‘The Disappearance of Josef Mengele’ by Olivier Guez – “This is the story of an unscrupulous man…”


‘The Disappearance of Josef Mengele’ by Olivier Guez (2017) – 213 pages              Translated from the French by Georgia de Chambaret


Here is a novel that meticulously recreates the life of the most notorious one of all the Nazi war criminals who fled to South America after World War II, Josef Mengele. It is fiction because no one knows for sure what Mengele thought or said or did during those more than thirty years he escaped punishment for his crimes.

This is the story of an unscrupulous man with a small, hard soul struck down by a poisonous and deadly ideology that spread through a society weakened by the disruptions of modernity. The ambitious young doctor offered no resistance to the disease of Nazism.”

Mengele was a member of the team of doctors at the Auschwitz concentration camp who selected victims to be killed in the gas chambers and administered the killing gas. He performed deadly experiments on prisoners and was known as the Auschwitz Angel of Death.

He somehow escaped arrest after World War II, and in 1949 sailed to Argentina. Mengele’s father had founded a company that manufactured farming machinery, and the family was able to funnel Josef money throughout the rest of his life.

The leaders of Argentina at that time, Juan Peron and his wife Eva, welcomed these Nazi war criminals with open arms.

Peron opens the borders of his homeland and welcomes thousands upon thousands of Nazis, Fascists, and collaborators: soldiers, engineers, scientists, technicians, and doctors. War criminals are invited to build dams, missiles, and nuclear power plants, turning Argentina into a superpower.”

During the Peron years, Mengele adopts a new name, Helmut Gregor. Otherwise he can live pretty much out in the open with little fears of arrest. In 1956, he obtains a West German passport and goes back to Germany to visit his son Rolf. He starts a relationship with his widowed sister-in-law Martha. Mengele returns to Argentina and starts living under his real name. Martha and her son come to Argentina, and Mengele marries Martha.

Life in Argentina is relatively quiet for Mengele until 1959. In West Germany, Nazi hunters start collecting information on Mengele’s wartime activities and start extradition proceedings against Mengele. Mengele moves to Paraguay to avoid arrest, and his new wife and stepson move back to Germany.

Then in 1960, Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann is arrested in Buenas Aires by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Eichmann was executed in Israel in 1962. To escape arrest in 1960, Mengele goes to Brazil.

He may have despised the Argentines, but he truly hates the Brazilians; half-breeds every one of them, mixing Indian, African, and European blood. To a fanatical race theorist who mourns the abolition of slavery, they are the Anti-Christ.”

At the end of this novel, the father Josef Mengele talks to his son whom he hasn’t seen for many years and tries to justify what he did at Auschwitz. Old Josef Mengele is unrepentant.

His son asks, “Have you never felt compassion for the children, the women, the old men you sent to the gas chamber? Do you have no remorse?” Mengele gives his son a filthy look.”

In 1976, Mengele suffered a stroke, and he drowned in the coastal Brazilian town of Bertioga on February 9, 1979 while suffering another stroke. He was 67 years old.

In the end, though, the novel portrays Mengele as a thoroughly despicable character, who came to a miserable — if not miserable enough — end.” – Julia M. Keith, The Forward.


Grade:    A




4 responses to this post.

  1. Bother! I brought this home from the library and then had to take it back before I’d had a chance to read it.
    Looks like I’ll need to put in a reserve request now!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. I think I would like this one. Must see if I can track down a copy.

    Liked by 1 person


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