Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS Doctor Aribert Heim by Nicholas Kulish

I'm sure on some level the authors wanted this piece to read like a 'detective novel', introducing new characters, setting up discoveries and leaving off chapters with 'cliff hangers'; unfortunately the end result is wholly lacking. The real story here is not about the hunt for the 'Eternal Nazi' but about the obstacles 'Nazi hunters' faced within West Germany and parts of the rest of the world. At times, those tasked with bringing Nazi war criminals to justice (be they self-appointed or assigned by a higher up) relied on information that came from a pool of rumors, false reports, and even uncorroborated witness testimony of those who were already dead. Thus, Aribert Heim was originally misnamed (known by his brother's name) and given an incorrect place of birth, making it that much harder to track and find him. Additionally, in the early post-war years, West Germany and in part Austria, had little interest in pursuing or harshly punishing Nazi War criminals who numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Escape networks were set up for former Nazis and members of the SS; many changed their names and escaped Europe while others simply switched one master for another and began to infiltrate the West German government and various public institutions. It was in their interest to forget the Nazi years and those working to remember and seek justice for what happened were continually looked at with contempt for trudging up the past. SS Doctor Aribert Heim was one of those lucky enough to be overlooked and then given a chance to escape to Egypt, where he lived a good enough lifestyle being sustained by his family's income from rents. There's nothing really 'gritty' or 'mysterious' about a war criminal living a rather mundane everyday existence with family visits. Thus the book falls flat on suspense, which combined with weak writing and needless concentration on literary descriptions made this book a chore rather than an experience or a thrill to see how the 'story' would end.

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