Mengele: The Complete Story ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Dr. Josef Mengele (1911-1979) embodied the strange duality seen in other high-profile members of the Nazi party during the Third Reich. As physician at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, he was capable of the most barbaric cruelty and scathing disregard for human life, while at the same time loving animals, trees, flowers, music and poetry. He was father, husband and beloved of his close-knit family and his loyal friends and supporters.
After World War II was over the Nazis were defeated, Dr. Mengele became the most sought-after and most reviled man of the twentieth century. While many of the infamous members of the Nazi party were brought to justice and executed, including Adolf Eichmann, Mengele somehow managed to escape justice, not for lack of trying on the part of the governments of Germany and Israel and several intrepid “Nazi hunters.”
Dr. Mengele was interested in anthropology and genetics. He believed that a super-human German race was possible through genetic engineering and scientific manipulation. At the Auschwitz concentration camp, he had unlimited human subjects on which to conduct his experiments. He was especially interested in twins, dwarves, and people with physical defects and disabilities. He would infect children with diseases and then wait for them to die so he could dissect them. He experimented with dyes to change eye color on his subjects, and the result was often blindness and death. His experiments were often bizarre, cruel, and medically useless. He was a real-life mad scientist.
If Dr. Mengele’s medical experiments at Auschwitz weren’t enough, he was also one of the Nazi officers to perform “selections” of prisoners as they exited the train cars: Go to the right and you live. Go to the left and you die. These selections were based on the physical appearance and age of the prisoner and nothing more. Dr. Mengele seemed to enjoy the job of making selections; he was always looking for new subjects for his experiments.
Dr. Mengele always maintained that he did nothing wrong at Auschwitz; he was only following orders, only doing his duty. According to him, he saved many lives and helped many victims of the diseases that were prevalent in concentration camps, such as typhus. However, there were many eyewitnesses who survived the camp who told a much different story; he was not called “the Angel of Death” for nothing. He was cruel and callous, without sympathy for his victims. If he had ever been brought to trial, the testimony of the witnesses would have convicted him.
After the war, Dr. Mengele’s life became a strange odyssey of escape, pursuit and evasion. He got away to South America; first Argentina and then Paraguay and then Brazil. He had lots of Nazi sympathizers to help hide him who refused to believe the stories about him. On the other hand, there were many people who would have given almost anything to have him brought to justice. At one time there was a reward of ten million dollars on his head. A kind of mythology grew up around his ability to escape; he became known all over the world as the one Nazi who got away. The Mengele story was fed by lies, exaggerations, misinformation and the pursuit of notoriety. Mengele “sightings” were reported in places where he could not possibly be.
This is not to say that Dr. Mengele lived a life of luxury and ease as a fugitive in South America. To remain hidden, he often lived in squalid conditions and in isolated places, separated from his family. He lived in constant fear that he would be recognized and maybe even kidnapped, as Adolf Eichmann had been. In 1979, Dr. Mengele died at age 67 of a stroke while swimming and was buried in a modest grave in Brazil. His remains were disinterred in 1985 to provide positive identification. So ended the life of an elusive monster.
Mengele: The Complete Story by Gerald L. Posner and John Ware is an exhaustive factual account of the wartime activities of Dr. Josef Mengele and his postwar life in South America as a fugitive. Dr. Mengele was a relatively young man during the war, only in his thirties, so he lived a long postwar life. The exhaustive details of the political machinations in South America, particularly in Paraguay, to keep him from being extradited, are too much information for the casual reader, like me, but, except for some tedious details and far too many difficult South American names thrown in, Mengele: The Complete Story is a fascinating account of one of the most infamous figures of World War II.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp