The History Channel’s series MysteryQuest features a segment in which I lead a team exploring the Paraguayan exile of Nazis.
A series of blog posts investigating fugitive Nazis in Paraguay is up at The Atlantic.
The Walrus, April 2008
Paraguay’s holdout German colony
Nueva Germania—In a grubby plastic chair in front of his family’s shack, a shirtless Wilhelm Fischer swats blackflies from his face between sips of yerba maté tea. He’s boasting in perfect German about the hardscrabble years he spent clearing enough land to eke out a living raising chickens and cows. “This was all forest,” he says proudly, pointing to the grassy paddock beyond the barbed wire. He leans down and whispers something to his daughter, Berta, in the local creole. But she and her mother, Delia Domínguez, a Guarani Indian cheesemonger, speak excellent German as well. Like Willi, Delia has barely left the steamy Paraguayan hamlet of their birth, but she longs for the hills of Saxony, the snow-covered banks of the Elbe — the land of her husband’s gullible ancestors.
In Zimbabwe, for a few months during the early stages of the collapse of civil society under Robert Mugabe, I flitted from bookshop to bookshop, happy as a hummingbird in a tropical greenhouse. Paperbacks cost as little as a penny apiece, and hardbacks rarely topped a single US dollar. The inventory consisted largely of remainders or possibly even of books reported by distributors as unsold and destroyed. And one book was everywhere: Fragments, the 1995 Holocaust fraud by Binjamin Wilkomirski.
On the jungle trail of the Nazi doctor.
Eugene, a Belgian computer programmer, has retired to a cottage in southern Paraguay, and the pride of his golden years is his view. From his stone patio, he sees forested hills, the fringes of yerba mate plantations, and, in the distance, the crumbling ruins of a Jesuit settlement two centuries old. “Like a picture,” he says, and I nod to agree, even though my mind is not on the beautiful vista, but on the dark figure who once shared it.
The Nazi doctor Josef Mengele cheated justice for decades by hiding out in South America, sometimes in these very hills. Had he stayed in Germany he would almost certainly have died by the noose. Jews and Gypsies at Auschwitz called him “the Angel of Death”: He killed men and women for the dubious medical value of dissecting them, and for pleasure. He injected dyes into children’s eyes to see if he could change their color. When he ran out of Jews, he sent memos asking for more, and he got them.
The New York Sun
Review of 1945: The War That Never Ended by Gregor Dallas.
“I personally do not know a single Frenchman who can remember the day the war officially ended in Europe,” writes Gregor Dallas. Coming from a resident of the country, this claim sounds odd. What excuse could exist for forgetting May 8, 1945? Paris, after all, marked it in style, with crowded streets, a triumphant address by Charles de Gaulle, and an aerial trick in which an American B-25 Mitchell bomber buzzed the Eiffel Tower and then – in an especially memorable touch – flew under it. Even the French are not so difficult to impress that they could forget a stunt like that.
The New York Sun
Review of Nothing in Sight by Jens Rehn.
The closest we have to an iron law of war stories is that no story involving a U-boat ends happily. The combination of Nazis, bleak seas, and torpedoes leaves little room for hope and optimism, and the last of characters’ dignity usually gets washed away in the end, when they choke to death on salt water. It is no mean testament to the relentless gloom of Jens Rehn’s “Nothing in Sight” (University of Chicago Press, 144 pages, $20) to say that it distinguishes itself among U-boat stories as a particularly grim read.