Why is there so much prejudice against the Jewish people today, even as we remember the senseless brutality of the Nazis? The concentration camps that smoked human ashes across Europe 60 years ago shocked the world and showed the despicable ends of such hatred. But while Jews were killed in those camps, anti-Semitism clearly survived.
How and why did that pernicious virus of hatred continue to spread so effectively across the world? One answer might lie in the post-war history of Dr. Joseph Mengele.
Frankenstein on the run
Dr. Mengele was without doubt one of the worst Nazi criminals. He was the true Frankenstein, a notorious Nazi monster who inflicted a sadistic reign of terror upon thousands of prisoners at the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. Mengele’s mad pseudo-scientific experiments were particularly cruel for their focus on children, twins, dwarfs, pregnant women, and others.
After the war, Mengele became one of the world’s most wanted fugitives. But justice never caught up with him. He finally met his end by drowning in 1979 at the Brazilian beach house of friends Liselotte and Wolfram Bossert, Austrian Germans who later said they had considered Mengele a “member of the family.” They had apparently known his true identity for seven years, but continued to be close friends. Six years after Mengele’s death, the authorities searched the Bosserts’ beach home and discovered Mengele’s diary, his hand-written history and two boxes of his other documents and personal items.
The Bosserts were among Mengele’s closest friends, but they were not unusual. Over more than 30 years as a fugitive, Mengele continued to have various friends who helped him evade justice. Some may not have known his true identity, but others knew and still continued to help. Some even blackmailed him but did not turn him in.
Who would help Hitler run away?
Whoever helped Mengele would surely have helped Hitler too. As could be expected, many of Mengele’s helpers were former Nazis themselves. These included Wolfgang Gerhard, an enthusiastic Nazi and Holocaust denier who returned with his family to Austria in 1971 to reap the benefits of their health care system.
But other supporters did not have a Nazi past. Among these were Hungarian Germans Geza and Gitta Stammer, who helped to hide Mengele for several years even after discovering his true identity. Indeed, it seems that Mengele felt quite welcome in some ways in South America. He wrote in one one letter that the families in his Brazilian social circles were mainly sympathetic to the Nazis.
Prejudice trickling down the family tree?
|Photo: x-ray delta one via photopin cc|
Where are those families, their like-minded friends, and their descendants today? Still there, surely, still passing on their negative beliefs and attitudes about the Jewish people.
And that’s the problem. While the most notorious Nazi criminals were mostly caught and punished, the majority of Nazis and their supporters continued their lives without being held to account. In fact, they became even more widely dispersed through the world as they fled from justice at home.
There are far too many such people to ever identify or hold responsible:
- What happened to the majority of Nazi officers?
- What happened to all those gestapo who rounded up and deported the Jews?
- What happened to the SS officers who stood by in concentration camps, watching and enabling Dr. Mengele and others like him to perform their horrors?
- What happened to the civilians who, out of cowardice or actual hatred, voluntarily betrayed their Jewish neighbours to the Nazis?
- What happened to those who knew that something terrible was being done to the Jews across Europe, but still did nothing or, in a thousand small ways, supported what was happening?
- What happened to all those people across Europe who secretly agreed with the Nazi mission of exterminating the Jews?
Europe through a special imaging camera
Thermal imaging cameras shine an infrared light onto an area and detect human beings by revealing the heat from their bodies. If we had similar cameras that we could shine on Europe, which would detect the anti-Semitism in people’s hearts, the resulting image would surely not be a pretty picture.
In Czechoslovakia, where I was born, anti-Semitism has continued to pervade the opinions of older generations to this day. Many people who are otherwise reasonable and respectable also hold on to prejudiced opinions that cast Jews in a negative light, such as believing that Communism was a Jewish conspiracy, or that Jewish people are stingy and thieving money-managers, and other lies and stereotypes. They still drill these opinions into their children and grandchildren.
Even in Germany, where Holocaust denial is a punishable crime, anti-Semitism appears to have continued underground. In 1985, when the media reported on Mengele’s home town of Guensburg amidst reports of his death, his family business was employing 1200 people and grossing $80 million in annual sales. The mayor told the media that the Mengele family was highly regarded there, even as the town was gaining a reputation for being a “stronghold of incorrigible Nazis.”
Mengele’s family loyalty
Indeed, the story of Mengele’s family is indicative. They never disowned their most infamous member. Instead they continued to funnel large amounts of money to him for decades, even as they publicly maintained that they had lost all contact. Mengele even became their salesman in Argentina, and a representative of the family’s business secretly flew to South America on at least two occasions, bringing large amounts of cash in order to pay off those who were helping to hide Mengele.
Mengele even managed to marry his brother’s widow in 1958. After his younger brother Karl died in Germany, his widow Martha and son Karl-Heinz joined Mengele in Uruguay, where she married him. Mengele’s stepson spent several years with him in South America, and he was reputed to have been quite close to Mengele.
This same Karl-Heinz, Mengele’s stepson, was back in Germany and running the family’s business in 1985, together with his cousin, the son of Mengele’s second brother. Their family business still operates today, and still looks to be going strong. Their website makes no mention of any connection to Josef Mengele.
Merano and other towns
Aside from Guensburg in Germany, there have been other reputed strongholds of Nazism in post-war Europe. These include the lovely resort town of Merano in Italy, through which many higher-profile Nazis passed on their escape routes. Many Nazi-supporters apparently parked themselves there permanently. Among its inhabitants was also Mengele’s second wife Martha, who left South America after several years of life with Mengele, and settled in Merano for her retirement. She never divorced Mengele, and she apparently continued to be a Holocaust denier right into her old age, telling a newspaper in 1985 that Mengele’s atrocities were “all lies and propaganda.”
Piecing it all together
The Nazi regime was fuelled by an irrational hatred that was, I believe, largely based upon jealousy and envy of the Jewish people. This hatred was mixed with a snobbish sense of superiority, and supported by scientific theories derived from Darwinism, which in effect gave the Germans license to kill in the name of survival of the fittest and genetic engineering of the Aryan race.
Science may no longer give the government license to kill, but traces of the hatred and snobbery that led to Nazi atrocities still brew in many people’s hearts. HItler and Mengele may be dead, but they were just the tip of a much bigger iceberg.
That iceberg never melted completely, and I do believe that this is in part why Israel is still so alone today.
Top photo credit: lungstruck via photopin cc
Last photo credit: photo credit: Alejandra H. Covarrubias via photopin cc