While Marwell debunks myths about Mengele at Auschwitz, a major contribution of the book is the history of Mengele’s fate. Like Sands, he devotes nearly a third of his book to the postwar years. As a lead investigator in the US Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations in the mid-1980s, he tracked Mengele, who had died without being discovered, and now provides an insider’s account of the high-profile (and well-funded) pursuit of the era’s most wanted Nazi fugitive. In one brilliant display of his analysis, Marwell shows how he studied the multiple aliases in Mengele’s autobiographical novel, and as with an anagram, pieced together the true name of a former comrade of Mengele’s, a doctor who was still alive in 1985. This discovery was a breakthrough in an investigation that had become an international cause among West Germans, Americans, Israelis and Holocaust survivors.
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. A note attached to it, addressed to Mengele’s son, expressed the pious hope that in time it would be possible to understand what he had done, and that there would be ‘more liberal treatment of difficult themes’. Marwell deciphered the text (much of it attempting to disguise real names and events), and it provides the basis for his book, Mengele: Unmasking the ‘Angel of Death’. 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.