An elusive Nazi doctor who escaped justice receives a thorough scouring by two journalists.
Former New York Times Berlin bureau chief Kulish (Last One In, 2007) and Washington Post and Daily Beast reporter Mekhennet helped break the story of Aribert Heim’s (1914–1992) eventual whereabouts and demise. Using information from Heim’s son, who spent the last days of his father’s life with him in Cairo, where he died of cancer, the authors admirably fill in many of the details of this fugitive Nazi. Heim, an Austrian doctor with the Waffen-SS who had been camp physician at Mauthausen and elsewhere, had lived in shadowy exile under an assumed name mostly in Cairo for 30 years, supported by the rents of a Berlin apartment house he owned, forwarded by his sister and other supporters. The authors underscore how many war criminals simply flew under the radar. For example, Heim, though apprehended by the Allies, passed from one detention camp to another and was finally released after three years; his incriminating role at Mauthausen was somehow wiped from his record and did not dog him during the 1950s, when he set up a practice as a gynecologist in Baden-Baden. Indeed, while he claimed to have been a victim of circumstance, a reluctant joiner of the Nazi party, eyewitnesses claim that he was a distinctive murderous authority at Mauthausen, beginning in 1941, where he was notorious for killing Jews and others too weak to live by injections of gasoline into the heart. He also performed vivisections and was known to decapitate victims and display the boiled skulls as trophies. He was conspicuous by his tall, athletic build and eerily genial manner. The authors trace over many decades the vigilant research pursued by German detective Alfred Aedtner, Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and others in exposing the deeds of this criminal.
Haunting, doggedly researched but ultimately anticlimactic. The lack of decisive closure to the case tinges the outcome with bitterness.