Project I Genetic Defects in Families and Twins

On December 16,1942, two weeks before Mengele turned up at the Berlin-Dahlem Institute, Himmler had given the general order that all Gypsies, with the exception of a very few racially pure families, ought to be transferred to Auschwitz. A detailed order was given on January 29,1943. Before, most German Gypsies had been held in various camps. The Gypsies had been an object of study for students and post-docs of von Verschuer and Fischer. In particular Dr Georg Wagner, a graduate student working in the Dahlern Institute under Fischer, had written his dissertation on them (24). He had published a paper on eye anomalies of some Gypsies in 1944 (25). Dr Karin Magnussen, a biologist and collaborator of Fischer, had specialised in eye defects. She was particularly interested in heterochromatic eyes. Wagner had briefly mentioned the prevalence of this trait among German Gypsies (24), so it made sense to continue the work after all Gypsies had been concentrated in Auschwitz. Magnussen mentions in her paper (26) that she also received eyes from the Berlin anatomist Prof. Dr Hermann Stieve: Stieve had access to the corpses of all persons executed in Berlin (27). Nyiszli describes the murder of the twins with eye anomalies (20). In her DFG report of October 1944, Magnussen mentions that she has a paper in print in the Zeitschrift für induktive Abstammungs- und Vererbungslehre on het-erochromatic eyes. The article never appeared. The publishing house was destroyed in the war.

Another post-doc at the institute, Dr Hans Grebe, was interested in inherited malformations. One may assume that the skeletons of the two Jews who, according to Nyiszli, were shot by Muhsfeldt, were sent to him in June 1944. Grebe received a professorship at the University of Rostock in the autumn of 1944.

Scientists are known to be curious. Did von Verschuer ever ask Mengele what went on in Auschwitz? Did he ever ask how Mengele came to send the eyes of an entire Gypsy family to his institute? The answer is apparently no. It is the absence of curiosity about the fate of the twins which is so disturbing. The connection between Verschuer's Dahlem Institute and Auschwitz was tight. Mengele came for several visits to the Dahlem Institute. A post-doc of the institute, Dr Siegfried Liebau, who was also a member of the SS, testified, as a witness at the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt, that he went at least once to Auschwitz to collect Gypsy material that Mengele had prepared (27). The judge did not ask for any further details.

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