Nicholas Kulish and Souad Makhennet recently appeared on CSPAN to promote their new book The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS Doctor Aribert Heim. Kulish and Makhennet did not find Dr. Heim, who died more than 20 years ago, but their relentless pursuit proved enlightening in several ways.
The authors find Dr. Heim remarkably unlike the “superhuman Nazi of popular imagination” from films such as Marathon Man and The Boys From Brazil. The Austrian Heim excelled at ice hockey and easily mastered foreign languages. He completed his medical studies in Vienna at the age of 25 and was drafted into SS. His wartime duties included service in 1941 at Mauthausen. Survivors of the concentration camp there charge that Dr. Heim killed inmates by injecting gasoline into their hearts and that he decorated his desk with the skulls of selected victims.
After the war Heim spent three years as a POW, treating other prisoners as a medical doctor. His record at Mauthausen somehow failed to emerge and in 1947 he was set free and soon living the good life in a resurgent West Germany. In the early 1960s, about the time the Israelis captured Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Holocaust, Heim began to get nervous. He fled, but not to South America like other Nazi war criminals.
He decamped for Tangier then moved on to Egypt, where German military officers received a warm welcome, a legacy of support for the Axis powers in World War II. The authors also observe that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj al-Husseini, worked with the Nazis and even visited concentration camps.
In Egypt Heim was able to maintain his German properties by remote control. He eventually converted to Islam and adopted the name Tarek Hussein Farid. In 1979 he made the cover of Der Spiegel but the authors show how sleuths such as German policeman Alfred Aedtner were unable to reel him in. So was celebrity Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who gets rough treatment in The Eternal Nazi. The authors show how Wiesenthal got it wrong on UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim and his lies about his wartime service in areas where Jews were being deported to concentration camps. As the joke had it, he suffered from “Waldheimers Disease,” which made him forget he was a Nazi.
No Nazi hunter or government spy agency was able to bag “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele, the big prize, and Treblinka guard John Demjanjuk turned out not to be “Ivan the Terrible.” Likewise, nobody was able to pry SS doctor Aribert Heim out of Egypt where he died in 1992. The authors tracked down his briefcase, full of revealing documents, and put together the story. Along the way they fail to flag some key collaborators.
For example, during the 1939-1941 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact the authors write that Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide up Poland. The authors fail to note that during the pact the Soviets also handed over German Jewish communists to Hitler’s Gestapo. Some of these Jewish communists could have wound up in Dr. Heim’s tender care at the Mauthausen concentration camp.
After World War II, the authors say, “the focus of American enmity was rapidly shifting away from the defeated Nazis and toward the Soviets’ rising ambitions in Europe.” Note that the Americans had “enmity” but the Soviets only “ambitions.” Further, Eastern Europe was “slipping into the Communist camp.” Actually, Stalin grabbed it by force and the Soviet Union occupied and oppressed those countries for the next half century.
As a former Berlin bureau chief for the New York Times Nicholas Kulish should know that. Souad Mekhennet, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a journalist who worked for the Times, should know that the conflict between the USA and USSR was more than a “rivalry.” But this wasn’t the first time that somebody from the New York Times got it wrong on the Soviets.
In 1932-33 Josef Stalin’s Communist regime starved to death millions of Ukrainians. Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow correspondent at the time, denied that any such thing had taken place and claimed that under Stalin’s wise leadership the Ukraine flowed with milk and honey. Duranty’s articles, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, played a role in U.S. recognition of the Soviet state.
To unravel all that would take considerable courage. It’s easier and safer to write a book about old Nazis. Readers will hear the sound of a barrel being scraped.
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