Inside Rolf Mengele's Conversation With His Father, Nazi Scientist Josef Mengele

After German defeat was imminent in the waning stages of World War II, many higher-ranking Nazi officials and military personnel saw the writing on the wall. Staying on in their homeland meant an eventual capture by Allied forces, with certain death for war crimes a strong possibility. A good number of Nazi brass fled their country, hoping to begin new lives abroad under newly forged identities. 

History tells us that South America was the final destination for many of those in self-exile. Argentina was one of the countries that harbored such fugitives from Allied justice, as it became a haven for hundreds of thousands of German citizens who had left before the end of the war. Argentine President Juan Perón had sympathies with many fascist beliefs and ordered his administration to give aid to the droves that arrived at the tail end of the global conflict. The country became home to some of the most notorious Nazi war criminals. Among those living in hiding was Adolf Eichmann, who is credited for being the mastermind behind Hitler's "Final Solution." Also within the nation's borders were labor camp commandant Josef Schwammberger, SS commander Erich Priebke, and the Nazi "Angel of Death" Josef Mengele

These men, along with the others who left Germany in a hurry, had the foresight to avoid the noose. These high-profile Nazis may have been tried at Nuremberg with other prominent members in 1946, in which 10 were sent to the gallows (via the New York Daily News). But that wasn't the case for Mengele. 

A conversation between father and son

Josef Mengele lived in hiding in Germany until he was able to safely escape in 1949 (via History). He lived in and around Buenos Ares for about a decade using his real name until Adolf Eichmann's capture made international headlines. This prompted Mengele to go back into hiding. Decades after going into exile, the fugitive was paid a visit by his son, Rolf, at his home in Sao Paulo. It was 1977, more than 30 years after the war that ravaged all corners of the globe had concluded (per The Jewish Chronicle). But Mengele knew that even though time had passed,he would have to be careful, even with his flesh and blood.

Mengele was paranoid about being exposed, and probably rightfully so. The visit was coordinated through a series of letters between the two, as well as with the help of a man Mengele trusted named Hans Sedlmeier. Rolf was given orders to travel to Argentina using a phony passport (he wound up using the papers belonging to a friend that he looked like) and to take certain precautions to avoid being followed. When Rolf safely arrived to meet Mengele, he spent the next 14 days with his father, perhaps hoping to get the answers that he had been seeking for more than three decades. He began by asking his father about his time at Auschwitz, where Mengele had been accused of using his medical license to perform horrific experiments on those imprisoned there. 

Rolf leaves a disappointed son

According to Rolf Mengele, his father immediately began to justify the racist views held by so many in the Nazi regime (per The Jewish Chronicle). Rolf pressed his physician father to justify his belief in a master race, to which Mengele could only espouse "sociological, historical and political" arguments that Rolf maintained were "quite unscientific." Mengele told his son that he did not "invent" the death camp, but did have "to do his duty" while placed there.

Mengele claimed to have made every effort to save as many incoming prisoners as possible, trying to single out those who would be able to work and have a chance at surviving. Mengele, who had a reputation for performing horrific experiments on sets of twins, in particular, maintained that the camp was full of twins that owed their lives to him. When it became apparent that Rolf was casting doubt, Mengele exploded and exclaimed (via The Jewish Chronicle), "Don't tell me that you, my only son, believe what they write about me? On my mother's life, I have never hurt anyone."

Rolf left after 14 days, feeling that his father wasn't remorseful about his deeds. Though he was determined to not alert anyone to his father's whereabouts, he was able to conclude that he did not want to further develop a relationship with him. According to History, Mengele suffered a stroke while swimming in Brazil in 1979. It wasn't until 1985 that his death was verified. He had been living under the last name Gerhard and was only identified using dental records.