Author Olivier Guez: “We Need to Remember what Evil is and what it Means”

Author Olivier Guez. (pHOTO © Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons)

After stepping into the mind of the Butcher of Auschwitz for the purposes of his ‘true novel’ on Josef Mengele’s life in the aftermath of World War II, author Olivier Guez told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) that he does not believe a phenomenon like Mengele will be repeated. At the same time, he added, we should all remember Evil and comprehend its enormity.

Guez is due in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki this coming Saturday for the presentation of the Greek translation of his book “The Disappearance of Josef Mengele” – translated by Evgenia Grammatikopoulou and published by Kritiki Publications. This tracks Mengele’s life after his arrival in Argentina in 1949 and his attempts to start a new life in Peron’s Buenos Aires, until pursuit by his victims seeking justice forces him to flee to Paraguay and then Brazil.

The author will be at the book launch, which will take place at Pavilion 13 of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair at 18:30, in the Francophonie Room. Ahead of his visit, he granted an interview to the ANA’s Vangelis Hatzivasiliou about what prompted him to turn Mengele into the hero of a novel, writing from his point of view, what Mengele represents for him and what message he hopes to convey through his book.

“Mengele in public memory represents one of the worst forms of Nazism; a doctor that ruled over concentration camps, exterminating the Jews. In this way he managed to stand out among other Nazis and this is why he is the only one we remember so clearly from the Nazi period,” Guez noted, referring to the “frightening” medical experiments that Mengele had carried out on his victims, especially on children.

According to the author, Mengele served as a symbol of the atrocity committed against Europe, embodying the idea of the “extermination and murder of Europe”.

“He was the great employer of death,” Guez said, noting that this was the central figure of his book that combined three different genres – a non-fiction story, a historical novel and crime fiction.

He agreed that primary responsibility for the atrocities were borne by all the Nazis and their ideology, by Mengele for wanting to advance his academic career at the expense of human lives, for which he was utterly indifferent, but also Peron for tolerating Mengele and the other Nazis that fled to his country.

“But are the United States and Soviet Union not also responsible for Nazi crimes being forgotten after the end of WWII? Everyone is responsible in some way for the way that we forgot,” he added.

Talking about the section of his book that concerned Mengele’s relationship with his son, Guez said he had worked from excerpts of a journal that Mengele had kept, which he said had answered the question whether there was “anything human” about him.

“Well, in his case, no, there was not. When he met with his son he had a chance, the last in his life, to achieve something like redemption. He allowed this opportunity to be lost and the result was that he died utterly alone.”

Asked whether cases like Mengele continued to be a risk, especially after the rise of the far right in Europe and the United States, Guez replied that, in his opinion, “it is a phenomenon that will not be repeated.”

“Mengele interests us as a case of averages. A doctor, an indifferent person under normal circumstances, becomes what he becomes, undertaking to express absolute Evil. One issue is that there were forewarnings of the Mengele phenomenon in history. This needs to be the greatest lesson for all of us,” he said.

Regarding the message he hopes to send through his book, Guez said that this was the need to remember what has happened, however evil.

“We need to remember what Evil is and what exactly it means. So that we know to which things in this world we must show trust and which not,” he said.