A monster in the family
QUESTION The infamous ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele came from a family who owned a firm producing agricultural equipment. Does this company still exist? IN 1871, Andreas Eisenlauer set up an agricultural machinery repair workshop in Guenzburg, at the confluence of the Guenz and Danube rivers, in Bavaria.
By the start of the 20th century, he had begun producing threshing machines but, in 1907, the company was taken over by Karl Mengele (1884-1959). Around this time, Karl married Walburga Hupfauer.
When Karl went to fight in World War I, Walburga ran the business with a rod of iron and, when Karl came back from the war, he took full advantage of a peacetime hike in production to become the thirdlargest company of its kind in Germany.
Karl and Walburga had three sons: Josef, born on March 16, 1911, and twins Karl and Alois, born on January 30, 1914.
As the eldest son, Josef was expected to take over the firm, but declined, partly through ambition and partly, according to his biographers, over distaste of his parents’ ‘coldness’.
Instead, at 19, he went to study medicine at Munich University. Later, of course, he became the camp doctor at Auschwitz.
Mengele Sr joined the Nazi Party, a connection that kept the Mengele family in business and allowed it to prosper, and the company remained successful after World War II. When Karl and Alois joined the firm, it was renamed Karl Mengele and Sons.
Karl died from a heart attack in 1949 and, in a strategy thought to have been devised by Karl Sr to keep the Mengele shareholding within the firm, his widow Martha moved to Uruguay and in 1958 married Josef, who had fled there after the war.
Karl Mengele and Sons went from strength to strength. In 1947, it began producing machine tools, increasing its sales as its workforce grew to almost 2,000. Its 1958 manure spreader, the Doppel-Trumpf, was its most successful product and led to a doubling of turnover in that year alone.
Karl Sr died in 1959, and Alois took over running the firm. He introduced loader wagons to its portfolio as it became one of the world’s leading agricultural manufacturers, operating four factories.
When Alois died in 1974, his son Dieter took over and was joined by Josef Mengele’s nephew and stepson Karl-Heinz in 1985. (Having escaped justice by moving to Paraguay and then Brazil, Josef died in 1979 when he suffered a stroke while swimming and drowned.) After a decline in prices and lack of demand at the end of the Eighties, the Mengeles sold the business to the Bidell company in 1991.
Bohnacker AG took over Mengele Agrartechnik in 2003 and, in May 2009, the company entered into a partnership with Dutch agricultural machine manufacturer Lely, which eventually took over the firm in May 2010. It still operates today under the name Mengele Agrartechnik.
Jeremy Poulson, Exeter, Devon. QUESTION Why do chlorophyll and haemoglobin molecules look so similar? CHLOROPHYLL is a molecule of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms arranged in a configuration known as a porphyrin ring. The porphyrin ring is a planar group of four connected rings, each of which contains a nitrogen atom that faces the centre of the ring cluster.
These four nitrogens provide for the insertion of a metal ion, which, in the case of chlorophyll, is magnesium. This one atom of magnesium is crucial for plants to be able to take energy from sunlight and transform it into plant fuel. It also gives chlorophyll, thus plants, a green colour.
Haemoglobin is a protein molecule found in red blood cells (erythrocytes). Haemoglobin is a far larger molecule than chlorophyll, but embedded in this molecule are four heme groups C34H32FeN4O4.
Each is a porphyrin ring with a similar structure to that of chlorophyll. However, the metal ion held within the cage is iron. This iron molecule binds with oxygen and facilitates the transport of oxygen around the body. It also gives blood its red colour. The versatility of the porphyrin ring, its molecular simplicity, functionality and its ubiquity in nature suggest that it evolved a very long time ago.
At that time, life’s chemistry was less elaborate than it is now, and one molecule may have performed many functions. Later, that porphyrin ring became embedded in larger organic compounds called proteins, which, themselves, became increasingly varied with time and evolution.
Dr Ken Warren, Glasgow. QUESTION I understand that there are at least ten Hammer films that were scripted, but never made. What were they? THE number of films scripted by Hammer, but never made, exceeds those mentioned in the earlier answer.
For example, The Karnstein Trilogy of The Vampire Lovers, Lust For A Vampire and Twins Of Evil was to have been rounded off by a fourth, Vampire Virgins.
It concerned a pair of 19th- century vampire hunters stalking the Karnstein clan, but was shelved in favour of Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.
In the early Seventies, an ambitious production called Dracula Walks The Night was mooted. It was intended to begin with Dracula’s origins as Vlad the Impaler, then move forward to 1885 when Van Helsing was to join forces with Sherlock Holmes to battle the vampire in the streets of London.
Budgetary restrictions scaled the production down to Dracula AD 1972, the first of two contemporary Dracula adventures. There would have been a third, The Insatiable Thirst Of Dracula, but Christopher Lee refused to don the fangs any further.
Brian Hayles’s 1974 BBC radio play Lord Dracula inspired another ambitious project, Vlad The Impaler, which Hammer hoped would star Richard Harris as the real-life warlord who becomes the vampire Count. The project failed to get off the ground, though the central idea eventually formed the prologue of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.
Another film worth mentioning is Zeppelin Vs Pterodactyls, a lost world movie set during World War I and commissioned to make up for Hammer failing to get the remake rights to King Kong. Given that it was originally titled Raiders Of The Stone Circle, it might even have proved to be the forerunner to the Indiana Jones films! Barry McCann, Spooky Isles, spookyisles.com, Blackpool.
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Young Nazi: Josef Mengele in 1942