On the trail of josef mengele

Sigismund von dobschutz "only with the form of the novel could i get as close as possible to the macabre life of the nazi doctor", writes french journalist and author olivier guez (44) in the sourcebook of his novel "the disappearance of josef mengele," which won the prix renaudot in france in 2017, now published by aufbau-verlag in august. Only in this way can guez succeed not only in creating the abstract figure of german history and the "angel of death from auschwitz", but also in creating a new and different kind of "story" but also to show josef mengele (1911-1979) as a human being between fear of death and arrogance during his 35 years of pitiful life in latin american hiding places.

On the basis of countless sources, guez vividly describes mengele’s first years in argentina under the protection of a circle of nazi hoodlums who had also fled and who had already aligned themselves with the autocratic peron regime. Mengele leads a carefree life, since the federal republic is more concerned with reconstruction than with international war crime hunting. This only changes when, in the early sixties, the hessian attorney general fritz bauer blasts off to hunt down the war criminals and the auschwitz trials take place.

In the novel we accompany mengele in the following years of hiding, his total reliance on helpers. We experience almost in the manner of a diary his constant fear of betrayal, his homesickness for gunzburg, but at the same time his unrepentant mental persistence in the nazi ideology. While a new world is being created around mengele, mengele is unabashedly praising adolf hitler’s racial ideology.

Guez has succeeded in doing something new with his novel: while we who are born later know josef mengele as an abstract person from historical-scientific literature, the author presents us with the "angel of death from auschwitz" as a person with characteristics and feelings, a person between ambition and pathological delusion, from whom even his own family finally abandons him.

As exciting as the novel is to read and as interesting as the plot is to write, based on countless facts, we must not forget that the book is only a novel! But therein lies the danger: the author leaves it to us to distinguish between fact and fiction. But who of us readers, if not professionally educated, is really in a position to do this??

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