When did Mengele disappear from Auschwitz?

Olivier Guez: "The Disappearance of Josef Mengele"The "engineer of the Aryan race" on the run

Would you like to know what special requests Josef Mengele had when he went to a prostitute in exile in South America? Or what was the pleasure of marrying his brother's widow for him? Then you have come to the right place at Olivier Guez. The French journalist and author has read the most important biographies and documentaries about the SS officer. His novel is supposed to contribute the rest. He doesn't just want to describe the doctor at the Auschwitz mass extermination camp, but the whole person: the Wagner-enthusiastic son from a rich Bavarian family who suffers from his father's lack of love; the adolescent whose exploratory spirit awakens through a given microscope; the hereditary hygienist who obsessively believes in Hitler's idea of ​​an Aryan master race. The literary form allows Olivier Guez - in comparison to the biography - more internal view, more intimacy. In his novel "The Disappearance of Josef Mengele" he extrapolates the collected facts into a psychological portrait of the "Angel of Death from Auschwitz".

A new existence in exile

The central questions: How did Mengele build a new existence for himself in exile in Argentina? And: Was the mass murderer aware of any guilt after his flight from occupied Germany in 1949? He is introduced under the name Helmut Gregor, which is in his forged passport.

"Avellaneda, La Boca, Monserrat, Congreso ... With the help of an unfolded map he familiarizes himself with the topography of Buenos Aires and feels tiny in front of the chessboard-like grid, an insignificant flea, he who had recently bullied an entire empire. Gregor thinks to another planned city - barracks, gas chambers, crematoria, rails - where he had spent his best years as an engineer of the race, a forbidden city with the acrid smell of burned hair and flesh, all around watchtowers and barbed wire He had driven around the car between the faceless shadows, tireless cannibal dandy, boots, gloves and uniform sparkling clean, his cap a little crooked. [...] Even his comrades from the Black Order were afraid of him Jews were selected, they were drunk, but he stayed sober and whistled a few bars with a smile Tosca."

As a long-time, experienced journalist, Olivier Guez has mastered the fast-paced, compact, powerfully visual reportage prose. With literary subtleties - as with Éric Vuillard, author of the also documentary novel "The Agenda" set in the Third Reich - one is not spoiled, however. On the contrary: Guez tends to use pithy metaphors like the quoted "cannibal dandy", which do not differentiate but dazzle. Because an ogre driven by hunger looks downright cute in comparison to a systematic destroyer of people like the ones the Nazis produced in rows. It is no different with the striking contrast between ex-tyrant and flea. Because why should Josef Mengele feel as small as a flea when he arrived in Buenos Aires? His ego is based on two PhD degrees. And his father, a powerful company boss in Bavaria, generously financed his escape. Even more: Argentina, as Guez describes in detail, is a stronghold of fled Nazis. With their help, President Juan Péron wants to help his country achieve new dimensions.

Nazi stronghold Argentina

"So Perón [...] operates as a big rag collector. He rummages in Europe's garbage cans, starts a gigantic recycling campaign: With the rubbish from history, he will rule history. Perón opens his country to thousands and thousands of Nazis, fascists and collaborators; soldiers , Engineers, scientists, technicians and doctors, war criminals who are invited to equip Argentina with dams, missiles and nuclear power plants and turn it into a superpower. "

Olivier Guez never loses sight of the political contexts that were constantly changing during Mengele's decades-long flight. The strength of his novel "The Disappearance of Josef Mengele" lies in its precise, easy-to-understand presentation. The desolate private soul gaze of the unscrupulous egomaniac takes on a complex historical dimension. The focus of the first part of the novel is the integration of the concentration camp doctor into the Nazi ropes in exile. The overly cautious refugee becomes "the Pascha". Because there is no threat from the young Federal Republic. Chancellor Adenauer systematically reactivates the old Nazi officials, none of whom has an interest in hunting down war criminals who are on the run. That way your own crimes stay under the carpet.

The end of rest

But times change. The pro-Nazi Argentine president is overthrown in 1955, and the Israeli secret service is hunted down the murderers around the world. Mengele's years as "Pascha" are followed by the years as a harried "rat" described in the second part of the novel. Because he has to go underground. After the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, the chief bureaucrat of the Holocaust, he was targeted by investigators. Olivier Guez went to Mengele's escape places himself and described them in great detail: as the pinnacle of his growing paranoia, the self-built watchtower in Brazil. The last highlight of the novel is the meeting of the aged Mengele with his only son Rolf, whom he has only seen once before.

"'We, the Germans, had to act as a superior race," says Mengele. Hitler had a hundred million Germans in mind, two hundred and fifty in the medium term, and one billion in 2200. "One billion, Rolf! He was our Caesar and we, his engineers "Should see to it that an increasing number of healthy and racially correct families were always available to him." Papa, what did you do in Auschwitz? ' Mengele paused indifferently, he was seldom interrupted. 'My duty', he says flatly, 'my duty as a soldier of German science: protecting the biological and organic community, purifying the blood and freeing it of its foreign bodies'. "

Justification phrases of an unteachable man

How Mengele's son reacts to his father's justifications is not revealed here. Just this much: Olivier Guez convincingly portrays the fall into a lonely, self-pitying creature torn by obsessions and attacks of aggression. He makes it clear how easily an ambitious careerist can become a mass murderer if the state provides the necessary ideology: an ideology that simply declares part of humanity to be subhuman and thus clears the way for undreamt-of atrocities. However, Guez undermines his self-imposed goal of getting closer to Mengele. Because with simplifying metaphors such as "monster", "mad wolf" or "prince of European darkness", he raptures him into a demon. Mengele was just one of many, as Olivier Guez himself shows: with a list of the other Auschwitz doctors who were able to resume their normal, well-paid lives in the young Federal Republic. Here lies the reverberation of horror that makes this historical political thriller a disturbing read despite its literary weaknesses.

Olivier Guez: "The Disappearance of Josef Mengele".
Translated from the French by Nicolas Denis.
Construction Publishing House, Berlin. 224 pages, 20 euros.