“Where’s that book column?” the editor asks over the telephone. “You said you were going to write a book column. Where is it?”
My heart sinks. He has sent me a new book, very well-reviewed, by a young author with a good track record. The only problem is that it’s about a young man who has died – been murdered, in fact – and the people mourning him. I’m sure it’s a good book, but here’s the thing: I am doing a lot of Holocaust-related research these days, and I’m looking for books that make me laugh. Out loud. With a good, deep belly laugh that chases the blues away.
Here’s a taste of my current reading material: Mengele: The Complete Story, by Gerald L. Posner and John Ware (McGraw-Hill, 1986).
Boroson on BooksYou think you know about Mengele? You don’t know the half of it – and I’m not going to tell you all I’ve read because it will put you in a funk for days.
But I’ll tell some – and you can pretend it’s a fantasy made up by Stephen King if that makes it easier to bear. (Not all of this comes from the Posner-Ware book.)
Did you know that he was awarded a medal for stopping a typhus epidemic at Auschwitz?
Do you know how he did it?
In one instance, he sent 1,000 Gypsies suspected of having typhus to the gas chambers. In one day. All gone. Problem solved. In another, according to an Austrian doctor who had been imprisoned in Auschwitz, “He sent one entire Jewish block of 600 women to the gas chamber and cleared the block. He then had it disinfected from top to bottom. Then he put bathtubs between this block and the next, and the women from the next block came out to be disinfected….” Und so veiter, “until all the blocks were disinfected. The awful thing was that he could not put those first 600 somewhere.” Ingenious, nein?
Did you know he was fascinated by different-colored eyes (in a single person, usually a child)?
Did you know how he studied these?
Killed their owners, cut the eyes out, classified them, sometimes pinned them on the wall like butterflies, preserved them in formaldehyde, and sent them to a research institute. (P.S. This and other such grisly projects were approved by the German Research Council.)
Did you know he was fascinated by dwarfs?
Once he made dwarfs from a Romanian Jewish circus family parade naked in front of a mass SS audience as an illustration of “degenerate” Jewish heredity.
And why was experimenting on twins, especially children, his special passion?
He wanted to find a way for Germans to have more multiple births, thereby populating the earth with the “master race” more quickly.
Here’s a nice quote from Posner and Ware: “Children, strapped to slabs of marble, had their spines, eyes, and inner organs probed, injected, and cut, often with unknown chemicals and without anesthetic.”
But did you know he could also be very loving and tender to the children he would ultimately kill? He gave them toys and candy (stolen from other children who’d been sent to the gas chambers or simply shot), and many called him “uncle.” Posner and Ware write that he would calm “anxious children condemned to die. Mengele turned their last walk into a game which he called ‘on the way to the chimney.'”
Milan Kundera wrote The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. I could use one of those. Editor? Please?