From Mengele to Hysterectomies, Fascist Systems Open the Door For SadistsPhoto courtesy of Getty Politics Features Immigration
Not everybody in Nazi Germany conducted grotesque “medical” experiments on human beings. Not every doctor did. Not every concentration camp doctor did. But Josef Mengele did. Read a small sample of his work:
The experiments he performed on twins included unnecessary amputation of limbs, intentionally infecting one twin with typhus or some other disease, and transfusing the blood of one twin into the other. Many of the victims died while undergoing these procedures, and those who survived the experiments were sometimes killed and their bodies dissected once Mengele had no further use for them. Nyiszli recalled one occasion on which Mengele personally killed fourteen twins in one night by injecting their hearts with chloroform. If one twin died from disease, he would kill the other twin to allow comparative post-mortem reports to be produced for research purposes….many of his victims were dispatched to the gas chambers after about two weeks, and their skeletons sent to Berlin for further analysis. Mengele sought out pregnant women, on whom he would perform experiments before sending them to the gas chambers. Alex Dekel, a survivor, reports witnessing Mengele performing vivisection without anesthesia, removing hearts and stomachs of victims…witness Vera Alexander described how Mengele sewed two Romani twins together, back to back, in a crude attempt to create conjoined twins; both children died of gangrene after several days of suffering.
Mengele was a sadist, through and through, and he was able to operate in Auschwitz with such impunity because he worked within the framework of a fascist state that devalued certain human lives; in this case, Jewish lives. Mengele was unique in his barbarity even among Nazis, but it’s not quite accurate to call him an anomaly. He was able to let his impulses run wild within legal bounds because of the Nazis. Their ideology protected him; he operated under their auspices. He could not have existed, in quite so monstrous a form, without their prejudice and without their power.
Recently, a nurse named Dawn Wooten leveled several accusations against the Irwin County Detention Center, an ICE facility in Georgia, regarding its dangerous treatment of immigrants, mostly as it relates to the spread of COVID-19. The most shocking allegation, though, concerns the facility’s alleged practice of referring immigrant women to an outside gynecologist who performed hysterectomies on these patients at alarming rates. Wooten is not alone; other immigrants have made the same complaint to Project South, the group that compiled the grievances:
Several immigrant women have reported to Project South their concerns about how many women have received a hysterectomy while detained at ICDC. One woman told Project South in 2019 that Irwin sends many women to see a particular gynecologist outside the facility but that some women did not trust him…More recently, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five different women detained at ICDC between October and December 2019 who had a hysterectomy done. When she talked to them about the surgery, the women “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.”…she further said: “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”
Ms. Wooten also expressed concern regarding the high numbers of detained immigrant women at ICDC receiving hysterectomies. She stated that while some women have heavy menstruation or other severe issues that would require hysterectomy, “everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.” Ms. Wooten explained:
Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody. He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady [detained immigrant woman]. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy. She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids… she said she was not all the way out under anesthesia and heard him [doctor] tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary.
Ms. Wooten also stated that detained women expressed to her that they didn’t fully understand why they had to get a hysterectomy. She said: “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.”
It’s important to note that these allegations are, thus far, unproven. Democrats in Congress are calling for a federal investigation, and Nancy Pelosi has compared the allegations rhetorically to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and the “forced sterilizations of black women.” We’ll know more as time goes on about the extent of the abuse, and the reasons behind it.
The comparison here, between this doctor and Mengele, or the current U.S. government with the Nazi regime in Germany, isn’t meant to be one of scope. Instead, the similarities are in the type of abuse we’re seeing, not the magnitude. Just like Germany, or any other nation in the world, America has its sadists. It’s possible that this gynecologist is one of them. (It’s also possible that it’s something as banal as wanting to charge the government as much as possible per patient, which would be its own kind of evil. And in fact, the doctor has been accused of Medicaid and Medicare fraud in the past.) The existence of a sadist in this doctor’s position wouldn’t be a surprise, since sadism is an abnormality that pops up in the human population from time to time. The point is, if these allegations are true, he was allowed to perform unnecessary hysterectomies for so long because of a system that dehumanized and devalued the life of immigrant women. That system made them less important, less worthy of protection, and sadists know how to target the unprotected. Even in the unlikely case that this story turns out to be fictional, a real sadist will emerge before long. The circumstances make it inevitable.
Sarah Owings, an attorney for one of the detainees, said, “I don’t think this is necessarily a systemic sterilization by ICE. I think this is the kind of thing that is allowed to flourish in the course of poor oversight and terrible, inhumane conditions of confinement.”
Exactly. It’s the same reason that thousands of immigrant children were sexually abused in detention centers, according to a New York Times report from last year. It’s not that everyone who works at a detention center is an abuser or a pedophile, just as it’s not true that every medical professional associated with ICE facilities is an aspiring Mengele. But if there are pedophiles at detention centers, they’re more likely to get away with sexual abuse due to the way our administration treats immigrants. If those children are somehow less human than your average citizen, if they’re so insignificant that they can be traumatized by being separated from their parents and imprisoned, you can be the implication will be understood clearly by the people with the desire and opportunity to abuse them—these kids are acceptable targets.
Comparisons to the sterilization of black women and the Tuskegee Syphilis study are apt for the same reason. America enslaved then subjugated then discriminated against our black citizens in what can be called a systematic, in many cases top-down policy of dehumanization. It stands to reason that when obscene medical experiments and procedures were conducted on our population, black men and women would be the primary targets, just as immigrants are the primary target today. (Latina and Native American women have also been targeted in America, and in fact the sterilization efforts undertaken by the U.S., particularly in California, influenced Nazi Germany and Mengele specifically, just as U.S. immigration policies influenced Hitler.)
Which people are hated, in ways that are tacitly or overtly encouraged by the government? Which people are vulnerable?
Answer that question, and you’ll find the group of people who are most likely to be victimized by sadistic operators belonging to the majority. Mengele targeted the Jews; in the U.S. of the past, black men and women were exploited. Today, it’s the immigrants.
It doesn’t matter if Mengele or the doctor in Georgia are anomalous, because the question is not whether anomalous impulses exist—they do—but whether they’re allowed to thrive. Give a sadist a state with fascist tendencies, an “out-group” that has been degraded, and a system where that out-group is vulnerable, and you’ve already opened the door for horrific behavior. Sooner or later, the sadist will step through that door and go to work. This is not an explicit feature of the system, but nor is it a bug. It’s simply an inevitability.