I’ve had a copy of Mengele: Unmasking the Angel of Death by David G. Marwell in one form or another since before the book was published in 2020. The publisher sent me a galley (a preview copy), then the final book. They both stayed on my shelf for a while — 2020 was not exactly a time when I was looking for deep history tomes. I then added it as an audiobook to my Libro.fm cue. After I finished Operation Paperclip, which was Book 64 of 2002, I figured it was now or never.
Which might have been a terrible idea. Josef Mengele was an SS officer and physician who performed grotesque experiments in concentration camp prisoners. His nickname, if you can even call it that, was “Angel of Death.” Operation Paperclip was a tough read because it went deep into a lot of the worst things Nazis did (before showing how some of the perpetrators found fruitful lives in the United States). And while Mengele isn’t easy, the book doesn’t focus too long on his crimes.
Instead, the primary narrative is on how Mengele escaped Germany after the war, and then his hop scotch across South America avoiding capture from the many countries looking for him. And Marwell is the right person to write about it. Before serving as the director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage from 1997 to 2000, he was the chief of investigative research for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations, where his job was to find Nazis so they could finally be prosecuted.
Marwell struck the right balance between telling readers what happened to Mengele, while also, where appropriate, sharing his experiences and often frustrating of his quest. He did so without making it too much about him either. I can’t say I enjoyed the book, because who can enjoy hearing about the atrocities of the Holocaust except truly evil people? But it was well done, and worth my listening time.
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