Ex-U.S. consul general recalls identifying Mengeles remains

For Stephen Dachi, a former dentist specializing in pathology, the exhumation of Josef Mengele's skeleton was a startling occurrence.

"June 6, 1985 was a particularly shocking event for me personally as I watched [the exhumation] on TV in Sao Paolo," said Dachi, who was then a U.S. consul general in Brazil. "Although I'm not Jewish, I grew up in Eastern Europe where many of my friends and family perished during the Holocaust."

Dachi, 64, discussed the search, discovery and identification of the remains of the Nazi death doctor earlier this month at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame. Dachi, who now lives in Arlington, Va., teaches government at Georgetown University.

Addressing a packed house of about 100, Dachi said that a month before the exhumation, German police had raided the home of Simon Weidelmain in Sao Paolo, finding letters and papers that led them to the house where the occupants had harbored Mengele until his death in 1979. The occupants took the German and Brazilian police to a small cemetery in a suburb outside Sao Paolo where they had buried Mengele under an assumed name.

Although Brazil's minister of justice said no foreign experts would be allowed to examine the remains, Dachi was able to persuade the chief of police to allow him to be present.

Since an agreement had just been signed by the United States and Germany to cooperate on war criminals, forensics experts arrived from both countries. A representative from Israel was also on hand.

"Although the German team came with dental charts of 1939, it had no significance as so many years had passed," Dachi said. The forensics experts determined that the skeleton was a male, the same height as Mengele. The skull was a perfect match with 26 anatomical points observed in a photo. When Dachi examined the photos, he saw a hole at the cheekbone. The experts agreed that by American legal standards, they were only 95 percent certain the remains were Mengele's. They needed 100 percent proof.

However, in a raid of the house where Mengele had lived, police found diaries that matched Mengele's handwriting from SS files. The diaries gave a chronological record of his day-to-day life during the 1970s. Dachi saw that Mengele had documented a root canal procedure on Dec. 6, 1978 performed by a Dr. Gama in a place called "Sam." If the X-rays from that surgery could be found, they would provide 100 percent proof that the remains were Mengele's. However, none of the Dr. Gamas located in Sao Paolo performed root canals.

Where was Sam? Rereading the diary, Dachi discovered from his knowledge of German that Mengele used a code for place names. Deciphering this code, he discovered that Dr. Gama had been in the same suburb, Santa Amaro, where the grave was discovered.

Using the telephone yellow pages, Dachi found a Dr. Gama there who specialized in root canals. Taking a Brazilian policeman with him, he told Dr. Gama, "We're looking for X-rays of a man who had a root canal on Dec. 6, 1978."

While Dr. Gama's records did not include X-rays, the dentist referred Dachi to a Dr. Katha, who had X-rays that positively matched with the skull.

In concluding his talk Dachi said, "The only thing I felt about what I'd done — I still remember all those people being rounded up that I never saw again since I escaped. Somehow I was able to put a drop into an ocean of closure: never again.

"It means a lot to share my experience. I feel a strong kinship — we all went through this together."