''
When Mengele himself performed the examination, they said, he was very proper and methodical: ''He concentrated on one part of the body at one time...like [one day] he measured our eyes for about two hours.'' They spoke of being examined as frequently as twice a week for a period of five months in late 1944, and also remembered vividly a special visit to the Auschwitz main camp for photographs.
There were less benign research programs on twins. One twin survivor, for example, told how he and his 12-year-old twin sister would be examined and subjected to such procedures as the injection of material into their spines or the clamping of some part of the body ''to see how long you could stand the pressure.''
The twin survivor also spoke of Mengele's supervising ''a lot of research with chemicals'' and of how Mengele's assistants ''might stick a needle in various places from behind,'' including the performing of spinal taps. These procedures, when done on young children, resulted sometimes in loss of consciousness, deafness and - among the smaller children - death.
The final step in Mengele's research on a number of the twins was dissection. Auschwitz enabled him not only to observe and measure twins to compare them in life, but to arrange for them to die together. He could thereby obtain comparisons of healthy or diseased organs to show the effects of heredity.
Sometimes Mengele himself presided over the murder of his twins. A deposition given by Dr. Nyiszli in 1945 described one such event: ''In the work room next to the dissecting room, 14 gypsy twins were waiting . . . and crying bitterly. Dr. Mengele didn't say a single word to us, and prepared a 10 cc. and 5 cc. syringe. From a box he took evipan, and from another box he took chloroform, which was in 20 cubic-centimeter glass containers, and put these on the operating table. After that, the first twin was brought in . . . a 14-year-old girl. Dr. Mengele ordered me to undress the girl and put her on the dissecting table. Then he injected the evipan into her right arm intravenously. After the child had fallen asleep, he felt for the left ventricle of the heart and injected 10 cc. of chloroform. After one little twitch the child was dead, whereupon Dr. Mengele had it taken into the corpse chamber. In this manner, all 14 twins were killed during the night.''
Mengele could be totally arbitrary in his killings. An inmate radiologist told of a pair of gypsy twins, ''two splendid boys of 7 or 8, whom we were studying from all aspects - from the 16 or 18 different specialties we represented.'' The boys both had symptoms in their joints that, according to a belief at that time, could be linked to tuberculosis. Mengele was convinced that the boys were tubercular, but the various inmate doctors, including the radiologist, found no trace of that disease.
Mengele was outraged, and he left the room, ordering the radiologist to remain. When he returned about an hour later, Mengele said calmly: ''You are right. There was nothing.'' After some silence, Mengele added, ''Yes, I dissected them.'' Later, the radiologist said, he heard from Dr. Nyiszli that Mengele had shot the two boys in the neck and that ''while they were still warm, began to examine them: lungs first, than each organ.''
The two boys, the radiologist added, had been favorites with all the doctors - including Mengele. They had been treated very well, he added, ''spoiled in all respects . . . these two especially . . . they fascinated him considerably.'' But their post-mortem study had still greater fascination for him.
Mengele's fanatically brutal approach to his research can be understood mainly in terms of his combination of ideological zealotry and scientific ambition. Verschuer, his mentor, was taking science in a Nazi direction when he declared that research with twins would demonstrate ''the extent of the damage caused by adverse hereditary influences'' as well as ''relations between disease, racial types, and miscegenation.'' In Auschwitz, Mengele saw an opportunity to deepen and extend the Nazi racial vision by means of systematic research ''evidence.''
He was also intent upon gaining personal recognition as a scientist. Indeed, his Auschwitz friend told me that Mengele planned to use his research with twins as the basis for his Habilitation, the presentation necessary for a formal university appointment. Mengele's ideological worship, then, included the worship of Nazified ''science,'' and from that stand-point he told his friend that ''it would be a sin, a crime . . . and irresponsible not to utilize the possibilities that Auschwitz had for twin research,'' and that ''there would never be another chance like it.''
Mengele saw himself as a biological revolutionary, part of a vanguard devoted to the bold scientific task of remaking his people and ultimately the people of the world. The German race would have to be cured and its genes improved. Many believed, as one inmate doctor said, that Mengele wanted to make use of his research on twins ''to find the cause of multiple pregnancies'' in order to increase such events among Aryan women. In any case, he did wish to apply his results toward German-centered racial goals.
Mengele's friend revealed something of this motivation when he told me that Mengele saw his work as having bearing on selecting national leaders ''not on a political basis but on a biological basis.'' He might well have been unclear himself about his exact motivations, but we have reason to see in them a combination of distorted scientific claims and related ideological fantasies.
M ENGELE'S TREAT-ment of twins provides important additional clues to his psychology. There we see displayed the full range of his adaptation to the Auschwitz environment. Survivors repeatedly commented on his confusing duality of affection and violence, an extreme manifestation of the process I call ''doubling.''
The twins lived in an atmosphere that combined sanctuary with terror. As one recalled, they never forgot they were in Auschwitz where, starting in the summer of 1944, they could clearly see ''flames really coming up every day, every night'' from the open pits in which bodies were burned, and they could ''hear every evening a cacophony of screams'' and breathe in ''the unbearable smell.''
Yet most of the twins were safe, under the protection of Mengele, and much of the time he treated them lovingly. According to an inmate doctor, Mengele in his contacts with the children was ''as gentle as a father,'' talking to them and patting them on the head ''in a loving way.'' He could be playful, jumping about to please them. The twin children frequently called him ''Uncle Pepi.'' Sometimes, though, as the inmate doctor reported, Mengele would bring some gypsy twins sweets and invite them for a ride in his car, which turned out to be ''a little drive with Uncle Pepi, to the gas chamber.''
For many of the twins, the strength of their warm feelings toward Mengele was such that they found it impossible in later years to believe the evil things they heard about him. ''For us,'' one said, he was ''like a papa, like a mama.''
One inmate doctor, in his own excruciating struggles to come to terms with Mengele, thought of him as ''the double man'' who had ''all the human feelings, pity and so on,'' but also had in his psyche an ''impenetrable, indestructible cell, which is obedience to the received order.''
He was describing Mengele's Auschwitz self, the new self that can take shape in virtually anyone in adapting to an extreme environment. With the Auschwitz self, Mengele's potential for evil became actual, even as he maintained elements of his prior self that included affection toward children. In this process, each part-self behaved as a functioning whole: the Auschwitz self enabling him to function in that murderous environment and to exploit its human resources with considerable efficiency; the prior self enabling him to maintain a sense of decency. His powerful commitment to Nazi ideology served as a bridge, a necessary connection between the two.
Mengele's Auschwitz behavior reflects important pre-existing psychological tendencies that contributed greatly to that doubling process. His inclinations toward omnipotence and total control over others could be given extreme expression in Auschwitz.
The man and the place were dramatically summed up by a survivor who did art work for him and spoke of herself as Mengele's ''pet,'' someone who was pleasant to have around. The death camp, she said, was like a city dog pound, with Mengele as the inspector checking up on the keepers -the inmate doctors - and on the dogs - the inmates.
The inspector, she recalled, would often admonish the keepers to ''wash up the excrement'' in the pound, ''to keep it clean, to keep the dogs healthy.'' Then he would examine ''these chambers where they are killed'' and he would inquire about the dog population: ''How many are you? Well, it's too crowded - you better put in two more [gas chambers] today.''
This image, with its blending of omnipotence and sadism, was relevant to much of Mengele's relationship to twins. ''It was an axiom,'' one of them told me, ''that Mengele is God. He used to come always with an entourage, very-well decked out, very elegant. He always carried around him an aura of some terrifying threat, which is, I suspect, unexplainable to normal human beings who didn't see this.'' It was ''literally impossible,'' the survivor said, ''to transmit the edge of this terror.''
Only in Auschwitz could Mengele assume that aura and become what the inmate artist described as ''a very charismatic man'' with ''star quality.'' But when she added, ''Marilyn Monroe flashed through my mind,'' she was perhaps suggesting the strong element of mannered self-display, what is loosely called ''narcissism'' - and perhaps a certain amount of kitsch and absurdity -contained in Mengele's assumption of omnipotence.
Another prior trait, Mengele's schizoid tendencies, were reflected in survivors' accounts of his ''dead eyes'' - eyes that showed no emotion, that avoided looking into the eyes of others. The inmate artist described him as so distant from others that ''he seemed to be from a different planet.'' That kind of schizoid person, however friendly or affectionate at times, remains fundamentally removed from others, with inner divisions that can contribute to the doubling process.
Mengele's exaggerated immaculateness was consistent with such tendencies toward withdrawal. He was ''very sensitive about bad smells,'' an inmate doctor reported, so that before he arrived, ''the doors and windows had to be opened.'' He was ''Clean, clean, clean!'' one survivor said. This passion for cleanliness actually became part of Mengele's selection esthetic. He often sent prisoners with skin blemishes - even those with small abscesses or old appendectomy scars - to the gas chamber.
All people are capable of psychic numbing, a diminished tendency or inclination to feel. But Mengele's version of the Auschwitz self - his ease in harming and killing - carried psychic numbing to a remarkable extreme. ''The main thing about him,'' an observant inmate-doctor stated, ''was that he totally lacked feeling.'' He was enabled to feel nothing in killing a young twin, even one he had been fond of, to make a medical point.
Mengele's sadism was of a piece with these other traits. The pleasure he could take in causing pain was an aspect of his omnipotence, a means of maintaining his schizoid withdrawal and his renunciation of anything in the realm of fellow-feeling toward his victims. That kind of sadism was manifest in his smiling enthusiasm at selections. It was present in his remark to a Jewish woman doctor who was pleading vainly for the life of her father: ''Your father is 70 years old. Don't you think he has lived long enough?'' And survivors tell of Mengele's proclaiming on Tisha B'Av, the commemoration of the destruction of the first and second temples, ''We will have a concert.'' There was a concert, then a roll-call, then an enormous selection for the gas chamber.
I N HIS PLAY ''THE DEPUTY,'' Rolf Hochhuth creates a fiendish Nazi character known only as ''the Doctor,'' modeled after Mengele, who is described as hav-ing ''the stature of Absolute Evil,'' as ''only playing the part of a human being.''
Some inmate-doctors also viewed Mengele as a demon and wished to divest him of his professional status. One described him as ''a monster, period,'' and another as ''no more doctor than anything else.''
But being a doctor was part of Mengele's demonology: he took on the dark side of the omnipotent Svengali-like physician-shaman.
The myth of Mengele's demonic stature was given added support by the often misleading rumors about his life after Auschwitz. He was said to be living in comfort in South America, advising dictators such as Gen. Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay on how to annihilate the Indian population, growing wealthy in an extensive drug trade run by former Nazis. Nobody could touch Mengele. We have seen that his death has partly dispelled this demonology. His continuing ''metamorphosis'' into an ordinary mortal can be enhanced by probing his motivations and behavior.
The psychological traits Mengele brought to Auschwitz exist in many of us, but in him they took exaggerated form. His impulse toward omnipotence and total control of the world around him were means of fending off anxiety and doubt, fears of falling apart - ultimately, fear of death. That fear also activated his sadism and extreme psychic numbing. He could quiet his fears of death in that death-dominated environment by performing the ultimate act of power over another person: murder.
Yet, as far as we know, he had neither killed nor maimed prior to Auschwitz, and had in fact functioned in a more or less integrated way.
The perfect match between Menegele and Auschwitz changed all that. Through doubling, he could call forth his evil potential. That evil, generally speaking, is neither inherent in any self nor foreign to it. Under certain kinds of psychological and moral conditions it can emerge. Crucial to that emergence is an ideology or world view, a theory or vision that justifies or demands evil actions.
Viewed in this light, Josef Mengele emerges as he really was: a visionary ideologue, an efficiently murderous functionary, a diligent careerist - and disturbingly human.
GRAPHIC: Photo wanted poster of Mengele offering a million marks (Regis Bossi/Sygma); Photo of Two boys, soon to die, arriving in Aushwitz in 1944; Photo of inmates arriving at Auschwitz (page 18); Photo of Tavi and Magda Spiegel (page 20); Photo of a house near Sao Paulo (Page 21)