As a lover of historical fiction and WWII genres particularly, the title and premise of this fascinated me. It's utterly incredible how the "Angel of Death" could be so elusive to world-class investigators, and manage to escape detection and capture for so long. Olivier Guez does a great job in holding your attention without the subject becoming too dry. A fascinating read for history buffs! Thanks so much to Olivier Guez, the publisher, & NetGalley for the opportunity to review this e-arc!
This story of Mengele charts what happened to him after World War Two ended, and he realised it might not be too smart to remain too close to home, in case he was recognised by former inmates at Auschwitz.
Josef Mengele belonged to a family of well connected, prosperous industrialists. This, and the fact that ex Nazis tended to support each other, much like an old school tie network, or a gangster organisation, help explain in large part how he managed not to get caught whilst on the run, rather than any mysterious invincibility on on his part.
The Peronista regime in Argentina was sympathetic to ex Nazis too, so while there wasn't a welcome committee when he first got smuggled there, life was pleasant for Mengele in Buenos Aires. There were those connections in high places, the parties, swims with ex-colleagues in lakes with beautiful scenery....... life was sweet. He even managed to get a passport and ID in his own name.
However, the as the desire for retribution stepped up pace, especially after Eichmann was arrested and executed some two decades after the atrocities, Mengele was forced to go underground again, and to escape to Paraguay. Here life was not quite as congenial as it had been before, but still quite pleasant - until Mengele's father, his most powerful.ally died. And he knew that he would have to find refuge in yet another country.
Life in Brazil was definitely not so nice. Being a marked man had got to Mengele, and the mercenary Hungárian famy harbouring him had no real love for him. Mengele's health declined steadily, until he became broken, lonely and pathetic. What emerged at the end is a portrait of a sleasy wreck of a man, totally Incapable of creating healthy relationships with other human beings - and suffering more and more as he is further abandoned by any potential friend.
It can be seen that the writer doesn't invite the reader to sympathise with Mengele, and certainly the implication seems clear enough that evil didn't pay in this case, even though he was never caught.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to know the history of what life Josef mengele had whilst on the run from the allies. Throughly researched.
An excellent account which fills in many blanks in the history of Nazis and what happened after the war. The author exposes the complicity of many nations and individuals in securing safety for war criminals who never answered for their crimes. The book is extremely well written - very clear, measured and unemotional in presenting facts and figures which are so horrifying.
4.5 stars. Absolutely fascinating book about a time or people that history should never forget, lest we be doomed to repeat their atrocities. I loved the level of detail that went into researching the people who surround Mengele (something I always wonder - how can your family/friends stay with you (or not) after such things come to light??)
For fans of WW2 this is not to be missed.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an early peek at the novel. My views are my own.
Very interesting novel about a notorious man. This novel was well-written and is both fascinating and horrifying.
I have read many books on Josef Mengele. But I don’t think I have read one researched with such passion and detail. There are few more hated Nazi’s than this man and the fact that he continued to live for 30 plus years after the war will never be accepted or understood. This book definitely rates at the top for me.
I voluntarily reviewed a copy of this book provided by NetGalley. All opinions are my own
3.5 rounded up
Informative and wee researched. Great novel about a despicable man.
Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book
This is a novel about the hunt for one of the worst humans to ever exist. Mengele disappeared into South America, with enough money and power to evade the Mossad and others who are hunting Nazis. This is an eye opening and fresh look at the hunt for Mengele and how he slipped through the cracks.
As the title suggests, this book is quite literally about the disappearance of Josef Mengele. But I found it was so focused on the disappearance (which I personally felt was quite mundane at times), that there wasn't as much detailed exploration of the horrendous crimes he committed in Auschwitz and his reasoning behind it (the few parts of the book that did explore this, I really enjoyed). Instead the book takes a chronological approach from when Josef Mengele arrives in Argentina, and whilst I found the process of his disappearance quite interesting towards the end, at the beginning of the book, it wasn't enough to keep me hooked.
Another reason it took me a while to get into the book was the writing style and tone of the book. It read half as a fictional novel and half as a research paper, blurring the lines between non fiction and fiction. The present tense 3rd person writing also made it feel quite monotonous, although I'm not sure if this is just through the translation. Either way, it unfortunately means I didn't enjoy the book as much as I would have hoped.
Thanks NetGalley for the eARC!
Like many people I have a deep personal fascination with World War II (much influenced by my professional interests in this time period), but I was unsure if I wanted to read a book — fiction or otherwise — centered on so evil a person, a human being capable of having inflicted so much suffering on others. Indeed, the first third of the novel made me rather queasy: Should I be more detached from this historical material? Should I be reading this with a massive grain of salt? Should I be enjoying this read?
And that’s the thing: The Disappearance of Josef Mengele: A Novel is a captivating, enjoyable read. Guez’s prose is irrepressibly smooth, the plot is compelling and thrusts the reader forward, his characterization of Mengele is fascinating, successful, human. I did not want to like him — and here I think is Guez’s brilliance — I did not end up liking this horrendous human being, in fact, my distaste for him was confirmed, but Guez prevailed on me to acknowledge Mengele as a member of my own species. By the end of the book, I could not deny that Mengele and I shared a common sense of existence, a common biology, that he and I were human. And I therefore must confront the real horror of Nazi eugnenics and racism: humanity is cruelest to its own and any study of our inherent nature must accept our own cruelty.
Josef Mengele — in all his aliases (Pedro, Peter, Helmut, Wolfgang, so many others) — was not the only character in Guez’s meticulously researched historical novel who brought me to this uncomfortable realization. Mengele’s first wife, Irene; his second wife and ex-sister-in-law, Martha; his unwanted lover, Gitta; his father, Karl; and his mother, Walburga are those who inflict cruelties — justified or not, minor or abusive — on Mengele. This does not excuse Mengele, but in terms of a fictionalized view, Guez gives us a window into his psyche,
This novel is not about Mengele per se, it is a layered dissection of the interaction of individuals, their subjective desires, and their collective obligations as these factors intersect with history and its unavoidable tides. Guez writes without pretending any unique insight into Mengele’s interiority. That which Guez assumes and invents is well within the parameters of fiction; his characterization of Mengele is plausible, the world Guez constructs is recognizable as our own. I want to note that Guez’s deep research into the topic is visible, appreciated, exemplary. If only most writers of historical fiction did this. For historians, professional, hobby, and emergent, Guez’s brief but detailed note on sources is a fantastic bonus. But, I digress, the book isn’t about Mengele; it is about all that made the disappearance possible.
Therefore, added to the above cast is the vast network of enablers that made Mengele’s escape and assimilation possible. These friends, politicians, extended family members, and indeed all the clerks, secretaries, and supporting unnamed persons make the horror even more palpable — as tangible as the sense of the person sitting in the office next to me, the odor of my fellow-commuters on public transports, the sound of a door closing elsewhere in my apartment building. These people are not the cowardly or indifferent Germans who made the Third Reich and its genocide of Jews, Roma, and so many others possible, no, what Guez forces the reader to recognize is that there are people who are willingly complicit in promoting and preserving the genocidal, racist ideologies of the Nazis — and others like it. Juan and Evita Perón and their institutionalized obsession with Nazism and Fascism, Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay, officials in Germany from the highest levels of the state down to the municipality of Günzberg, where the Mengele family was headquartered and ran their multinational corporation from, and so many others were thrilled to be part of the Nazi machine, during and after WWII. Some were motivated by their own ambitions, others by a sense of loyalty, others by fanatical belief in Mengele’s work and Nazism. Guez brings this massive conspiracy to life, peoples it with individuals we recognize in our own lives.
There are also those individuals who were completely hoodwinked by Mengele, and therein lies the other side of this story. I hesitate to say this is the “redeeming” aspect of Guez’s novel; no, it is better described as a more recognizable payoff. Their stories are those which we expect to see in a novel like this; these are the characters whose snubs and betrayals serve as rewards for sitting through the horrors I have described above. When Mengele’s son, Rolf; his dog, Heinrich Lyons; his landlords, Geza and Gitta; and later, Elsa abandon Mengele, the reader is bound to exclaim, “Yes! Finally!” and feel a rush of tingly righteousness.
Still, mingled with this happier sensation is a sadness: it is not enough that Rolf Mengele refused his name, freezes out his father, it is bittersweet that Heinrich Lyons dies (no spoiler here, what dog outlives a man who lives into his late 60s?). I will not spoil what happens with Elsa, Geza, or Gitta. The reader cannot forget that an exhausted and geopolitically influenced Mossad had to redirect its efforts away from Mengele’s capture and lose the opportunity to deliver some closure and justice to the millions affected by the Shoah. The fact that Mengele’s story rolls on to the novels end is an unhappy reminder that the cruelties Mengele experienced were in no way comparable to that which he inflicted on others.
For all the nuance and complications woven into the characters interactions, the plot is straightforward: it is an account of how this sadistic individual got away with it and how he did not fully escape the consequences and punishment of a kind. There is a sense of satisfying comeuppance, though the degree to which any reader will feel vindicated will vary. I was glad that Mengele could not live in peace, but the measure of his penalties was small in comparison to the magnitude of his crimes. That too is Guez’s point: fate is not bound by any moral scale. There is no equilibrium in justice.
A note on audience: Because of the multiple meanings this novel could convey its merits could be misconstrued, its story could be twisted to serve neo-Nazi tendencies if read without some guidance or instruction for some readers. For that reason, I would not recommend this as a book for novice historians, undergraduate students, or for use in a classroom — except, perhaps, a graduate seminar. The Disappearance of Josef Mengele: A Novel requires dissection with historical guidance for readers who have less experience working with or knowledge of the histories this novel is built on.
Original title :“La Disparition de Josef Mengele”
Just reading the tile is enough to cause a chill up the spine...who has never heard of Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor of Auschwitz.
In this debut English language novel the author gives us a sober portrait of “The Angel of Death” the monstrous man at Auschwitz who after the war secured a series of false identities and relocated in South America in 1949. For the next 30 years or so he hid in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil where he sought favours from powerful figures such as Adof Eichmann, Juan Peron and a network of Nazis to survive. As time passed and the horrors of the Holocaust were better known, a hunt for Mengele and other high-ranking Nazis began. The most notorious hunter of Nazis was Simon Wiesenthal.
This novel recreates from eyewitness accounts, letters, journals, historical records and biographies the passage of time involving Mengele in hiding. This book is rigorously researched as Olivier Guez traces Mengele’s footsteps through the years of flight. What a chilling novel, the narration situates us in a manhunt of one of the most elusive and evil figures of the 20th century.
Mr. Guez added personal touches to his account to make our experience more enjoyable. The words are weighed carefully to make contact with his audience and to instill some human elements despite all the repulsive actions. Mengele till his death continued to believe in Nazi ideology....and never was brought to justice.....All characters in this novel gives you shivers....
A believable and complex account of nazism in the years after WWII as seen through the eyes of Dr. Death. I admire how they humanized a monster in ways that made him more horrifying and pitiful. It can be hard to remember that these devils were men and how easy it can be for history to repeat itself. And by having him and others explain their philosophies it shows a very human side to how we justify our weaknesses.
Another interesting aspect of this book was the complexities of keeping him hidden. His varied support network and the long term psychological effects of being in hiding were very informative. I also enjoyed reading about how various businesses faired despite their relationship with nazi atrocities. An excellent read I’m happy to recommend to those wanting an honest and human look at a dark figure in our history.
My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Verso Books for a copy of this new fictional story of the exile and last days of a truly despicable person.
Evil has a draw and ability to fascinate even the most noble of people. People build up the lives of criminals and murderers, thinking of them as master schemers always one step ahead of the law, when in fact most of the time the law really isn't looking for them. Or cared to look. The Disappearance of Josef Mengele, is a novel by Olivier Guez and translated by Georgia de Chambaut about the man called the Angel of Death for his heinous acts of barbarity at Auschwitz, his life as a fugitive and his end, that frankly wasn't sad enough.
The book begins with a boat pulling into Argentina, and a man not being met by the people he was told were to help him, and learning that being a fugitive means that everyone is going to cheat you whenever they can. Eventually he makes contact with others like him, others who though they lost the war and should be on trial, are living in the open safe under the government of Peron, a time they think will never end, sort of like their thousand year Reich. Soon, the man, who we learn is Josef Mengele, a doctor who committed medical atrocities prisoners at Auschwitz is doing quite well. Money from his family is coming in, he has plans to marry, and see his child from his first marriage. No one seems to be looking for them. Everything is going well. Until Peron is overthrown. Soon Mengele is on the run, his wife and stepson returning to Germany, money still coming in but the fear is on him, a fear that follows his in a downward spiral until his last days, alone, ignored by old friends and family and paranoid about his fate.
This book is an incredibly written and researched, with most of the story taken from reports and stories from Mengele and people who knew him. I hate liking a book like this, but the writing is so strong, so interesting that a reader can't help but be drawn in and not only wanting but needing to know more. The various changes in narrator, from people protecting Mengele, his son Rolf and others are all distinct and really advance the story. No one comes out of this well not his family, not the governments that allowed him to be unprosecuted, his companions, even relatively innocent people that are caught in his orbit all seem to be tainted by their time with him. A powerful book that will stay with the reader, one that I will and yet will hate to recommend. For a slim book, the emotional impact and just the skill in writing is astonishing.
There is no moral. Mengele died of heart failure on a beach in his seventies, not in prison where he belonged. He was unrepentant to the end, blaming others for his hard luck and paranoia. If there is anything to be learned, actions should have a consequence. However that never happens. Money, privilege, fear of hard work, all this gives those who commit crimes, genocides and even presidential coups full permission to continue with their crimes. A sad lesson, but the only truth you can take from this book. This is the first book I have read by Olivier Guez and wow is it a powerful introduction.
Evil personified, Angel of Death Josef Mengele justified his atrocious acts of sending thousands and thousands of innocents to gas chambers and happy experimenting on living children during the Holocaust by believing he was contributing to discovering the secrets to the perfect race. His goal was to increase German fertility and thus his special heinous experiments were on young twins. He never did show any signs of remorse which could not be more disturbing.
After WWII Mengele fled to Buenos Aires where he assumed aliases including Helmut Gregor as his name became recognized and linked to detectives and others searching for war criminals. He had times of poverty and times of prosperity and often was paranoid. He did not practice as a doctor and hid from public view until the Argentinian government opened its arms to the "rejects of the fallen Black Order". Mengele then had fun and got rich. But a warrant was issued for his arrest and he was occasionally spotted by his unmistakeable physical characteristics and his sightings reported.
Author Olivier Guez writes about Mengele's young life in an abusive home, his marriages and his son Rolf. He details what went on in Mengele's mind, the reason for his clogged intestines, Auschwitz atrocities and describes his hideouts in Buenos Aires as he dodged authorities. Several bore witness and testified against him. His end came by drowning.
Those compelled to learn more about Mengele and the Holocaust ought to read this insightful and memorable book. My only complaint is the unnecessary inclusion of lewd sexual details and language.
My sincere thank you to Verso Books (US) and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this astonishing book.