overheard conversations filled me with happiness. The first
occurred when Mengele was in his office discussing politics
with his three doctors. He had such discussions with them
almost every morning. They all had access to daily newspapers,
which they read religiously.
The suite was
four approximately twelve-by-twelve-foot rooms, each with a
handmade rectangular table, some wooden chairs, and a few
books. Mengele would sit on one side of the table in his
office, and the three young doctors would sit on the other
side, sipping coffee from metal cups. The young ones leaned
forward, listening intently. Mengele acted as though he were
having a casual conversation among friends, discussing
politics, the daily routine, whatever.
day the young ones would ask Mengele what was going on in the
Fatherland. They were reading in their papers about staggering
German military losses, and they were worried.
soothing, telling them that Hitler had special plans, that he
was letting the Russians think they were winning the war by
letting them capture a lot of little countries, but scientists
were working on new, awful weapons which would miraculously
change the war's entire complexion.
respectfully but were skeptical. They asked, "How come the
Canadians, French, and English all are attacking us? How come
we can't protect our own people?"
"We let them
do a little bit of damage to us. At the end, they'll be
bombard the Homeland," he said smugly. I knew from the
underground messages that Britain had already bombed Germany a
couple of times.
I was often
around during these discussions, because Mengele still didn't
think I understood German. One morning, I went in to clean
Mengele's offices. The doctors and Mengele were having their
usual cups of coffee and asking Mengele why the Gypsies,
Masons, Slavic races, and Jews were being eliminated. One of
the doctors earnestly asked Mengele, "Why are we killing Jews?
They never did anything to us. They have the best engineers,
artists, scientists, doctors, musicians. Germany was built
with streets named after Jews."
Mengele looked over his shoulder to make sure
nobody was watching or listening. Then he leaned forward in
his chair and looked at the doctor who asked the question. He
would address them all as
(My dear children). The doctors loved that.
Every time Mengele called them that name, they acted almost
like dogs rolling over on their back so their stomach could be
them with such fatherly affection that he often didn't even
let them go along when he did selections. Instead they did
research, from what I could gather in the snatches of
conversations I overheard. What kind of research, I never did
find out. I'd heard about Mengele's experiments, but I never
saw any. I heard Mengele had stopped them after he moved over
to Birkenau. In any case, all I saw were autopsied corpses.
Mengele said to the three doctors. "The Jewish
people, no matter where they are, they become the best in the
world. Yes, you're right. They have all kinds of medicine,
music, and scientific discoveries." Then he described how rich
some of them were, including the Rothschilds, and how the
French borrowed from the Jews so the country could fight a
war. "There can't be two smart peoples in the world. We're
going to win the war, so only the Aryan race will stand."
asked a question, to which Mengele replied: "My father fought
in the German-Austrian war with the tsar. That was in 1914,
when they started fighting, and we kept winning the war. Then
the United States came in, and we started to lose the war.
Now, the whole world is involved against us and we're only 90
said, the Germans had some of the French and Italians on their
side. "We didn't realize the Jewish people were going to
fight," Mengele said, slowly, deliberately, without any
they fighting?" one of the young doctors asked.
next to the camp, there are all kinds of chemical factories.
Take a look. They work right next to us in those camps, those
Jewish pilots. A lot of them were shot down. Take a look. All
kinds of nationalities are fighting, the English, the Indians,
the Pakistanis. There are even some Jewish brigades fighting
A lot of what
he said just then was correct. Many times when I went out with
the death wagon to pick up corpses, we would see and talk to
English pilots, American pilots. We even ran into a number of
Jewish pilots. Under the Germans they were being forced to
build factories. They lived in the work camps surrounding
hard, I continued to clean the windows, wash the floors and
tables, and shine boots.
Mengele said. "Even the Russians are fighting us. They've
brought in Jewish pilots, nurses, and doctors. Everybody's
ganging up on us. We didn't think it would happen this way."
happen in this war?" one of the doctors asked Mengele.
what can I tell you? You know what the
situation is now. Everything is in the open. There's nothing
stood up and said something that made me want to grab his neck
and crush his throat, to kick his balls until they were jelly,
then stomp on his face.
never had anything against the Jewish people. But they're
smarter than we are. Hitler wanted to be smarter than the rest
of the world, so we had to eliminate the Jews. In reality,
they never did anything to us. They didn't even have a country
of their own to fight against us. We have to eliminate them.
There can only be one smart people and it's us. We're winning
the war. Our Fuehrer knows what he's doing."
One of the
doctors just shook his head, and Mengele proclaimed again that
the Fatherland was working on the world's most destructive
weapon, which would change everything overnight. The young
ones just looked at him pityingly. They knew it was a lost
cause. Then the talk ended. It was time for Mengele and his
doctors to make their rounds, to see how quickly and
efficiently Jews were being killed.
crazy bastard, that bastard,
I thought to
myself. It was the beginning of 1944; I knew the end of the
war was a long way off. Of course, not a syllable of any of
these thoughts escaped my mouth. He would have had me gassed
the conversation was over, my friend Josef asked me what had
But I played
dumb with him, too. We went on to clean something else.
In the second
conversation that thrilled me, I happened to be cleaning in
Mengele's office while the three doctors were there alone.
They were discussing how the war was going, and it was going
the world to bring educated people into this fight. Pilots,
boat captains, officers: all of them are fighting us," one
"What do you
expect? People have to fight for their lives. You can see how
many prisoners we took in, educated people. Now they're
destroying our cities and killing our people."
said: "We didn't realize they had so many Jewish people in
England. They're bombing and destroying our cities."
One of them
looked very somber. "Well, we're getting paid back for what we
did up to now. Why should they lie down and die? Look at what
we're doing to the
leaned forward in his chair, forehead furrowed.
"Why are we killing the Jews? What did they do
to us?" he asked. "They're the smartest people in the world,
and they're the richest people in the world, too. They have
banks. Look at what they're doing in England. Rothschild gave
them all that land to open up new air force bases. He gave up
all that land to fight us. The Jew bastard wouldn't give up
that land before."
I could tell
what they meant. It was the same old Nazi propaganda. They
were saying that the Jews control everything and are greedy,
rich, and selfish, so they're getting what they deserve. But I
was excited to hear how badly the Germans were losing.
the Germans were in deep trouble militarily didn't mean that
the way they treated us had softened. Germany was being
blanketed by bombs without pause or mercy. The Nazi mythology
said the master race was invincible and Germany would never be
bombed. Yet the mothers, wives, girlfriends, sons, and
daughters of these soldiers and doctors were being killed,
maimed, driven into starvation and homelessness by repeated
had trouble grasping the problem. It was beyond anything they
had been led to believe. Their world was being exploded, one
bomb at a time.
Read much more about Joe Rosenblum's experiences during the
Holocaust in the Museum of Family History's exhibition "Walk
in My Shoes: Collected Memories of the Holocaust," or read
his book in its entirety.
the Darkness: A Tale of Courage in the Shadow of Mengele"
by Joe Rosenblum with David Kohn, Praeger Publishers, 2001.