(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Gerald Posner is a lawyer who became interested in Josef Mengele’s saga through involvement in a lawsuit seeking reparations for Mengele’s victims; John Ware is a television producer who has done documentaries on Mengele. The two have teamed together to write an exceptionally well-researched and well-documented book. Posner traveled through Europe and South America and the two authors interviewed dozens of people, including Mengele’s son and first wife. The information they gathered from historical archives, government documents, Mengele’s diaries, and various published books and articles is truly impressive.

One chapter quickly sketches Mengele as a child and young man, and another details his activities in the infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz. Mengele is infamous for conducting “medical experiments” which were both utterly inhuman and medically worthless. A reader with little background in the history of this period will learn more than enough from this chapter to understand why Mengele was one of the most hated and most tirelessly pursued war criminals.

The bulk of the book, however, is concerned with Mengele’s fate in the postwar years. After eluding the Allies in 1945, he lived in Germany until 1949, and then fled to Argentina and later to Paraguay. The authors also attempt to reconstruct Mengele’s thoughts and motivations, drawing on his own writings as well as on the testimony of those who harbored him. One especially interesting part of the book relates the media myth that developed around Mengele, depicting him as a rich, powerful, sinister leader of great and evil forces, able to reach out and kill enemies. In fact, say Posner and Ware, Mengele was often short of friends, money, and confidence; he was a man on the run, and he knew it.

In February, 1979, Mengele drowned while swimming; even his death was kept secret for more than five years. This is a nicely done book in all respects; part biography, part history, and part detective story.