Honorable Military Service
Mengele had joined the Nazi Party in 1937, at the age of 26, while working under his mentor in Frankfurt. In 1938, he joined the SS and a reserve unit of the Wehrmacht. His unit was called up in 1940, and he seems to have served willingly, even volunteering for the Waffen-SS medical service.
Between the fall of France and the invasion of the Soviet Union, Mengele practiced eugenics in Poland by evaluating Polish nationals for potential “Germanization,” or race-based citizenship in the Reich.
In 1941, his unit was deployed to Ukraine in a combat role. Josef Mengele – the rich, popular kid and outstanding student – distinguished himself again at the front for bravery bordering on heroics. He was decorated several times, once for dragging wounded men out of a burning tank, and repeatedly commended for his dedication to service.
In January 1943, a German army surrendered at Stalingrad. That summer, another German army was eviscerated at Kursk. Between the two battles, during the meatgrinder offensive at Rostov, Mengele was severely wounded and rendered unfit for further action.
He was shipped back home to Germany, where he again connected with his old mentor von Verschuer and received a wound badge, a promotion to captain, and the assignment of a lifetime: In May 1943, Mengele reported for duty to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.