[NSFW] The Historical Accuracy of Slayer's 'Angel of Death'

And why some labels refused to release the album.

Ultimate Guitar
[NSFW] The Historical Accuracy of Slayer's 'Angel of Death'

In 1986 American thrash metal legends Slayer released their iconic album ‘Reign in Blood’. The record label ‘Def Jam recordings’ distributor ‘Colombia Records’, refused to release the album because of song #1 “Angel of Death”, written by late Jeff Hanneman. Therefore the album ended up being distributed by Geffen Records, however, Geffen Records didn’t put ‘Reign in Blood’ in their release schedule nor did they put their own logo on the album.

The reason for the controversy regarding Angel of Death, was that the song dealt with Josef Mengele's experiments on human prisoners during the Holocaust. Nazi doctor Josef Mengele was also known by his alias Angel of Death, which is the reason behind the song title.

The song gives detailed descriptions of the pain and suffering caused by these inhumane experiments, and this caused Holocaust survivors as well as the general public, to think that Slayer was pro-Nazi and pro-Holocaust. Song writer Jeff Hanneman denied this by saying “I know why people misinterpret it, it’s because they get this knee-jerk reaction to it. When they read the lyrics, there’s nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily he was a bad man, because to me, well, isn’t that obvious I shouldn’t have to tell you that”.

The following part of this article will look at the historical accuracy of the lyrics for ‘Angel of Death’. This is done by choosing quotes, analyzing and expanding on these and comparing them to the known historical facts.

“Auschwitz, the meaning of pain. The way that I want you to die. Slow Death immense decay. Showers that cleanse you of your life. Forced in like cattle you run. Stripped of your life’s worth. Human mice for the angel of death. Four hundred thousand more to die”

Auschwitz-Birkenau was Nazi-Germanys largest concentration and extermination camp. Located in Poland, the camp was split into 3 parts. Auschwitz I; A prison camp reserved for political prisoners. Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau; A concentration and extermination camp. And Auschwitz III; A slave-labor camp for the chemical and synthetic Rubber manufacturer ‘IG Farben’, incidentally the manufacturer of the poison gas used in the camp.

Commander of the camp was, for the most part, SS-captain Rudolf Franz Höss. Doctor Josef Mengele worked in the camp doing medical experiments, he would choose victims for his experiments among the camp's prisoners. During the war, an estimated 1.1 – 1.5 million people died in Auschwitz whereas 90 % were Jews. Most of these people would die in gas chambers, after being told that they had to take a shower to clean them of any lice and for the general hygiene of the camp and prisoners.

Therefore Auschwitz has become synonymous with Holocaust and for Slayer to mention Auschwitz as the first word, sets the stage for what the song is about. The reference to showers that cleanse you of your life, is a reference to the gas chambers being disguised as showers for the newly arrived prisoners. Mostly women and children would be directed straight to the gas chambers at arrival, whereas the able-bodied men would be sent to the slave-labor camp.

The gas for the gas chambers was Zyklon B, a pest-poison which was chosen after experiments showing that this gas killed a human the fastest. The speed of the killing was not a factor because the Nazis wanted to ease the pain of the victims, it was a factor because more people could be killed every day with a more effective poison gas. Gas wasn’t the only way the Nazi tried to killed prisoners, bullets and exhaust gasses was used before switching permanently to Zyklon B. Zyklon B is a hydrogen cyanide which binds to a protein stopping the production of ATP, involved in the electron transport chain, part of the human metabolism.

The reference to cattle, like cattle going to the slaughter house is a much-used metaphor, describing how the victims couldn’t do anything to save themselves from getting killed. Human mice is a reference to the experiments done by Josef Mengele. Four-hundred thousand seems like a random number which might have been chosen to show the scale of the Holocaust. Not all historical examples shown below was done by Mengele at Auschwitz.

”Angel of death. Monarch to the kingdom of the dead. Sadistic surgeon of demise. Sadist of the noblest blood. Destroying, without mercy, to benefit the Aryan race”

Monarchy in Nazi Germany became illegal when the Nazis came to power. Therefore the monarch reference is in no way a literal reference, but a metaphor for Josef Mengele as the monarch of all the people he killed.

In regards to the sadist comments, Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology Robert Jay Lifton described J. Mengele as a clear sadist, manifested by him smiling when he made the selections for the human experiments and gas chamber victims. The noble blood is a reference to the racial hygiene, eugenics and especially antisemitism which was an important part of the Nazi ideology. The Nazis saw the Aryan race as the master race, above every other race. The blue-eyed, slim built, blond and strong male was the ideal for the Aryan race, where humans with physical and psychological disabilities along with other races was seen as life unworthy. This was how the Nazis justified their killings, the people they killed wasn’t worthy of their life and therefore they should either die or could be used to benefit the Aryan race by being subjects to human experiments or as slave-labor. Josef Mengele was especially fascinated with twin-experiments. He would examine monozygotic twins usually by injecting some kind of virus or poison thereby killing one twin. Then he would kill the other twin and perform a dissection of both, to the see where the poison had affected one twin compared to the other. Josef Mengele also performed a lot of blood transfusion amongst twins and have been said to have bled some to death.

”Surgery, with no anesthesia. Fell the knife pierce you intensely. Inferior, no use to mankind. Strapped down screaming out to die.”

A survivor of Mengele, Alex Dekel said "Mengele ran a butcher shop. Major surgeries were performed without anesthesia. Once, I witnessed a stomach operation. Mengele was removing pieces from the stomach but without any anesthetic. Another time, it was a heart that was removed, again, without anesthesia. It was horrifying.”. This source says that surgery without anesthesia was common practice and since Josef Mengele had little or no regard for his victims and was a clear sadist, there was no reason for him to waste time and resources easing the pain of his victims.

That Josef Mengele saw his victims as inferior is unquestionable, he was of the clear belief that he was from a superior race and believed that he had the science to prove it as well. That his victims were no use to mankind is both incorrect and correct. The victims was of no use because they were inferior, according to the Nazi ideology these people wasn’t worthy of living. But the victims could be used for human experiments and slave labor, and thereby they could be to some kind of use for the Aryan race.

”Pumped with fluid, inside your brain. Pressure in your skull begins pushing through your eyes. Burning flesh, drips away. Test of heat, burns your skin, your min starts to boil”

I have found no historical evidence that fluid were pumped into the brains of victims. This could partly be down to the fact that a lot of the records from experiments were destroyed and never to be seen or it could be because no such experiments were ever done. Many experiments with ‘fluids’ were done though. In one experiment Josef Mengele tried to change the eye color of children by injecting chemicals into them, this caused a lot of children to become blind and endure excruciating pain.

Other experiments with ‘fluids’ involved the injection/exposure to Malaria, Mustard gas, Streptococcus, Clostridium perifringens (Gangrene Gas), Clostridium tetani (Tetanus) and different kinds of poison into prisoners, typically by cutting a wound in the patient, sometimes shattering bones and putting glass and wood into the wound, to simulate battle wounds. Also serums meant for immunization against diseases such as malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever and infectious hepatitis were injected into prisoners.

Experiments involving heat was, for example, the treatment of phosphorus burns from bombs. In these experiments, burns would be afflicted to prisoners and thereafter treated to find the optimal way to treat the wounds. Radiation burns was another type of burns, along with chemical burns from the mustard gas. In Auschwitz, the gassed prisoners would be burned, not as a part of an experiment but in order to cut expenses and save time by not having to bury the bodies. At the end of the war, the Nazis began putting living children directly into ovens or burning pits, in order to cut cost and gas.

”Frigid cold, cracks your limbs. How long can you last in this frozen water burial?”

Experiments involving the freezing of prisoners was done somewhere between 360-400 times on 280-300 prisoners, which indicates that some prisoners where subject to more than 1 experiment. 2 types of experiments were made. One type of experiment placed the prisoner in cold water, as low as 4-6 degrees Celsius, to see how long the victim could survive. This was done for the Luftwaffe to test their garments as well as to test how long the body can survive in this cold water. The other type of experiments was done in the open air, prisoners would be placed naked at temperatures down to -6 degrees Celsius, to test how long they could survive. Some of these experiments would try to rewarm the victims again, in one case a freezing inmate was thrown into boiling water for warmth.

The cracking of limbs, was done as explained above by infecting the prisoner with a bacteria and inflicting gunshot-like wounds. Other experiments were performed, were prisoners would have bones, muscle and nerves cut out and transplanted onto another patient. The prisoners who didn’t die from this abuse was typically mutilated, crippled and in huge pain for the rest of their life. Experiments were sometimes done solely on the shins, other times the whole leg or arm were transplanted.

“Sewn together, joining heads. Just a matter of time, till you rip yourselves apart”

Experiments were made to join twins, in an attempt to make Siamese twins. I have found no data suggesting that it was the heads that were being sewn together. The only type of experiments making Siamese twins I have come across, where were prisoners had been sewn together back to back, connecting organs and blood vessel together. These twins died from gangrene at few days later. Another type of experiments involving the examination of the head, was one were a hammer connected to a machine, would hit the head of a 13 year old prisoner at timed intervals, to test head injuries.

Other experiments that might make you rip yourself apart, apart from the other ways of experimenting and killing, was for example sea water experiment, were victims were given only sea water in some form, this was used as a way to make sea water drinkable. It is reported that 90 gypsies were deprived of food and fresh water and was seen licking the freshly mopped floors, because of dehydration and their need for fresh water.

Other experiments were high altitude experiments, to test how high altitude affects German pilots. Therefore victims were placed in pressure chambers and those who’d survive were either executed or, rumored, that there would be performed vivisections on their brains. Blood coagulation experiments were performed as well. A Nazi doctor would give a pill for blood clotting and then shoot the victims or amputate a body part to determine whether the pill worked or not. Sterilization experiments were carried out on people with physical and psychological disabilities, because these people was seen as unfit to reproduce. The sterilization experiments were done with X-rays, Surgeries and various drugs.

”Millions laid out in their crowded tombs. Sickening ways to achieve the holocaust. Seas of blood, bury life. Smell your death as it burns deep inside of you. Abacinate, eyes that bleed. Praying for the end of your wide awake nightmare.”

That millions of people died in the holocaust is true. The numbers vary but the best estimates right now is up to 6 million Jews, about 5.7 million Soviet civilians, about 3 million Soviet POW’s, about 1.8 million Polish civilians, about 312.000 Serbs, up to 250.000 people with disabilities, about 200.000 Gypsies, and several other groups of people, including Jehovahs witnesses, repeat criminal offenders, political opponents and homosexuals.

As stated earlier mass graves was the first way to get rid of the bodies, but later on in some camps for example Auschwitz, the Nazis began cremating the bodies. In Treblinka, corpses from mass graves were even dug up only to be cremated. Seas of blood is historically a little inaccurate because the major part of the holocaust was done by gas, so not a lot of blood was shred this way. And only some of the human experiments caused a lot of blood, examples of this being an open stomach surgery, removal of hearts and sexual organs, and spinal surgeries leaving the victims paralyzed, and all of this was done without anesthesia as well.

Abacination is a form of torture were a red hot substance, could be metal or some kind of chemical, would be applied to the eyeballs of the victim thereby blinding them. There have been found no historical evidence for this though. As stated earlier, some victims were blinded in an attempt to change eye-color, but no evidence of abacination have been found.

”Wings of pain reach out for you. His face of death staring down. Your blood’s running cold. Injecting cells, dying eyes. Feeding on the screams of the mutants he’s creating. Pathetic harmless victims, left to die. Rancid angel of death flying free.”

This verse is about Josef Mengele and how he sees himself as superior and his victims as pathetic and inferior. As stated earlier this is very clearly the case, as professor of Psychiatry and Psychology Robert Jay Lifton describes Josef Mengele as a clear sadist. Examples of this underline this statement. One example is that a woman gave birth in a concentration camp. Then Josef Mengele ordered that the mother couldn’t feed her child, to see how long it could survive without food. After 7 days Josef Mengele gave the mother a syringe with morphine, asking her to kill the baby herself.

Another example of Josef Mengele's views on the victims, was that he drew a line on the wall in one of the children's blocks. The line was between 150 and 156 centimeters from the floor. Those who were shorter than this would be sent to the gas chambers. Another example was when a block in the camp was infected with lice, Mengele ordered the whole block to the gas chamber. He didn’t care that 750 women died because there were lice in the block.

Angel of Death is largely historically accurate, giving a great introduction to a historical subject, that songs typically don't do. Some details as pumping fluids into brains and abacination haven’t been supported by historical data. This isn’t necessarily because it didn’t happen though, it can be down to lack of sources. Overall there isn’t a lot of misleading and false statements in the song. The song isn’t a strict history lesson (and never claimed to be so) but it can be a gateway for many listeners to further study the Holocaust, for example with an article likes this, which expands the song and ties it to the historical realities.

46 comments sorted by best / new / date

    That monster died in São Paulo 1979, had a stroke while swimming and drowned. In 1985 his grave was tracked down and he was exhumed, after DNA tests it was confirmed in 1992 that the body was of Mengele.  Now his bones are used as educational aids during forensic medicine courses at the University of São Paulo's medical school. 
    Iron Invader
    The man who spent his life torturing people for medical experiments now has his bones used for medical experiments. That is poetic irony.
    If you think Mengele was bad...read up on Unit 731...and those bastards were never put on trial and got away with everything.  Slayer even wrote a song about it 
    There's even a movie about that (well, several, actually, including documentals)
    It's actually quite interesting to see the similarities between those two. Both did freezing experiments, pressure experiments and surgery without anesthesia/ vivisection.
    Imagined if this album came out today, the SJW would be all over it.
    Doubtful. People rarely attack a band for its creative expressions: The album doesnt exactly promote White Supremacy even though its certainly about it. Most people are fine with racism even its shown in an artistic light. Very few people complained about "Django Unchained." I cant think of many musical references because most modern day music is just bullshit love songs, and good stuff that nobody cares enough about to complain about
    Oh yes, they would be very offended by this negative depiction of Josef Mengele, I'm sure. They are big fans.
    Love the concept of an article like this, but Jesus, don't you guys have an editor? I could barely get through it with all the typos, comma splices, and other grammatical errors. Why do you have to spoil an otherwise great article with lazy errors?
    I wrote a paper on Mengele's experiments for the Luftwaffe back in college, at the time I was also comparing much of my research to the lyrics of the song. If I remember correctly, the line "Pumped with fluid, inside your brain. Pressure in your skull begins pushing through your eyes," seemed to make reference to the low pressure experiments mentioned in the article.   Experiments were done simulating expose to altitudes up to 40,000 feet to see the effects on the body in case pilots had to eject from a plane at these high altitudes, as the Nazi's at the time were experimenting with high altitude bombers. During these experiments, often the brain of the subject would begin to swell due to the low pressure, resulting in an edema (a swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body's tissues).  Pressure from this swelling could be felt on the back of the eyes.
    "That his victims were no use to mankind is both incorrect and correct. The victims was of no use because they were inferior, according to the Nazi ideology these people wasn’t worthy of living" Do you guys proofread anything? Cool article though.
    Well if you leave out the rest of the paragraph, it's not going to make sense. Unless of course the part that follows was edited afterwards, then my apologies.
    The context isn't relevant. I'm pointing out how bad the grammar is, cause the sentence barely makes sense. 
    I would like more articles like this if this is possible ( though not many songs like angels of death come to mind lirycally that is). Also Godwin's law cant be applied here i guess
    You might think to yourself, how could it get any worse than this? the answer to your question is : Communism
    People who are downvoting this should read Gulag Archipelagio. You could argue USSR wasn't worst then Nazi Germany but it was atleast just as bad.
    While I haven't read it, after doing a bit of research, the author's wife has criticized it saying that most of it was "campfire folklore" and not objective fact. 
    Amazing even 1 downvote on this. Then again, victors write the history books right?
    You are the most stupid guy i've seen on UG dude... Already yesterday on the Decapitated article you were like "huu don't climb in a tour bus if you don't want sex nieee" Here you're just in full ignorance... Idk if you're a troll or just super stupid. If you're a troll find you a life and if you're retarded stop Breitbart and Daily Stormer...
    He's a troll though, sometime I saw him getting positive votes: sometime I have a good point though.
    Such a shame that so many people missed the point of this song. I think it's because they equate angry music with hate. Maynard from Tool said it best-"Hate and anger are two completely separate energies. They may have a similar emotional content to them, but Anger is a much more constructive emotion". I definitely think that has been the case with Slayer from the start. Nobody sees the irony in a Chilean singer being accused of singing a song they claim is pro-Nazi. I guess they have themselves to blame a tiny bit because they liked have fun with that kind of paranoia in their early days. I remember reading an article about the perception of Satanism in Metal, where the "journalist" misquoted something he'd seen that the boys had printed on an early album cover  as a joke. He claimed that  Slayer was  an acronym for Satan Laughs While You Eternally Rot. Obviously he meant "As", but that's not the stupidest mistake he was making. Some fuckers just are just too stupid to realise a joke when they see it.  Worse than that, they fail to understanding that it is  important to  remember the worst of what human beings can be if we ever want to become better people.  In short, as ridiculous as it might seem, Slayer is all about peace and love. Because they get really fucking angry at  the greedy bastards and twisted sick fucks like Mengele who won't let people just do whatever they want to do to have a good time without hurting anybody.  
    Fantastic article, people need to chill out on nitpicking a few grammatical errors and focus on the topic. 
    Jesus fucking Christ, that was painful to read. And it wasn't due to the nature of the 'article'. Whoever wrote this needs to go back to school and relearn everything they were taught about grammar, and the first usage of present and past tenses. You want real information about Auschwitz and don't want to feel like peeling out your eyeballs? Wikipedia's got your back. Just avoid this drivel.
    Any reference to Mengele sits against his work on Psyops for the West after 1948. He became the trauma jockey for MK Ultra and monarchprogramming.com I met him mid my very quick and fast research into theme parks in 2002. I immediately checked this visible, audible and tactile contact with Wikipedia and found, correctly  he had died. O only had just read of his work using any sort of performing art or torture to dissociate subjects and reprogram them. or interrogate them once past a certain terror fuelled part..not that they would know, the only clues came with the system pushing images and memes to reinforce the base programming. bhmversusmengele.tumblr.com helps to explain what has taken me 15 years to find our, after 2002 to 2008 though I thought the subject would go nowhere. That the death mentioned here was a shiull you need to know his trauma work was so exceptional he was not really a slave to the West but a consultant. The secret is to inhibit or disinhibit someone and then you have them. Will Filer Psyops NSA (Extreme Process)  is your next call and I hope you ake songs about this as most people think only of the toxic past.  1, Programmers are themselves security vetted with monarch so have no real mens rea.  2. Nuclear war might be prevented by the West using this wisely, but everyone is in it for their own country and the extent of torture in for example North Korea's labour camps would make sense if they were using physical force majeure rather than mental statistically and mathematically protected deniable performing arts based subliminal hocus pocus. You can also,  3, go back with this control technique as far as the first slaves of war. I think it started then...before religion or nations, because human slaves are worth more alive than dead..up to. a point which the market determines? Seriously, I am no expert of the performing arts but P{rofessor Rogan Taylor of Liverpool Uni wrote The Death and Resurrection Show citing the use of the ecstatic response in challenging individuals AND countries.  4. Those systems may be inter or intra or super national now. And he missed the point for statistical and military efficiency the ecstatic route has been overtaken for the last 3 or 4 generations by the traumatic...it is militarily easier to calibrate and deliver, not that the ecstatic route was not tried in the 60's in the music industry. But militarily they overdid it a bit and then the control over musicians was most deniably lethal. I looked into Buddy Holly's death and accept that was likely an instrument/pilot error but Monarch can sublimate itself into all sorts or places..who knows, after seeing Derren Brown train a pianist, full physical mapping and overtaking muscle groups to the millimeter may have been attempted to the point what happened to me in the last decade (beachhutman on twitter) makes some sort of sense. It is a whole new world out there now in here, shortly to appear if it has not done already, in the music industry such that you now might notice and that means.....anywhere, anytime, anyone. Best avoided, it has been toxic for Human Rights, which is why I  have spent so many years filling any metion with this caveat. Be careful what you wish for, Fear, doubt, anxiety and guilt are the most effective ways in to your life...I just hope it is not the others..religion, sex, desperation or other profound loss. On the other hand , many many songs will reveal this sort of thiong and there is light as well as dark.  Tim Baber beachhutman on twitter
    A good article, but just reading it makes it difficult to upvote. If you've walked through one of these camps, even today, you'd understand.
    I still find it horribly fascinating how a group of people could get convinced they were biologically superior to others and therefore the others had no rights and could be treated like objects to be experimented on. Such unbelieveable arrogance and ignorance. It's like a massive illusion or a cognitive bias that they continuously assured themselves of. And they even created "evidence" for this and called it "science". This is what fear can do when used by a twisted clever madman.