The Tragic Heroism Of Gisella Perl, “The Angel of Auschwitz”

Published March 9, 2016
Updated July 3, 2018

Forced to work for the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz, Gisella Perl risked all to save as many lives as she could. This is her incredible, heartbreaking story.

Gisella Perl

Gisella Perl with a baby. Image Source: Wikipedia

We have previously shared the story of Stanislawa Leszczyńska, a midwife at Auschwitz who delivered almost 3,000 babies while imprisoned in the concentration camp. But while Stanislawa delivered infants, another Jewish medical professional risked her life to save the lives of other women in Auschwitz: a gynecologist named Dr. Gisella Perl.

Under the watchful, evil eye of Dr. Josef Mengele, Perl realized that in order to save the lives of the women in her care, she could not safely deliver babies like Stanislawa. Instead, Perl performed abortions.

Gisella Perl was born in Hungary in 1907 and showed signs of being particularly gifted early in life. At the age of 16, Perl graduated first in her secondary school class, becoming the first woman and the only Jew to have done so.

Her father was hesitant to support her academic aspirations, particularly in medicine, fearing that they would lead her to abandon her faith. She assured him that they would not. Perl later married a surgeon and was working as a gynecologist in Hungary when the Germans invaded in 1944.

That year, the Nazis sent Perl, her husband, son, parents and extended family to Auschwitz. A young daughter was hidden with a non-Jewish family just before Perl’s family was taken from the Hungarian ghetto.

Upon arriving at Auschwitz, the Nazis separated Perl from the rest of her family. Her son would die in a gas chamber, and her husband would be beaten to death shortly before the camp was liberated. Gisella Perl was spared, only to become an Auschwitz physician under the notorious Josef Mengele.

Josef Mengele

Dr. Josef Mengele. Image Source: Wikipedia

Initially, Perl was tasked with encouraging inmates to donate blood for use by the German army. When Dr. Mengele realized that Perl had been trained in gynecology, however, he saw an opportunity to obtain information about which inmates had arrived pregnant.

In addition to his experiments on twins, Mengele also performed horrific experiments on pregnant women, including vivisection (experimentation and, in some cases, autopsy-like surgeries performed on living, waking humans).

Mengele commanded Perl that she was to report all pregnancies to him directly. Pregnant women, he said, would be sent to a different camp – one with better care for mother and child. Having already seen the horrors that prisoners faced at the hands of the Nazis, Perl knew better than to believe him. She also knew that she couldn’t tell him about a single pregnancy. How she’d keep them a secret, however, she had yet to figure out.

Tragically, some women who overheard this conversation went to Mengele to tell him they were pregnant of their own volition. They were experimented on and, ultimately, died.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England . Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Bustle, Mental Floss, Atlas Obscura, and Quartz.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Norman, Abby. "The Tragic Heroism Of Gisella Perl, “The Angel of Auschwitz”.", March 9, 2016, Accessed May 18, 2024.