Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mengele's Fingerprints

From a 1959 article by Mr. Simcha Bunim Unsdorfer [Published later by the Jewish Observer in 1977]

Three Times "Nazi Horror Man Seized!" "Aushwitz Doctor Captured!" Once again headlines like these have appeared in various newspapers this week - and, once again, within hours of their publication, these reports were promptly denied. They were either a "complete fabrication," or a man was indeed arrested but it was not the hunted Dr. Joseph Mengele, "the fingerprints did not match .... " 

Having had the displeasure of facing Dr. Mengele at a time when he was the hunter and I the hunted, I follow these reports with great interest. "It was thought he was Mengele," one Agency reported, but "the fingerprints didn't match!" What kind of fingerprints, I wonder, would the thumb of Dr. Mengele produce? The thumb that motioned countless thousands, maybe millions, including my own parents, my sister and her five children, to their deaths? Would these prints, if looked at through a fine microscope, bear witness to the mass murder committed by the soulless Doctor of Annihilation? I stood three times before that infamous left-hand thumb that swung like a pendulum between life and death. Three times my heart missed a beat as it waited for that thumb to move towards the right - life, or towards the left - and Auschwitz Gas Chambers.

 No Selection at Auschwitz 

At 11 a.m., on Thurday 19th October 1944, a twelvetruck cattle train came to a halt at Auschwitz Extermination Camp. In it yet another load of a thousand Jewish victims to face judgment before that self appointed master of life and death, Dr. Joseph Mengele. Amongst the victims were my parents and myself - my sister and her family having gone through the same ordeal a week earlier which ended in Mengele's thumb pointing towards the left. ... One hour after our arrival, we found ourselves inside a huge wooden barrack, convinced that every single one of us was doomed for the gas chambers. Our conviction was based on two facts: a) We were not subjected to the usual "selection" that normally took place on the platform; and b) of the thousand people in our transport, nearly half were inmates of the only remaining Jewish Old Age Home in my native Slovakia. These old people, none of whom was below the age of 75, were assured by the Germans that they would never be deported. That assurance held good until Eichmann's Aide - S.S. Obersturmfuehrer A. Brunner, who is also still at large, allegedly in Egypt - had decided to rob them of this, their one and only desire on this earth, that is to be allowed to die in their own beds. He hauled them out and pushed them into our transport. And just as we expected to be led into the gas chambers, the huge barrack doors were flung open and in marched a troop of S.S., headed by a high ranking officer. He stopped for a moment, as if to take a general view of the mass of panic-stricken white-faced newcomers. Then he gave a slight nod with his head, a signal which only his fellow S.S. men could interpret. ... That officer, I learned later, was Mengele. Dr. Joseph Mengele, trained to cure the sick but practicing wholesale murder. 

He rested his right arm between the shining buttons of his smartly fitting S.S. tunic, in true Napoleonic style, and began to march forward to make his "selection." Mengele was certainly a "specialist" in his job. He was looking for young, able-bodied men and women to be sent to Germany's labor camps; he was looking for the retarded, spastics, dwarfs, and even twins on whom to perform his "medical" experiments; and he was looking for the aged, the weak, and the ailing to feed them into his gas chambers. What was a few minutes earlier a crowd of tired and silent people, suddenly turned into a mass of crying, screatning, pulling, and pushing men, women and children - a human stampede fighting for life. Women trying to pull back their "selected" daughters; sons were screaming to their fathers to follow them; hysterical mothers clutching their babies, old couples tightly holding on to each other - and all the time the S. S. lashing out mercilessly against them all. Dr. Mengele who gave the signal for "action" went on with his "selection" quite undisturbed. To him this had become a normal, perhaps a boring, day-to-day routine. He swung his thumb from left to right - from life to death - leaving it to the S.S. guards behind him to do the rest. Then the moment came. Mengele gave one glance at me and his thumb motioned right. It was to be expected. I was then only nineteen and fit for work. I tried to turn round for a quick goodbye to my parents, one last word to father, one last kiss for my mother. But no. 

An S.S. hand grabbed me by the collar and pulled me away. In a flash my father's hand reached forward in a desperate effort to protect me from the murderous grip of that S.S. man. Mengele mistook it and thought that my father was trying to follow me. "Dort bleiben!" he yelled. "Stay there." My last moment with my parents - and my first encouter with Mengele was over. ... 

The Dead Filing Past the Living 

Three mornings later as we stood assembled in another barrack waiting for transportation to one of Germany's many slave labor factories, the doors were pulled open again. In came Mengele and his escort. The sight of the man who had murdered my parents just 48 hours earlier made my blood boil but, within seconds, it froze again at the thought that he was here not to apologize or to console us but to collect a fresh group of victims, more food for the ever-burning four huge crematoria of Auschwitz. "Strip to the waist and form into a single column!" the barrack leader - himself an inmate - ordered. Within minutes we were filing past the slow-moving thumb of Dr. Mengele again. Now and again he picked his new victims from the line - no reasons, no protests - just a flick of the thumb and a life was at an end. Ironically, this "selection" had the appearance of a crowd of mourners filing past the coffin of a departed friend. So solemn and so silent was the atmosphere. Yet, here you had the tragic difference of seeing the dead filing past the living 

Then it was my turn to face Mengele again; for a moment it seemed as if he was hesitating. I was always on the skinny side and his thumb remained still, as if paralyzed. And just as I thought that my end was in sight, a sudden push from the.impatient column behind caused me to stumble forward and I was" through" for the second time. The "selection" over, Mengele counted his catch, an unknown number of doomed men standing silently in a comer behind a line of S.S. He counted them slowly and then, in a flash, turned round again screaming and raving that one man had escaped! Escaped? Who could have got away from this column of fully armed six-foot tall S.S. men? - But nobody dared question him, not even his own men. "Line Them up Again!" "Line them up again!" he yelled at the barrack leader. ''I'll recognize that dark-haired skinny youngster. The tall boy with the glasses - I'll recognize him immediately." My blood froze as I heard this description. It fitted me perfectly as, indeed, a good many others in the barrack. As the line began to move again, I took a deep breath to fill out my chest and lungs and in desperation I removed my glasses. Slowly I cam nearer and nearer to him. Then, suddenly, the column stopped. For there, just about ten men ahead of me, he pulled out an 18- year-old youngster shouting jubilantly: "You! You are the one I picked out before." "No! No!" the boy, a former classmate of mine, cried: "It was not me, Sir. Look, my hair is red! I am short, and I never wear glasses .... " But Mengele was not interested. The "selection" was over, and so was my last and final encounter with him. 

Now Mengele is a hunted man. Hunted by the living and haunted by the dead. And when the day of his capture will arrive, there should be no difficulty in identifying him. Those who, like myself, have stood in fear and terror before him will require no fingerprints.... I would recognize him by the mere sight of his thumb.