Friday, September 5, 2014

Book Review: "The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS Doctor Albert Heim" by Nicholas Kulisch and Souad Mekhennet

This book has 2 stories kind of interwoven into one book. One story is the hunt for Albert Heim, who was a doctor at the camp Mauthausen. The second is a more general story about the hunt for Nazi war criminals by different countries after the end of World War II and the incredibly hard work that that entails.

We're going to start with talking about Albert Heim. Albert Heim would be described in different ways by his family members and the people who were hunting him for war crimes, this is often the case.
To his friends and family he was a big, strapping Austrian who was an excellent hockey player and a doctor. They say he was forced into service of the Nazis and served as a medical doctor at a variety of places during the war. They would also say that he was more of a gentle giant and loved children, especially his sons.

The people who hunted him have a different opinion. They agree on the huge Austrian, hockey player, doctor part. Albert Heim never told anyone about serving in Mauthausen. Probably for good reason.

Let's talk about Mauthausen before we talk about the doctor. It wasn't a concentration camp like Auschwitz where most people who were sent there were almost immediately killed. It's "motto" was vernichtung durch arbeit, in English extermination through work. Himmler chose the place for "economic exploitation" aka slave labor. The work was cutting huge pieces of granite from a stone quarry. Then each piece had to be carried up 186 stone steps that were cut into the hillside. The first year more than half of the 16,000 inmates died or were killed. People who stumbled, made any kind of mistake, or paused to rest were often shot on the spot and their bodies dumped over the side of the quarry.


Now let's add Albert to this already hellish environment. Before and after the war he was mainly a obstetrician and gynecologist. However at the camp he performed many surgeries not in his field. He is accused of doing completely unnecessary surgeries on healthy inmates. Often slitting open their bellies and handling their organs, while they were awake. One patient he had was a young Jewish boy, who was obviously quite upset. Heim told him that he had to kill him "because the Jews were the reason the war started". He was often seen checking inmates mouths. He was accused of, at least on 2 occasions, killing an inmate, decapitating them, and then boiling their skulls. Two skulls with almost perfect teeth were seen sitting on his desk. Heim's favored way of killing patients, if not through violent,brutal, unnecessary, experimental surgeries was a shot of gasoline directly into the patients heart.

Patients that were nearly always given this fatal shot was what the nazis would describe as "undesirable." In Mauthausen especially they wanted people who could do the hard labor that was forced on them. Anyone who was weak, sick, crippled, or disabled in any way were killed because they were considered worthless. 

Here is a quote from another nazi doctor "Animals that come into the world crippled or otherwise nonviable are killed immediately after birth...It is the right of every state to defend itself against asocial elements, and that includes those unfit to live"

So after the war Dr Heim and others like him need to be found, tired and punished. (Personally I think the justice is too much grace for these people. I think a wall to stand against and a bullet for their brain is what they deserve.)

The hunt for Dr Heim goes all over the world, from Austria, to Chile, to Egypt and back again. I'm not going to tell you if they find him or what happens. That is for you to find out.

The search for Heim and men like him is a daunting task for the few, underfunded people who do the searching. Simon Wiesenthal was one of the most visible Nazi hunters but there were many others. The book details many different tactics and officials used for these searches. I could go into them more and write a longer review but Im bummed from writing that whole section on Mauthausen. You should consider reading this book, it's interesting, it's sad, it's justice trying to be served, 3 stars.
I'm linked up over at:

Buzzfeed has a really interesting interview about the book here.

I received this book in exchange for a honest review from Netgally


  1. This sounds interesting, though even reading your summary was hard to stomach. But now I want to know if/how they found him.

    1. It's brutal stuff to hear for sure. The whole trying to find Nazis who got away history is super interesting to me.

  2. Wow, this sounds depressing! Obviously, everything about the holocaust is terrible and depressing, but I think it's particularly sad that science and medicine were misused to justify such atrocities. This seems like it would be a very tough read.

    1. You know how in a lot of world war 2 books they'll include stories about brave being doing heroic things to try to counter balance the awful stuff? This author didn't do that, it was just all awful stuff.


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