In the November Atlantic, a short profile of my friend Shaikh Hassan al Burji (pictured here with his very cute kids, Ja’afar and Sara).
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 Weekly Standard, 04/21/2008, Volume 013, Issue 30
Something’s strange about Sunday-morning service at Raíces, the biggest Mennonite church in Paraguay’s capital city. The pastor leads worship in Spanish, not the traditional German. A girl in the congregation wears spaghetti straps and has a dragon tattoo on her shoulder. Those electric guitars don’t seem very traditional, either. Why are two guys in the back pew packing heat?
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.
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.
Letter to the London Review of Books
Nicholas Guyatt, in his piece on the US Christian right, mentions that at the funeral of the notorious religious huckster Jerry Falwell, one lamb from Pastor Falwell’s flock was caught with homemade bombs in his car, claiming that he’d brought them in case liberal protesters threatened the cortège. In the event, the protesters weren’t ‘liberal’: they were members of an even more extreme religious sect, the Westboro Baptist Church, which denounced Falwell as a ‘corpulent false prophet’. The WBC, whose members believe the Iraq war is God’s way of punishing America for its permissive attitudes towards homosexuality, have weathered years of denunciation by more moderate clerics, such as Falwell. Yet when I interviewed them at one of their demonstrations, WBC members said they regard the US Constitution, including its provision guaranteeing freedom of speech and religion, as one of God’s greatest blessings. It’s a melancholy fact that many US Christians appreciate their Constitution only when their own beliefs are the ones ridiculed and suppressed.
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay