Mengele’s Nueva Alemania in Paraguay

In Drexel University’s online publication, The Smart Set, Graeme Wood portrays Joseph Mengele’s Germany in exile in Paraguay. Here’s a taste of it.

Eugene, a Belgian computer programmer, has retired to a cottage in southern Paraguay, and the pride of his golden years is his view. From his stone patio, he sees forested hills, the fringes of yerba mate plantations, and, in the distance, the crumbling ruins of a Jesuit settlement two centuries old. “Like a picture,” he says, and I nod to agree, even though my mind is not on the beautiful vista, but on the dark figure who once shared it.

The Nazi doctor Josef Mengele cheated justice for decades by hiding out in South America, sometimes in these very hills. Had he stayed in Germany he would almost certainly have died by the noose. Jews and Gypsies at Auschwitz called him “the Angel of Death”: He killed men and women for the dubious medical value of dissecting them, and for pleasure. He injected dyes into children’s eyes to see if he could change their color. When he ran out of Jews, he sent memos asking for more, and he got them.

Here in southern Paraguay, he found a life not of fear and seclusion but of relaxation and, like Eugene, retirement. After the war, an organization called die Spinne operated a shadowy network of safe houses and travel agents around South America, a sort of Hosteling International for Nazis on the lam. In Argentina and Brazil, they buried Mengele’s tracks well. But in 1960 and then again from 1963 to 1964, he lived openly in a lovely German town on the outskirts of Encarnacion, and even took a Paraguayan passport as “José Mengele.”

This community, called Hohenau, gave Mengele a life in some ways superior to the one he left behind in his native Swabia. Today, rich from the profits of cultivating yerba mate tea (consumed at a rate of gallons a day by all Paraguayans), Hohenau looks like northern California, with sunny drags and boutiques upscale enough to take plastic. The climate is hot but not miserable, and well-suited to exiles from northern European winters. Old Germans remember the doctor kindly, and a friend of Eugene’s says Mengele frequently hitched scooter rides into town, to see a dentist about a recurrent toothache.

The property next to Eugene’s, a lovely and secluded holiday resort, hosted Mengele at least twice. Nowadays it bears no sign of its former guest, except perhaps in its proudly Teutonic name: Hotel Tyrol. The hotel still hints at a European past. Unlike most buildings in this stiflingly hot land, its roof slants sharply, as if to shake off the Tyrolean snow that never falls. Narrow passageways among its rooms feel like those of an old German monastery, repurposed as a spa.

via Megan McArdle

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Filed under Germany, Israel, Paraguay, travel

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