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The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS Doctor Aribert Heim Hardcover – March 25, 2014
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Praise for The Eternal Nazi
"Brilliantly narrated...uses the countless jigsaw-puzzle pieces produced by a manhunt that lasted decades—including the many false leads that took Nazi-hunters to far-flung reaches of the globe—to explicate, with sharp originality, distinctive facets of the psychological and political landscape of the Third Reich and its long and complicated afterlife." —The New York Times Book Review
"A fascinating read. This is a tale of police procedural, in an era before computers and databases, of those hunting the worst humans this world had to offer."
“Gripping...The Eternal Nazi shows how long it took for Germany to fully reckon with its Nazi past...Kulish and Mekhennet adeptly portray the silence and repression that surrounded Nazi crimes...Heim plays that ageless near-mythic figure, the evil man with a clear conscience, unrepentant to the end.”
"A brisk, compelling read, with all the frustrating plot twists and eccentric character cameos of an espionage thriller."
—The Jewish Daily Forward
"An elusive Nazi doctor who escaped justice receives a thorough scouring ... Haunting, doggedly researched."
"The Eternal Nazi manages that rare feat of being as cinematically riveting as it is morally serious."
"This highly readable account unfolds more than a mystery novel than a work of non-fiction. It is crisply written, meticulously documented and highly engaging. It is superb reporting that will keep readers engaged until the very last page."
"[A] dramatic story—which often makes fiction seem tame by comparison—with the flair of a riveting mystery."
"A brilliant feat of historical detection that illuminates a nation’s dramatic reckoning with the crimes of the Holocaust." —Bookreporter.com
"Part biography, part engrossing true crime story, The Eternal Nazi is a fascinating look at the hunt for Nazi war criminals after World War II."
"Reads more like a mystery novel than a work of nonfiction."
—Fort Myers Florida Weekly
“He was hardly as famous as Josef Mengele, but Aribert Heim was every bit as vicious. And, like Mengele, this doctor-torturer-murderer eluded his hunters until the very end. The Eternal Nazi finally reconstructs Heim’s dark odyssey—from his sadistic practices in Mauthausen to his life in hiding as a convert to Islam in Cairo. Part detective story, part meditation on how family loyalties obstructed those seeking justice, this book is a remarkable achievement.”
—Andrew Nagorski, author of Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power
“With exacting detail and a rich cast of characters, The Eternal Nazi chronicles the feverish, zigzagging hunt for the barbarous Dr. Heim. A journalistic masterpiece and a thrilling read.”
—Neal Bascomb, author of Hunting Eichmann
“This is a deeply reported, fascinating tale of obsession and the heavy burden of family and national guilt. Nick Kulish and Souad Mekhennet take us on a gripping search for the handsome Nazi doctor who became one of the world's most elusive war criminals.”
—Evan Thomas, author of Ike's Bluff
“Aribert Heim’s chilling story as a free man in Egypt made me wonder what was more appalling: his heinous activity as an SS doctor, or the fact that like most former Nazis he was never punished for his crimes. Thoroughly investigated and written in riveting style, this is a fascinating and thought provoking book.”
—Tom Segev, author of Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends
About the Author
NICHOLAS KULISH was the Berlin bureau chief for the New York Times from 2007 to 2013. He now reports from East Africa for the Times.
SOUAD MEKHENNET is a journalist and reports for the Daily Beast, the Washington Post, and ZDF German television. She is an associate at Harvard and Johns Hopkins, and previously worked for the New York Times.
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Even though their task was immense, there were dedicated souls who were determined to hunt down and bring escaped Nazis to justice. One of them, a German police investigator named Alfred Aedtner, took on Heim's case. For years he worked to hold him accountable, but Heim was able to slip out of Germany and ultimately escape to Egypt. There he lay low for decades, assisted by family members and lawyers in Germany who funneled money to him. Eventually he converted to Islam and died in 1992. He was never made to answer for his crimes in life, but thanks to Aedtner and countless others like Simon Wiesenthal, his record was finally brought to light.
This is a fascinating book which also serves as a history of Germany's denazification efforts after 1945. I was impressed by the dedication shown by Aedtner, Weisenthal, and so many others who worked to bring Heim and others to justice. It was also saddening to see the toll Heim's crimes took, not just on his victims, but on their families. And Heim's family suffered as well: his wife, sister, and other relations may or may not have known about his Mauthausen crimes, but his two sons were definitely unaware of them until they were confronted with the truth, marking their lives irrevocably.
There can never be too many books about the Holocaust and its perpetrators, particularly now when the lives of the last survivors are coming to a close and when others maintain that it was a hoax. The Eternal Nazi, while documenting the career of a less well known criminal, is nevertheless indispensable as a record not only of an evil man, but of the brave men and women who worked to hold him to account.
Alas, for me, this meticulously researched and interesting chronicle didn't feel as if it added much to the general mass of knowledge beyond one particular individual's tale. I'm impressed by the authors' ability to track down the elusive Aribert Heim (although I am more perplexed than either author appears to be that the German authorities didn't simply check his son's passport stamps when they were otherwise monitoring the family's mail, tapping their phones and even undertaking costly legal actions to annex a West Berlin building and divert cash away from Heim and his family that was being used to support him, if they really wanted to find him!)
Compared to the likes of Mengele, Heim was a bit player in the Nazi's horrible cast of demented racialist nutjobs. Or at least, he had only a few months -- based on my reading of this book -- at Mauthausen to put his worst instincts into practice. That he ended up on "most wanted" lists may simply have been a function of the fact that other targets were more identifiable and also more active. The all-too-familiar combination of a willingness to look the other way and let bygones be bygones in the immediate aftermath of the war enabled Heim to conceal his wartime past and cover up those crucial few months of concentration camp service: when it could no longer be concealed, he simply fled, ironically serving a longer self-imposed sentence in exile than he likely would have received as a prison term in the Germany of the early 1960s.
But aside from the specifics of Heim -- who wasn't that interesting as a person and whose beliefs weren't that different from any other Nazi -- I kept wondering what it was here that made this worth a book rather than a long magazine article, and I simply couldn't come up with an answer. Yes, it's important to remember how ordinary people morphed into torturers and murderers in the name of a state ideology. Yes, it's vital to recognize that family members, to this day, still don't feel that they acted unethically in concealing Heim's hiding place from those pursuing justice.
To me, however, that was the real story, and it's a broader one than the quest for Aribert Heim, which is really a familiar one to anyone who has read about Eichmann, or about Simon Wiesenthal's work, or has dipped into "Hanns and Rudolf" by Thomas Harding, the tale of the Jewish soldier who hunted down and helped to capture Rudolf Hoss (of Auschwitz). What happens when family and personal loyalties conflict with something that happened before your birth; when you can't agree with the conclusions that prosecutors have reached about the character of the person that you believe you know better than they do? There is enough uncertainty in some of the Mauthausen survivors' testimonies (they weren't there at the same time Heim was, in some cases, or didn't witness events) that this would make for a very interesting topic for a book. Among the children and grandchildren of Nazi war criminals, there are those who cling to the (to me) inconceivable belief that their fathers or grandfathers were somehow good people. Others have gone to great lengths to reject the family legacy. That was the part of this book that intrigued me the most, even though the authors never really analyze how or why family members behave as they do.
The end result was a book that was somewhat interesting but that, having read the initial New York Times articles, added little to my knowledge or understanding of the story in either a specific or general manner. That's not to detract from its merits -- it is well researched, well written -- but I think it's reasonable to expect more than a rehashed version of a lot of content that is already well known, including the story of Aribert Heim himself, already revealed by the Times by the authors.
Most recent customer reviews
Well written & easy to read. If you enjoy the topic, it's a good choice for you.