Josef Mengele was born on March 16, 1911 in Gunzburg, Germany. His father was a middle class industrialist and Josef also had two younger brothers.
After finishing school, he studied at the Universities of Munich, Vienna, and Bonn, getting a Ph.D. in anthropology in 1935. The topic of his dissertation concerned the differences in jaw structure between different races. After graduating, he moved to Frankfurt, where he studied medicine and graduated with a medical doctorate in 1938.
Josef first became involved with the Nazi party in 1932, when he joined the Bund der Frontsoldaten, an organization that was later incorporated into the SA. In 1937, he applied for membership in the Nazi Party and was given a position in the SS in 1938. Mengele married a woman named Irene Schoenbein in 1939.
Mengele served some time in the military in 1938, but was transferred to the reserve medical corps in 1940. From that point forward, he served with a Waffen-SS military unit, specifically the Wiking division. In 1942, he was wounded while fighting at the Russian front and reported as unfit for combat. For his service, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and awarded an Iron Cross. He had earned the cross for pulling two tank crew members out of a fire and saving their lives.
Mengele was then transferred to the concentration camp at Auschwitz to serve as a replacement for the previous doctor. On May 24, 1943 he was appointed medical officer at Auschwitz-Birkenau's gypsy camp. There, he began performing twisted experiments on prisoners in the camp.
One of his chief fascinations was with identical twins and he had all of the twins in the camp placed in a special barracks. One of his experiments involved attempting to alter the eye color of the victims by injecting chemicals into their eyes. In one particularly horrifying case, he attempted to take normal twins and conjoin them by sewing their bodies and blood vessels together. Another experiment involved submerging people into boiling water to see how long they could survive.
If any of his victims survived the experiments, they were nearly always killed and dissected afterwards. He became known as the "Angel of Death" and determined who would be experimented upon by examining all new admissions to the camp.
In August of 1944, all of the prisoners in the camp were exterminated and Mengele was transferred to Birkenau, where he was appointed Chief Medical Officer. In April of 1945, he tried to escape Germany by going west, but he was captured by Allied forces and placed in a prison camp. However, they had no idea who he was and released him.
Mengele worked on a farm in Northern Germany for a while before fleeing to Argentina in 1949. He divorced his wife Irene in 1958 and sent for his brother Karl's widow, Martha. After she arrived in Argentina, they were married and they returned to Germany in 1950. Back in Germany, he worked as a toymaker and later in a company that manufactured medicine.
In 1959, he was forced to flee Germany again after Nazi Hunters found his address. His wife left him and he moved to Brazil in 1960. There, he lived until February 7, 1979, when he drowned while swimming at a beach.