The Tattooist of Auschwitz: Is Dr. Schumann Based on a Real Nazi Doctor?


Peacock’s ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ follows an incredible story of love and hope in the midst of one of the bleakest times in history. It centers on Lali Sokolov and Gita Furman’s romance as they try to survive the horrors of the Holocaust. Every day, the threat of death looms over them because no one knows when they might be pulled from the crowd and sent to their deaths. As a tattooist, Lali gets to see different sides of the camp, all of which reveal a new kind of horror to him. He meets something similar in Dr. Schumann at the infirmary and realizes how many more horrors are unfolding in the camp. While the show keeps the terrifying doctor in the background, he is actually based on someone who played a very important role in the deaths of millions of people at the hands of the Nazi regime.

Dr. Schumann Represents the Angel of Death at Auschwitz

‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ presents the real story of Lali Sokolov, and almost every character in the series is based on a real person he came across at the camp. Dr. Schumann was one of them, but this is not his real name. It has been changed in the TV show, but in the book written by Heather Morris, Lali confirmed that this doctor was none other than Josef Mengele.

Born in 1911, Mengele studied medicine and was focused on the study of human genetics and anthropology, among other things. In 1938, he joined the Nazi Party and joined the Frankfurt Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene while also joining the SS. In 1943, he was appointed as the chief doctor at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the stories of his experiments on prisoners became the stuff of nightmares. Known for his eerily calm demeanor, especially while doing atrocious things, Mengele was one of the people in charge of the administration of Zyklon B in the gas chambers at two crematoriums at the camp. He was also involved in the selection of prisoners who would either be sent to labor or to the gas chambers. But these weren’t even the most horrific things he was known for.

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As portrayed in ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz,’ Mengele, like Dr. Schumann, used his position and complete freedom to do whatever he wanted to with the prisoners to work on his research and experiments. He was known to have been especially interested in twins and would often use them for experiments. He was known to have treated the prisoners in horrendous ways and injecting and poking them with all kinds of stuff in the name of his research.

Mengele’s work in the Auschwitz camp and the fear generated by him ended up adding to all sorts of stories about his cruelties over the years. Efforts were made to catch him and bring him to trial to answer for his crimes, but Mengele successfully evaded capture. Following the war, he moved to Bavaria, where he briefly worked as a farm stableman, and then fled to Argentina and later to Paraguay, where he became a citizen in 1959 and lived for a decade. He eventually moved to Brazil, where he lived till the end of his days, and died in 1979 after having a stroke while swimming. However, his death was verified only in 1985 by a team of forensic experts.

While Mengele may have escaped the trial, he spent the final years of his life miserably. His diaries reveal that he had been piss-poor, lonely, and depressed. The capture of other high-ranking officers caused him anxiety, as he worried that he would be next, and this led him to chew the ends of his mustache, which resulted in a blockage in his intestine and caused severe abdominal pains.

Mengele never had to answer for his actions during the war, and he remained unrepentant even after it. Reportedly, he justified his actions in several ways. He claimed that as a doctor, he was simply doing his job and actually saved many lives. Other times, he said he was simply following the orders that were given to him and didn’t kill someone with his own hands, showing not one shred of remorse.

Read More: The Tattooist of Auschwitz: Is Leon Based on a Real Person? What Happens to Him?