|Directed by:||Shel Piercy||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2000||Running Time:||47 mins|
|More Info:||NY Times credits and other details pertaining to "Leo's Journey"||Category:||feature Film|
Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele conducted his infamous “medical” experiments on Jews at Auschwitz as research for his Ph.D., which he needed in order to teach at universities. Sharing this and other little-known facts and first-hand accounts, Leo’s Journey: The Story of the Mengele Twins explores the notorious doctor’s research on twins during the Holocaust as the documentary follows Leo Lowy, one of the rare twins to survive, on an emotional journey back to the concentration camp for the first time.
“They call him the angel of death, but in my case he saved my life. And he saved a few others,” Lowy explains in a matter-of-fact tone, “but that was not his intent. He was just not given enough time to do what he set out to do.”
Leo’s Journey offers both a personal and historic account of the eugenics movement in Germany, which bridged Nazism and science and allowed Mengele to conduct his experiments on Jews. Interspersing footage of Lowy’s experience revisiting the site of his torture and near-execution with a broader historical perspective on Mengele’s “research,” the film offers first-hand accounts, archival Nazi propaganda films, and interviews with expert historians to tell the chilling story of how 3,000 twins were seen not as human beings but scientific subjects — and why only 258 survived.
Nazi power hinged on the belief in Aryan supremacy, that “pure-bred” Germans and other Nordic peoples were a race superior in mind and body to all others. The fear that “inferior” peoples would overpopulate and destroy the high German culture of which Nazism was so proud led to the eugenics movement — an attempt to guarantee the purity of the superior race by sterilizing and murdering others. This eventually translated into the rounding-up and mass murder of the mentally ill, the physically handicapped, homosexuals, gypsies and Jews.
Lowy came from Beregove, a small town in modern day Yugoslavia, where 8,000 Jews were sent off to the Holocaust and only four returned home. When he and his twin sister stepped off the cattle car at Auschwitz they were only fifteen years old. Most children were immediately killed when they arrived to the concentration camp but, because they were twins, Mengele spared Lowy and his sister for his research.
Mengele chose twins as subjects so he could conduct experiments on one child while using the other as a control. One woman remembers lying naked on an examining table and having every part of her measured, studied in gross detail, and compared to her naked sister beside her. These girls were lucky: for many twins, this thorough examination was followed by a quick execution so that their organs could be studied with the same attention.
Leo’s Journey explores Mengele’s personality in an attempt to understand how a well-educated man could be so numb to the most basic human morality. Archival photographs show Mengele as a young man, smiling confidently with a full head of dark hair parted and slicked back. One woman remembers he was the kind of man who left an impression when he walked into a room. “Gorgeous! Elegant looking man!” she says of the doctor. But this same suave gentleman laughed when he read over a sick girl’s chart, saying, “Too bad she’s so young, she has only two weeks to live.”
One of the more disturbing revelations made in the documentary is that, for many of these vulnerable child subjects, Mengele became a perverse father figure. Most of the twins had lost their parents to the Holocaust, and the strong masculine authority became a stand-in parental figure. His critical attention to them as subjects for his twisted research gave their lives some sense of worth, while the lives of the rest of the Jews in Auschwitz were considered valueless. So while he tortured them, he also protected a few.
“To be a Mengele twin meant only Mengele could kill us,” the woman explains, “No one else dare touch us.”
Unintentional savior to few, torturous murderer of thousands, Mengele remains one of the Holocaust’s most intriguing and terrifying personalities.