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The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo,…
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The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS…

by Nicholas Kulish, Souad Mekhennet

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Despite reading many books about the Holocaust, I had never heard of Albert Heim who committed some especially heinous crimes against humanity as an SS doctor. This is an interesting chronicle of the decades-long pursuit of Heim who was never brought to justice and died in Cairo in 1992. The book would be stronger had the authors gone into more detail about Heim's specific crimes and more of his background. What I find particularly interesting is the discussion of Cold War politics being the primary reason behind the Allies ending their vigorous pursuit of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
I found myself with a two hour layover in the Denver International Airport, and since one of my favorite independent booksellers (Tattered Cover) had just opened a new location in the airport, of course I had to browse the shelves. I ended up choosing this book, mainly because I'd never really heard of Dr. Aribert Heim before, and the title of the book was intriguing. I pictured Dr. Heim as being completely dedicated to the Nazi beliefs and continuing to work toward them even while on the run (well, it's not exactly my fault - "The Eternal Nazi" kind of led me there). That's not exactly what happens, but the book is still interesting.

It's not a secret that Dr. Heim is never brought to justice - even the book jacket itself states that he eludes capture, and the prologue gives "the ending" away, as well. So for those who are looking for a sense of closure in this book, let me save you several hours - it's not there. Instead, Dr. Heim's life, and those who spent most of their lives trying to track him down and ultimately failed in that endeavor, is quite messy, which is just how real life is most of the time. I don't mind messy and complicated.

In fact, Heim's crimes are never truly "nailed down" in a straightforward fashion. It's said that he killed inmates by injecting gasoline into their hearts. It's said that he deliberately killed inmates by operating on them - sometimes without anesthesia. It's said that if an inmate had a particularly good bite and a full set of teeth, Heim would have him killed, cut off the inmate's head, strip the flesh from it, and keep the inmate's skull for a grisly souvenir. But there is never a true "list," shall we say, of what truly happened during Heim's time at Mauthausen. It's not even certain how long Heim was there - witness testimony contradict one another - but it appears that he was there for less than a year.

I think the main reason why Heim's crimes remain rather shadowy and without detail is because he was never brought to trial, at least a criminal trial. There was a civil action against him, but those who were investigating his crimes balked at sharing their information with those prosecuting the civil case. And most of the witnesses against Heim died, while the Doctor himself lived on in Egypt.

I always find it fascinating how people can divorce themselves from the evil they have done, either blaming it on the orders they received or outright denying what they did. Heim falls into the latter category; he claims that he is completely innocent, that he didn't want to be at the camp in the first place and he did everything in his power to get out as soon as he could, and while he was there he did nothing horrific. He insists upon this until the end, leaving the one son who still has something to do with him, Ruediger, confused as to what his father actually did.

Interspersed throughout the book are the fates of other Nazis - some famous, some not. Some got away (Dr. Josef Mengele, who suffered a stroke while swimming and drowned, is probably the most famous), some were able to stave off justice for many years (Klaus Barbie, "the butcher of Lyon," who wasn't captured until a few years before his death from cancer), and some were very publicly brought to justice (Adolf Eichmann, who was brought back to Israel and executed, only the second person - and, at this moment, still the last - executed by Israel [the other being Meir Tobianski, a member of the IDF who was falsely accused of being a spy and posthumously exonerated]).

The book also examines the changing attitudes of German citizens and how they thought the war crimes of Nazis should be prosecuted, if at all. In the beginning, shortly after the end of the Second World War, Germans "wanted their boys home" and were completely against the denazification trials. Even into the 1960s, Germans for the most part thought that what was over should be over - many who faced trials for their war crimes ended up being found not guilty or serving only a year or two for killing thousands. Ironically, by choosing to run and exiling himself to Egypt, Heim's thirty years of exile were probably decades longer than any sentence he would have received in Germany in the early 1960s (which is when he fled). Disturbingly enough, Heim's son Ruediger wasn't even taught what had happened in Germany during the Second World War; many young Germans in that era had no idea what had occurred to the Jews and other "undesirables" under the Nazi regime. That began to change, and by the 1970s, Germans were much more accepting of Nazis being tried and sentenced for their crimes - some even called for it. The evolution of the acceptance of guilt is interesting.

As for Heim himself, and his choice of refuge in Cairo, I had no idea that Egypt had once been a "safe space" for former Nazis. After the war, the Egyptian military was keen on building new war materials, especially rockets, as the tensions with the new state of Israel heated up in the region. Many Nazis fled to Egypt, where they were paid well for the knowledge that they had acquired during the war. Egypt also had no extradition treaty to Germany or any other country in Europe; Egyptian soil was indeed "safe" for the former Nazis. I knew that such things happened in other countries, particularly those in South America, but not Egypt.

Altogether, I recommend this book, although I would suggest at least a working knowledge of the camps and Nazi Germany itself before picking up the book. There are a lot of names and people in this book, and the authors have a tendency to jump around non-chronologically, so it's difficult at times to keep everything, and everyone, straight. Ultimately, though, I feel that this book is an interesting look at this time period. ( )
  schatzi | Oct 26, 2014 |
Ok, not that I am rooting for violence but I did think that this book would go into details more about Dr. Heim's procedures and his crimes. I thought that this book would focus on Dr. Heim's time in the concentration camp. Instead if focused more on the time span from when Dr. Heim escaped the camp and Police investigator Alfred Aedtner's hunt to find him.

The investigation was intriguing. It was amazing how Dr. Heim could be easily missed by the authorities. It is not like he really was hiding out that well. Well not in my opinion. He was able to do so because of all of the miscommunication or sloppy investigating. If it was not for people like Alfred not willing to give up then criminals would be able to get away with a lot more back in this time period. This book did more along quickly as it spanned time periods. A interesting look into history and events that should not be forgotten for the people who lived it. ( )
  Cherylk | Mar 24, 2014 |
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Mekhennet, Souadmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385532431, Hardcover)

The compelling story of the hunt for Aribert Heim, whose decades-long flight from justice turned a mid-level SS officer and concentration camp doctor into the most wanted Nazi war criminal in the world

Dr. Aribert Heim worked at the Mauthausen concentration camp for only a few months in 1941 but left a horrifying mark on the memories of survivors. According to their testimony, Heim euthanized patients with injections of gasoline into their hearts. He performed surgeries on otherwise healthy people. Some recalled prisoners' skulls set out on his desk to display perfect sets of teeth.

In the chaos of the postwar period, Heim was able to slip away from his dark past and establish himself as a reputable doctor in the resort town of Baden-Baden. He was tall, handsome, a bit of a charmer, and quickly settled down with a wife and children in peace and comfort. But certain rare individuals in Germany were unwilling to let Nazi war criminals go unpunished. Among them was a police investigator named Alfred Aedtner, who turned finding Heim into an overriding obsession; his quest took him across Europe and across decades, and into a close alliance with legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

This is the incredible story of how Aribert Heim evaded capture, living in a working-class neighborhood of Cairo, praying in Arabic, beloved by an adopted Muslim family, while inspiring a manhunt that outlived him by many years. He became the "Eternal Nazi," a symbol of Germany's evolving attitude toward the sins of its past, which finally crested in a desire to see justice done at almost any cost.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:34 -0400)

"The compelling story of the hunt for Aribert Heim, whose decades-long flight from justice turned a mid-level SS officer and concentration camp doctor into the most wanted Nazi war criminal in the world Dr. Aribert Heim worked at the Mauthausen concentration camp for only a few months in 1941 but left a horrifying mark on the memories of survivors. According to their testimony, Heim euthanized patients with injections of gasoline into their hearts. He performed surgeries on otherwise healthy people. Some recalled prisoners' skulls set out on his desk to display perfect sets of teeth. In the chaos of the postwar period, Heim was able to slip away from his dark past and establish himself as a reputable doctor in the resort town of Baden-Baden. He was tall, handsome, a bit of a charmer, and quickly settled down with a wife and children in peace and comfort. But certain rare individuals in Germany were unwilling to let Nazi war criminals go unpunished. Among them was a police investigator named Alfred Aedtner, who turned finding Heim into an overriding obsession; his quest took him across Europe and across decades, and into a close alliance with legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. This is the incredible story of how Aribert Heim evaded capture, living in a working-class neighborhood of Cairo, praying in Arabic, beloved by an adopted Muslim family, while inspiring a manhunt that outlived him by many years. He became the "Eternal Nazi," a symbol of Germany's evolving attitude toward the sins of its past, which finally crested in a desire to see justice done at almost any cost"--… (more)

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