By Erich Wiedemann and Jens Glüsing
"Degenerate youth," sex, democracy in Germany -- all of this was garbage to Josef Mengele. Why he would want to return to this horrible country will always remain his secret.
But it wasn't the general state of the German psyche that kept him from returning to Europe. The fact was that he was broke and didn't feel healthy enough to start a new life.
His friend, the real Wolfgang Gerhard, who by then was living in Austria, urged him to make the attempt anyway. He encouraged Mengele to keep up his spirits. "Dear old boy," Gerhard wrote, "I would never give advice to a friend that would harm him."
But Mengele hesitated. On the one hand, the stress of being a constant fugitive was taking its toll. On the other hand, he was loath to give up what had become the familiar life of the reclusive scholar.
The man who sent tens of thousands to their deaths at Auschwitz without blinking an eye also wrote tender poems: "Wherever a joyous bird sings, he sings for another. Wherever a tiny star twinkles far away, it twinkles for another."
Mengele's letters and notes confirm that his cultural and political consciousness remained stuck in 1945, and that he was never able to recognize anything reprehensible about the atrocities he committed in his human laboratories at Auschwitz. He believed that he was simply killing people who were already sentenced to death.
It comes as no surprise that Mengele, in another letter, expresses his astonishment and disgust over the remorseful position taken by Hitler's master builder, Albert Speer, in his Spandau Diary. His mood, Mengele complains, has "almost hit rock-bottom." Speer's self-accusations, he writes, are disgusting.
The Nazi theory of race remained the focal point of all his writings. He considered the South African apartheid system the most efficient way of preventing the mixing of races.
In Mengele's view, racial confusion prevailed in his adopted country, Brazil. Nevertheless, he imagined that he was surrounded by like-minded people. In one letter to Wolfgang Gerhard, he wrote that he was living among families who felt largely sympathetic toward the Nazis. There was only one exception: a niece in one family was engaged to a Brazilian who had no appreciation for Aryanism. But, Mengele wrote, there will always be black sheep. From his point of view, everyone else in his social environment was intact in terms of this race-based ideology.
Even today, Josef Mengele wouldn't feel completely alone in Brazil. Children in Sao Paulo are still given the name Hitler -- as a first name. Even socialist Brazilian President Lula da Silva recently said in an interview that although he believes that Adolf Hitler was wrong, "he had something that I admire in a man: this fire, this passion to get involved in order to achieve something."
It seems that some old fires are still burning along the Tropic of Capricorn in South America.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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© DER SPIEGEL 49/2004
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