On this day: Josef Mengele’s body is found

June 6 1985: The ‘Angel of Death’ of Auschwitz

By Jennifer Lipman, June 2, 2011

Four decades after the end of the Holocaust, the search for one of its most notorious war criminals continued. Known as the "angel of death", Josef Mengele spent the war performing inhumane and brutal "experiments" on prisoners in Auschwitz concentration camp, twins in particular.

A trial began in February 1985, but he was not present in court. He had fled Germany in 1953 and he was believed to be in Paraguay, although there were also reports that he had visited the United States.

In June, on the orders of the Brazilian authorities, a body was exhumed at a cemetery in Enbu, near Sao Paulo. It was claimed that the corpse was that of Mengele, buried under the name Wolfgang Gerhard six years earlier.

The news was met with suspicion by many, including Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and forensic testing took place. Mengele's son Rolf released a statement in which he said he had "no doubts whatsoever" of who the body was. He said his father had died in 1979 and that he had known about his death at the time.

It took a further seven years for the results to be confirmed. In 1992 Germany announced that DNA tests on Mengele's family members proved that it was his body. "For us, Mengele is dead," said German prosecutor Hans-Eberhard Klein.

What the JC said: Alive or dead, the "search for Mengele" must continue, metaphorically, through all the generations, for only by the continual recital of his crimes will the world be reminded of this barbarity which man is capable of visiting on his fellows. If Mengele is dead – and there are many who wish it, so that this chapter may be closed 0 the spirit of Mengele lives on. If the atrocities to which the present day is witness are not of the proportions of the Holocaust visited upon the Jews, they nevertheless contain the seeds of the same insanity which led to the slaughterhouses of Europe.

See more from the JC archives here.

    Last updated: 8:27am, June 6 2011