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MAY 2009 — The horrifying medical experiments conducted on concentration camp victims by Josef Mengele, the chief doctor of Auschwitz from 1943 to 1945, may not have been his only legacy. A new book asserts the Nazi war criminal known as the “Angel of Death” may also be responsible for the unnaturally high number of Aryan-looking twins in a small Brazilian town he frequently visited after fleeing to South America after the war.

In the early 1960s, at the same time Mengele began to make regular visits to the Brazilian town of Cândido Godói, the number of twins there began to skyrocket, says Argentine historian Jorge Camarasa in Mengele: The Angel of Death in South America. Ever since, as many as one in five pregnancies in the predominantly German hamlet have resulted in twins—many of them with blond hair and blue eyes.

“I think Cândido Godói may have been Mengele’s laboratory, where he finally managed to fulfill his dreams of creating a master race of blond haired, blue eyed Aryans,” Camarasa told the London Daily Telegraph. “There is testimony that he attended women, followed their pregnancies, treated them with new types of drugs and preparations, that he talked of artificial insemination in human beings, and that…[he said] he was capable of getting cows to produce male twins.”

Some experts believe, though, that there is a scientific explanation for the phenomenon—one unrelated to Mengele. Ursula Matte, a researcher in the medical genetics unit at Porto Alegre Hospital in Brazil, told New Scientist magazine that she and her colleagues had been invited in 1994 to Linha São Pedro, a township owned by Cândido Godói, to investigate the twin birthrates. Matte said she found that 10 percent of the town’s births from 1990 to 1994 were twins, compared to only 1.8 percent in the surrounding area—an admittedly high rate.

But after interviewing more than a dozen pairs of the twins and conducting blood tests, Matte says she believes the researchers have found an explanation. Not only does the town have a high recurrence of multiple births, she says, it also has a high level of inbreeding.

“Even though we could not find a definitive explanation for this higher incidence, the existence of other ‘twin towns’ around the world—most of them in remote isolated areas with high levels of inbreeding just as Linha São Pedro—shows that external influence is not needed for this to happen,” Matte says. Because the town’s families tend to have twins only every other generation, she believes this suggests a recessive genetic trait.

The high number of Aryan twins, meanwhile, probably has more to do with the town’s German ancestry than with any genetic manipulation on Mengele’s part. “I don’t think Mengele would have the knowledge, not to mention the means, to engender the rise in twin births in this community,” Matte says. “It’s noteworthy that twin births occurred there in almost every time period, even in the 1990s, so what kind of long-lasting manipulation could he have perpetrated?”

Mengele died in 1979, 16 years after the “twin town” boom began.