Mengele: The Complete Story, by Gerald L. Posner and John Ware (McGraw-Hill, New York 1986).
Gerald Posner is a Jewish-American journalist, born in 1954 and perhaps most well-known for his book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (1993). In it, Posner asserts that virtually all of the findings of the Warren Committee were correct, and that Oswald killed Kennedy without the assistance of anyone. The book was met with much criticism from researchers skeptical of the official scenario as well as defenders of the lone gunman theory, while on the other hand it was praised by the political editors of American mainstream newspapers. House Select Committee on Assassinations chief investigator Gaeton Fonzi called it “a dishonest book”. Critics noted that Posner had avoided the mass of documentation released in 1992, denied obvious connections between Oswald and various intelligence operatives, as well as distorted and withheld information on the handling of the president’s corpse (several lengthy critiques of the book are available at the website assassinationweb.com). This background might be worth keeping in mind as we proceed to take a look at Posner’s first published book, Mengele: The Complete Story (co-authored with TV journalist John Ware).
The Mengele of the title is needless to say Josef Mengele, the most vilified doctor in human history. Countless former Auschwitz inmates have horror stories to tell about him, one more outlandish than the other. Reading the claims about Mengele from different sources, one gains the impression that the man had the ability of omnipresence. Rather than devoting time to eradicating the typhus epidemics which several times plagued the Auschwitz camp complex, causing tens of thousands of deaths and endangering inmate population as well as staff, Mengele is alleged to have been busy injecting dye into eyeballs, performing experiments on twins (according to the witness Vera Alexander’s testimony at the Eichmann trial, a pair of Gypsy twins had the veins of their arms and their backs sewn together), indulging in cruel and bizarre acts of surgery and transplantation, and, of course, selecting Jews for the gas chambers. Posner does not waste any ink discussing the reliability of the allegations leveled at Mengele by former inmates. “The barbarity of his crimes is not in doubt” he writes with confidence.
The most interesting chapter to revisionists is naturally that on Mengele’s service in Auschwitz. In it, Posner relies especially on the account of Miklos Nyiszli. Indeed the first thing he does it to quote Nyiszli’s description of “enormous tongues of flames” rising from the crematoria. According to Posner, “on a clear day, flame and black smoke could be seen for thirty miles, spewing from the chimneys of the crematoria.” Perhaps he should have taken a look at the numerous Auschwitz air photos, of which exactly none shows giant plumes of black smoke, or consulted a cremation expert, who could have told him that flames simply do not exit crematorium chimneys. But who really expected Posner to do some critical checking? As for the Auschwitz death toll, he writes that it “is known to be about 2.5 million” – this despite the fact that the standard works listed in his bibliography, such as Hilberg and Reitlinger, claims a death toll between 1 and 1.5 million. He also trusts camp commandant Höß’ claim that “the highest total of Jews gassed in twenty-four hours was 9000”. Besides Nyiszli, Posner quotes another thoroughly discredited witness, Olga Lengyel, who in her book Five Chimneys (1947) wrote that 24,000 Auschwitz prisoners were killed each day, and that not only soap were made out of the killed Jews, but also sausages.
Posner uncritically presents us with the whole gamut of Mengele stories: dye injected into the eyes of children, eyes “pinned up like butterflies,” twins experimented on and dissected alive (including a one year old baby), typhus injections, the makeshift Siamese twins of Ms. Alexander, one pair of twins forced to have sex with another, small children lured into the crematorium with sweets, prisoners killed to produce skeleton samples, electrical experiments…It is even reiterated (p. 46) that Mengele had 300 young orphans killed by throwing them alive into a flaming pit. “Although some inmates who knew Mengele have testified that they never saw him commit an act of violence,” Posner writes, “there are witnesses to corroborate every one of these extraordinary allegations”. Of course all we have is the witness testimony. What Posner calls “the most damning and complete document […] ever compiled against [Mengele]”, a series of indictments drawn up by the West German Prosecutor’s Office, is in fact almost exclusively based on witness testimony.
A Munich pharmacist and his wife who met Mengele soon after the end of the war recall his words to them (p. 67):
I don’t have anything to hide. Terrible things happened at Auschwitz, and I did my best to help. One could not do everything. There were terrible disasters there. I could only save so many. I never killed anyone or hurt anyone. I can prove I am innocent of what they could say against me. I am building the facts for my defense. I want to turn myself in and be cleared at a trial.
The couple promptly advised Mengele that he should not turn himself in, since he would in any way not receive a fair trial. Reading the words ascribed to Mengele one may wonder what is meant by “terrible things”. Mass gassings? Most likely not, since Mengele equates them with “terrible disasters”. It is hard to use the word disaster about premeditated mass murder. Epidemic diseases and malnutrition on the other hand could rightfully be called just that. This fits well with a sentence quoted from Mengele’s autobiography (p. 73): “It is natural and understandable that the camps were suffering very bad hunger after all the problems and therefore I saw what was to be expected.” In another writing (p.80-81) Mengele (who in 1945 was stationed at Gross-Rosen) points out that the Allied newsreels depicting skeletal concentration camp prisoners and piles of corpses showed a situation caused by a breakdown of infrastructure due to Allied bombing. In another piece (p.154) he notes “The political lie triumphs and time and history have been warped and bowed.” It is hard to believe that Mengele would have wanted to turn himself in to be cleared in a trial if the allegation of selections for mass gassings was indeed true. Posner writes in his preface that Mengele took “perverse pride in what he did at Auschwitz.” If Mengele’s primary work in the camp was to staff off epidemics and in other ways contribute to the saving of lives, his pride may of course have been natural and far from perverse. It is also mentioned repeatedly that Mengele never expressed any feelings of guilt.
A recurrent theme is that persons who got into contact with Mengele, including a number of people lacking any Nazi background, express doubts regarding the claims about him. Gitta Stammer, who together with her husband lived with Mengele for thirteen years, is described by Posner as harboring “unpalatable revisionist views” since in an interview she stated: “I think some things about the Holocaust may have been invented”. Another protector, Wolfgang Bossert, told interviewers: “I believe only a fraction of all the things he is accused of.” It completely baffles Posner that as many as forty people helped keep Mengele’s identity and whereabouts a secret during the 1970s, and then covered up his accidental death at a Brazil beach for a whole six years (p. 294):
It is extraordinary that such loyalty to a man so patently evil, and to his family, overrode any consideration of higher morality or public duty – stranger still that from somewhere in the supposedly enlightened ranks of the younger Mengeles not a word was leaked to the authorities, even after his death.
An explanation not considered by Posner is that those people did not consider Mengele “patently evil”, and assumed – or were convinced of – his innocence.
If Posner and Ware’s book has one undeniable merit, it is the far from positive light it sheds on the so-called “Nazi hunters”, in particular Simon Wiesenthal and his rivals, the Klarsfeld couple. The reader is shown in detail how these unsavory individuals not only followed the most bizarre leads in their hunt for men like Mengele, Eichmann and the allegedly still-alive Martin Bormann, but also fed misinformation and myths to the press and judiciary, thus helping create and perpetuate the increasingly outré Mengele legend which in turn inspired movies like "The Boys from Brazil." We learn that the recklessness of “hunters” like Ladislas Farago, even led to the deaths of innocent people. In an especially bizarre turn, a man named Erich Erdstein claimed to have shot Mengele dead, much like in the recent Georgia Bigfoot hoax. In 1977, Wiesenthal stated with confidence that Mengele “had two posh houses and was always surrounded by armed bodyguards with walkie-talkies”, being a member of a fancifully-named “surviving network of Nazi bigwigs”. Mengele was portrayed as killing off all “hunters” who got near to him, while enjoying the patronage of various South American generalissimos and organizing drug trade (as well as experimenting on native Amazonians). In reality Mengele, a broken old man with a walrus mustache, was sitting in a rundown bungalow watching telenovelas with the neighborhood gardener. What Posner fails to recognize, is that most of the claims regarding Mengele’s activity in Auschwitz are just as farfetched as those about his hidden life in South America.
It would seem however that Posner’s goal is not to dispel myths as much as exposing the shortcomings and bad traits of other Mengele “researchers”. In fact, Posner gladly repeats certain kinds of hearsay (the not-so obviously absurd type) when he needs to paint Mengele and his protectors in a bad light. For example he uncritically quotes second-hand testimony that one of the protectors, Wolfgang Gerhard, dreamed of dragging Simon Wiesenthal behind his car, and that his wife “once gave her landlady two bars of soap, in their original 1943 wrappers, made from the corpses of Auschwitz inmates.”
Another interesting chapter of the book is devoted to Mossad’s hunt for Mengele. We learn that Willem Sassen, the man who reportedly found and interviewed Adolf Eichmann, in the early 60s was contacted by Mossad agents, who lectured Sassen for twelve hours on “the unspeakable crimes” of Mengele to get him to cooperate. Sassen soon discovered several leads pointing to Mengele’s actual whereabouts, but the plan to kidnap Mengele was dropped, supposedly due to existence of more pressing priorities. One may wonder if it is possible that this was not Sassen’s first contact with Mossad, that he perhaps had been a hidden cooperator all along, from the time he met Eichmann?
In order to be able to tell the Mossad story, Posner made contact with a number of Mossad agents who are credited anonymously. This was not the last time Posner went to intelligence in order to get a story. In Case Closed, Posner acknowledge Peter Earnest, chief of the CIA’s Office of Public and Agency Information, as being “very generous in his assistance”. Curiously, neither Earnest nor the CIA received a single credit among the more than 2,200 notes to that book. In Mengele, Posner at least portions out some tidbits from his nameless sources, such as that Mossad murdered the former Latvian SS man Herbert Cukurs in Uruguay in 1965 (p.213). Posner forgets to mention that Cukurs had been killed with hammer blows, dismembered, and left inside a crate for his family to find. To a reflective reader, this might perhaps say a thing or two about the “Nazi hunting tactics” actually employed by Israeli intelligence, as well as the frequent claims of former SS killed by a phantom-like “Nazi underground” supposedly out to hide traces of their war crimes.
At close reading, Posner’s own pro-Zionist bias is revealed. For example he calls the British protectorate Palestine “pre-state Israel” and on numerous times reminds his readers that Israel was (and is, we suppose) “threatened” by its Arab neighbors. The South American wave of protests and violence against Jewish targets – some of it indeed reckless and extreme – following the Eichmann kidnapping in 1960 is categorically condemned as “outbursts of anti-Semitism”, echoing the Daniel Goldhagen thesis that “anti-Semitism has nothing to do with Jews.”
The important issue of the writings left behind by Mengele has already been treated in brief by Robert Faurisson (in his article “My Life as a Revisionist”, The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 9, no. 1). Posner (p. xviii) professes to believe that Mengele “never wrote about Auschwitz” in the “more than 5,000 pages” of writing he left behind at his death. For a few months in 1985, Posner had access to letters, diaries and an autobiography penned by Mengele in Argentina. These papers were brought to Germany by Rolf Mengele after his father’s death in 1979. According to the book’s bibliography (p. 354), the papers are still in the hands of the Mengele family. On page 316, however, we learn that “some writings”, which had been held from Rolf in 1979, were seized in the home of the Bossert family, Mengele’s late protectors, by Brazilian police operating together with West German authorities. Among these writings was a “semi-autobiographical essay” entitled Fiat Lux (“Let There Be Light”), which had been written by Mengele soon after the war. Posner’s only comment is that the biblical title betrays Mengele’s egomania. Judging from a 1985 New York Times article (“Mengele Trail”, June 23), the seized writings were never displayed to the press by the investigators, only vaguely described. As a professor of literature and free thinker, Dr. Faurisson not surprisingly provides a more insightful speculation: “…the title leads me to think that in it Mengele shed some light on what really happened at Auschwitz.” Indeed, if Mengele in 1945 had thought that something in his past needed elucidation, it was almost certainly Auschwitz. The writing may in fact have been part of the self-defense material mentioned by Mengele to the Munich pharmacist and his wife. It also strikes one that the Bossert family might have deliberately withheld this particular piece of writing from Rolf, who is described in Posner’s book as a left-winger and a firm believer in the orthodox Holocaust story.
Is it even correct, as Posner writes, that Mengele never brought up Auschwitz in his letters and diaries? In a letter about newspaper stories partly quoted by Posner we read (p. 163): “I have had to deal these last weeks with this nonsense about attempting to strip bodies in B…” With “B” is surely meant Birkenau. This indicates that Mengele did not hesitate to bring up Auschwitz even in letters, a medium by nature less “secure” than the diary. What else may he have written about the camp among the thirty pounds of personal writings apparently still held by his heirs? Without "Fiat Lux" and the other confiscated writings, as well as the other Mengele papers, made available to public scrutiny, the Mengele story will be far from complete – and the “Auschwitz case” far from closed.
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|Title:||Mengele: The Complete Story, A Review|
|First posted on CODOH:||Oct. 7, 2008, 7 p.m.|