EMBU: A Post On Murder Is Everywhere by Leighton Gage

John Lawton’s SECOND VIOLIN and A LILY OF THE FIELD are set, wholly or in part, in Germany during the Third Reich.  It is a period in history that I find endlessly fascinating because ordinary people willingly followed Adolph Hitler down a path strewn with the bodies of other ordinary people whom Hitler declared unworthy of life.

One of the worst of Hitler’s acolytes was Josef Mengele whose experiments on living people, including children, rank with the worst of anything done in any period of history.  On November 30, 2009, Leighton Gage posted on his blog, Murder Is Everywhere, a story about a town called Embu.  At the beginning of his post, he quotes some lines from a piece Dan Waddell posted on Murder Is Everywhere on November 27, 2009.  That piece was titled “Mind The Gap” and I wrote about it on this blog on November 12,2010.

I was not able to copy the pictures Leighton used in his post so I added some others.

“Places still bear the effect of what has gone on before, even if that imprint exists only in people’s minds.”

The words Dan Waddell wrote in his most recent post brought to mind an incident in my own life. In his case, it was a house. In mine, it was a town.
The town is called Embu. It’s in the State of São Paulo about thirty kilometers from the capital.
During my first visit, back in 1972, or thereabouts, I was immediately struck by Embu’s colonial charm.
And by the fact that it had attracted so many painters and sculptors.
I came to live in the neighboring town of Carapicuiba, and soon became a habitué of Embu’s Sunday art fair.
For a dozen years or so, if someone asked me about Embu, I’d think of the things that these images suggest: art, charm, beauty.
Now, I have darker thoughts. I think of Josef Mengele, Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death”.
Here’s a picture that of Mengele, taken at about the time I first visited Embu:
And, here, one that was shot in 1944 when he was 33 years old.
Josef Mengele  lived his last years not far from Embu; he was buried there under a false name; and had the Brazilian Federal Police not discovered his last hiding place, his bones would be lying there still.  I was ignorant of all of this until the news of his exhumation appeared in the newspapers. But I knew Mengele’s name and was familiar with his history. I’d also read Ira Levin’s novel, The Boys from Brazil, and seen the film with Gregory Peck, both released before his death. (How weird is that? There you are, a fugitive war criminal, and Gregory Peck is playing you in a movie. Don’t tell me Mengele didn’t go to see it.)
Anyway, there I was, close to it all. I went over to that grave to have a look. And, like Dan, being in a place where history happened, set me to musing.
The first thing that struck me was how different Mengele’s youth had been from that of so many other Nazis. He was born to wealth and privilege. As a youth, he was popular and well-liked. He made people laugh. They nicknamed him Beppo, drawing it from the name of a popular circus clown. He was intelligent and an intellectual. He achieved doctorates in two disciplines from two different universities. He was a decorated war hero and served with distinction on the Eastern front.
And then he went to Auschwitz and spent twenty one months there. Only twenty-one months, but it was enough time for him to betray all of his early promise, sink to the depths of degradation, and perform unspeakable horrors.
After the war he fled, first to Southern Germany, then to South America. When the war ended he was 34. When he died, he was 68.  He was on the run for half his lifetime.
His son, Rolf, visited him in Brazil not long before the end. Mengele was in no way repentant for what he’d done and told him, “Personally, I never harmed anyone in my entire life.”

Hundreds are still alive to testify that he did

A place so filled with life and color should not have been polluted by the presence of such evil as Mengele.

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4 Responses to EMBU: A Post On Murder Is Everywhere by Leighton Gage

  1. kathy d. says:

    I simply cannot fathom with all of my own reading and learning, how these Nazi war criminals lived in South America, in Europe, the U.S. or Canada for decades and were not caught and punished. I keep reading obituaries in the New York Times of these torturers who lived out their lives., and well, too. One, the other day, talked of one who brutally murdered several young women, one pregnant, in a camp. He died at an old age, living in Canada.
    Another article recently told of many who lived in Europe for all of these years and had good lives. Another told of war criminals living in the U.S., also living good lives.
    It is just beyond me. Why Interpol, and all of the intelligence agencies weren’t looking for them is outrageous. Many were right here in my own backyard.
    I can’t read novels about WWII; it’s too awful. It’s not academic. It was real life; unfathomable crimes were committed against millions. And there was not justice for so many responsible.

    • Beth says:

      Kathy D. – At the end of the war, the allies were faced with a choice. They could focus on the major figures of the Third Reich and publicly indict them for crimes against humanity or they could let some of the smaller fish disappear. Goering was the biggest fish they caught because Hitler and Goebbels committed suicide rather than be humiliated, being judged by those they considered inferior. But there were trials for some who thought they had escaped. Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor, is one of the most famous of the Nazi hunters. Serge and Beate Klarsfeld tracked Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, to Bolivia and brought him back to France for trial. The Israeli Mossad captured one of the worst. Adolf Eichmann was referred to as “the architect of the Holocaust” because he was the organizer of the complicated logistics needed to capture Jews and getting them through the extermination camps quickly. Eichmann was returned to Israel from Argentina in 1960. He was tried publicly, found guilty on 15 criminal charges, and executed by hanging in 1962.

      Frederick Forsyth is the author of the ODESSA FILE which was made into a very good movie. Odessa was, or is, the group of SS sympathizers who got members out of Germany and established in ordinary lives in most of the western world. It is also true that the countries who won the war were desperately afraid of losing the peace. The troops of the USSR controlled the eastern part of Germany as well as eastern European countries that were left without a government. The Cold War started 5 minutes after the hot war ended. Governments believed that there were Nazis and Nazi sympathizers who had important information that could help the allies against the Soviet Union. Never has a group kept better records than the Nazis and the men who knew the content of these records were invaluable.

      There is nothing ennobling about war. The pragmatists win.

  2. Susie says:

    Hi Beth, Leighton,


    Interesting article, great photos.

    I read John Lawton’s A LILY OF THE FIELD, I thought it was a wonderful book and look forward to reading his other books.

    Great blog Beth!

    Happy & healthy New Year wishes to you and your family.

  3. Beth says:

    Thanks, Susie. It has been very interesting because the books reviewed have been jumping off points for learning so much more.

    If you would like to post a review on the blog, let me know. I love having people post things about a favorite book or a book that has really grabbed them.

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