In February 1985 the historian David G. Marwell was working at the US Department of Justice when he was assigned to join an international search for Mengele, then believed still to be alive. Marwell already had access to Mengele’s correspondence and diaries and, remarkably, the text of what appeared to be an autobiographical novel ... Marwell deciphered the text...and it provides the basis for his book ... It must be the most thorough-going account of Mengele’s life available to date, a calm and professional read, but one that inevitably makes you want to look away.
David Marwell has been thinking about Mengele for a long time ... Mr. Marwell’s mission in his new book is to peel away the myths that have grown up around Mengele and, strange as it might sound, to humanize him ... Mr. Marwell’s account of that investigation is gripping ... To me at least, though, Mengele decomposing is far less interesting than Mengele alive, and I’d have liked a bit more. How did he unwind at Auschwitz, or pass all those years in hiding? Might not more have been squeezed out of all those documents—date books, letters, an autobiographical novel—that he left behind? One thing Mr. Marwell makes clear is that Mengele never felt a moment’s remorse ... his sober and meticulous book generates all the sorrow and horror, despair and indignation one expects from such histories ... And in the end, his book is oddly reassuring. For Nazis of Mengele’s ilk, retribution was often mercifully swift. It’s a tiny bit consoling to know that Mengele’s punishment went on for decades and took multiple forms.
What specifically distinguishes Marwell’s account from previous studies concerns his personal involvement in the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (O.S.I.) and the search for and identification of Mengele. Much of the volume is taken up with Mengele’s escape to, and life in, various South American countries and the bungled attempts to locate and capture him ... There is also highly detailed reportage regarding the seemingly endless investigations and multiple conflicts surrounding the interpretation of the medical and forensic evidence that in 1992 definitively established that Mengele had died in Brazil in 1979.