THE LABORATORY OF PATHOLOGY WAS set up at the instigation of my superior, Dr. Mengele, and was destined to satisfy his ambitions in the area of medical research. It had been completed only a few days before. All that was needed for it to start functioning was a doctor capable of taking charge.
The confines of the KZ offered vast possibilities for research, first in the field of forensic medicine, because of the high suicide rate, and also in the field of pathology, because of the relatively high percentage of dwarfs, giants and other abnormal types of human beings. The abundance—unequaled elsewhere in the world—of corpses, and the fact that one could dispose of them freely for purposes of research, opened even wider horizons.
I knew from experience that, whereas the clinics in most major cities of the world managed to furnish their institutes of forensic medicine with from 100 to 150 bodies for purposes of research, the Auschwitz KZ was capable of furnishing literally millions. Any person who had entered the gates of the KZ was a candidate for death. He whose destiny had directed him into the left-hand column was transformed by the gas chambers into a corpse within an hour after his arrival. Less fortunate was he whom adversity had singled out for the right-hand column. He was still a candidate for death, but with this difference, that for three or four months, or as long as he could endure, he had to submit to all the horrors the KZ had to offer, till he dropped from utter exhaustion. He bled from a thousand wounds. His belly was contorted with hunger, his eyes were haggard, and he moaned like one demented. He dragged his body across the fields of snow till he could go no farther. Trained dogs snapped at his wretched, fleshless frame, and when even the lice forsook his desiccated body, then the hour of deliverance, the hour of redeeming death was close at hand. Who then—of our parents, brothers, children —was more fortunate, he who went to the left or he who went to the right?
When the convoys arrived, soldiers scouted the ranks lined up before the box cars, hunting for twins and dwarfs. Mothers, hoping for special treatment for their twin children, readily gave them up to the scouts. Adult twins, knowing that they were of interest from a scientific point of view, voluntarily presented themselves, in the hope of better treatment. The same for dwarfs.
They were separated from the rest and herded to the right. They were allowed to keep their civilian clothes; guards accompanied them to specially designed barracks, where they were treated with a certain regard. Their food was good, their bunks were comfortable, and possibilities for hygiene were provided.
They were housed in Barracks 14 of Camp F. From there they were taken by their guards to the experimentation barracks of the Gypsy Camp, and exposed to every medical examination that can be performed on human beings: blood tests, lumbar punctures, exchanges of blood between twin brothers, as well as numerous other examinations, all fatiguing and depressing. Dina, the painter from Prague, made the comparative studies of the structure of the twins’ skulls, ears, noses, mouths, hands and feet. Each drawing was classified in a file set up for that express purpose, complete with all individual characteristics; into this file would also go the final results of this research. The procedure was the same for the dwarfs.
The experiments, in medical language called in vivo, i.e., experiments performed on live human beings, were far from exhausting the research possibilities in the study of twins. Full of lacunae, they offered no better than partial results. The in vivo experiments were succeeded by the most important phase of twin-study: the comparative examination from the viewpoints of anatomy and pathology. Here it was a question of comparing the twins’ healthy organs with those functioning abnormally, or of comparing their illnesses. For that study, as for all studies of a pathological nature, corpses were needed. Since it was necessary to perform a dissection for the simultaneous evaluation of anomalies, the twins had to die at the same time. So it was that they met their death in the B section of one of Auschwitz’s KZ barracks, at the hand of Dr. Mengele.
This phenomenon was unique in world medical science history. Twin brothers died together, and it was possible to perform autopsies on both. Where, under normal circumstances, can one find twin brothers who die at the same place and at the same time? For twins, like everyone else, are separated by life’s varying circumstances. They live far from each other and almost never die simultaneously. One may die at the age of ten, the other at fifty. Under such conditions comparative dissection is impossible. In the Auschwitz camp, however, there were several hundred sets of twins, and therefore as many possibilities of dissection. That was why, on the arrival platform, Dr. Mengele separated twins and dwarfs from the other prisoners. That was why both special groups were directed to the right-hand column, and thence to the barracks of the spared. That was why they had good food and hygienic living conditions, so that they didn’t contaminate each other and die one before the other. They had to die together, and in good health.
The Sonderkommando chief came hunting for me and announced that an SS soldier was waiting for me at the door of the crematorium with a crew of corpsetransporting kommandos. I went in search of them, for they were forbidden to enter the courtyard. I took the documents concerning the corpses from the hands of the SS. They contained files on two little twin brothers. The kommando crew, made up entirely of women, set the covered coffin down in front of me. I lifted the lid. Inside lay a set of two-year-old twins. I ordered two of my men to take the corpses and place them on the dissecting table.
I opened the file and glanced through it. Very detailed clinical examinations, accompanied by X-rays, descriptions, and artists’ drawings, indicated from the scientific viewpoint the different aspects of these two little beings’ “twinhood.” Only the pathological report was missing. It was my job to supply it. The twins had died at the same time and were now lying beside each other on the big dissecting table. It was they who had to—or whose tiny bodies had to—resolve the secret of the reproduction of the race. To advance one step in the search to unlock the secret of multiplying the race of superior beings destined to rule was a “noble goal.” If only it were possible, in the future, to have each German mother bear as many twins as possible! The project, conceived by the demented theorists of the Third Reich, was utterly mad. And it was to Dr. Mengele, chief physician of the Auschwitz KZ, the notorious “criminal doctor,” that these experiments had been entrusted.
Among malefactors and criminals, the most dangerous type is the “criminal doctor,” especially when he is armed with powers such as those granted to Dr. Mengele. He sent millions of people to death merely because, according to a racial theory, they were inferior beings and therefore detrimental to mankind. This same criminal doctor spent long hours beside me, either at his microscopes, his disinfecting ovens and his test tubes or, standing with equal patience near the dissecting table, his smock befouled with blood, his bloody hands examining and experimenting like one possessed. The immediate objective was the increased reproduction of the German race. The final objective was the production of pure Germans in numbers sufficient to replace the Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, all of whom were condemned to be destroyed, but who for the moment were living on those territories declared vital to the Third Reich.
I finished the dissection of the little twins and wrote out a regulation report of the dissection. I did my job well and my chief appeared to be satisfied with me. But he had some trouble reading my handwriting, for all my letters were capitals, a habit I had picked up in America.4 And so I told him that if he wanted clear clean copy, he would have to supply me with a typewriter, since I was accustomed to work with one in my own practice.
“What make typewriter are you used to?” he asked.
“Olympia Elite,” I said.
“Very well, I’ll send you one. You’ll have it tomorrow. I want clean copy, because these reports will be forwarded to the Institute of Biological, Racial and Evolutionary Research at Berlin-Dahlem.”
Thus I learned that the experiments performed here were checked by the highest medical authorities at one of the most famous scientific institutes in the world.
The following day an SS soldier brought me an “Olympia” typewriter. Still more corpses of twins were sent to me. They delivered me four pairs from the Gypsy Camp; all four were under ten years old.
I began the dissection of one set of twins and recorded each phase of my work. I removed the brain pan. Together with the cerebellum I extracted the brain and examined them. Then followed the opening of the thorax and the removal of the sternum. Next I separated the tongue by means of an incision made beneath the chin. With the tongue came the esophagus, with the respiratory tracts came both lungs. I washed the organs in order to examine them more thoroughly. The tiniest spot or the slightest difference in color could furnish valuable information. I made a transverse incision across the pericardium and removed the fluid. Next I took out the heart and washed it. I turned it over and over in my hand to examine it.
In the exterior coat of the left ventricle was a small pale red spot caused by a hypodermic injection, which scarcely differed from the color of the tissue around it. There could be no mistake. The injection had been given with a very small needle. Without a doubt a hypodermic needle. For what purpose had he received the injection? Injections into the heart can be administered in extremely serious cases, when the heart begins to fail. I would soon know. I opened the heart, starting with the ventricle. Normally the blood contained in the left ventricle is taken out and weighed. This method could not be employed in the present case, because the blood was coagulated into a compact mass. I extracted the coagulum with the forceps and brought it to my nose. I was struck by the characteristic odor of chloroform. The victim had received an injection of chloroform in the heart, so that the blood of the ventricle, in coagulating, would deposit on the valves and cause instantaneous death by heart failure.
My discovery of the most monstrous secret of the Third Reich’s medical science made my knees tremble. Not only did they kill with gas, but also with injections of chloroform into the heart. A cold sweat broke out on my forehead. Luckily I was alone. If others had been present it would have been difficult for me to conceal my excitement. I finished the dissection, noted the differences found, and recorded them. But the chloroform, the blood coagulated in the left ventricle, the puncture visible in the external coat of the heart, did not figure among my findings. It was a useful precaution on my part. Dr. Mengele’s records on the subject of twins were in my hands. They contained the exact examinations, X-rays, the artist’s sketches already mentioned, but neither the circumstances nor causes of death. Nor did I fill out that column of the dissection report. It was not a good idea to exceed the authorized bounds of knowledge or to relate all one had witnessed. And here still less than anywhere else. I was not timorous by nature and my nerves were good. During my medical practice I had often brought to light the causes of death. I had seen the bodies of people assassinated for motives of revenge, jealousy, or material gain, as well as those of suicides and natural deaths. I was used to the study of well-hidden causes of death. On several occasions I had been shocked by my discoveries, but now a shudder of fear ran through me. If Dr. Mengele had any idea that I had discovered the secret of his injections he would send ten doctors, in the name of the political SS, to attest to my death.
In accordance with orders received I returned the corpses to the prisoners whose duty it was to burn them. They performed their job without delay. I had to keep any organs of possible scientific interest, so that Dr. Mengele could examine them. Those which might interest the Anthropological Institute at Berlin-Dahlem were preserved in alcohol. These parts were specially packed to be sent through the mails. Stamped “War Material—Urgent,” they were given top priority in transit. In the course of my work at the crematorium I dispatched an impressive number of such packages. I received, in reply, either precise scientific observations or instructions. In order to classify this correspondence I had to set up special files. The directors of the Berlin-Dahlem Institute always warmly thanked Dr. Mengele for this rare and precious material.
I finished dissecting the three other pairs of twins and duly recorded the anomalies found. In all three instances the cause of death was the same: an injection of chloroform into the heart.
Of the four sets of twins, three had ocular globes of different colors. One eye was brown, the other blue. This is a phenomenon found fairly frequently in non-twins. But in the present case I noticed that it had occurred in six out of the eight twins. An extremely interesting collection of anomalies. Medical science calls them heterochromes, which means, merely, different-colored. I cut out the eyes and put them in a solution of formaldehyde, noting their characteristics exactly in order not to mix them up. During my examination of the four sets of twins, I discovered still another curious phenomenon: while removing the skin from the neck I noticed, just above the upper extremity of the sternum, a tumor about the size of a small nut. Pressing on it with my forceps I found it to be filled with a thick pus. This rare manifestation, well known to medical science, indicates the presence of hereditary syphilis and is called DuBois’ tumor. Looking farther, I found that it existed in all eight twins. I cut out the tumor, leaving it surrounded by healthy tissue, and placed it in another jar of formaldehyde. In two sets of twins I also discovered evidence of active, cavernous tuberculosis. I recorded my findings on the dissection report, but left the heading “Cause of Death” blank.
During the afternoon Dr. Mengele paid me a visit. I gave him a detailed account of my morning’s work and handed him my report. He sat down and began to read each case carefully. He was greatly interested by the heterochromatic condition of the eyes, but even more so by the discovery of DuBois’ tumor. He gave me instructions to have the organs mailed and told me to include my report in the package. He also instructed me to fill out the “Cause of Death” column hitherto left blank. The choice of causes was left to my own judgment and discretion; the only stipulation was that each cause be different. Almost apologetically he remarked that, as I could see for myself, these children were syphilitic and tubercular, and consequently would not have lived in any case . . . He said no more about it. With that he had said enough. He had explained the reason for these children’s death. I had refrained from making any comment. But I had learned that here tuberculosis and syphilis were not treated with medicines and drugs, but with chloroform injections.
I shuddered to think of all I had learned during my short stay here, and of all I should yet have to witness without protesting, until my own appointed hour arrived. The minute I entered this place I had the feeling I was already one of the living-dead. But now, in possession of all these fantastic secrets, I was certain I would never get out alive. Was it conceivable that Dr. Mengele, or the Berlin-Dahlem Institute, would ever allow me to leave this place alive?