Back in Canada, I felt worlds away from war and the un-wept tears flooding Germany and Eastern Europe that summer. I was convinced that I had somehow resurrected my own corpse, over there in Poland, simply by returning to the gas chamber and walking out of it alive. I was finally, totally free.
Of course, I couldn’t talk to anyone about this. I read the books I bought at the bookstore in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and waited for something to happen. It seemed logical to think that, having visited the place where I had died in my last lifetime, I had smashed a barrier, shredded a veil, taken a walk between worlds. This event would resolve some ancient issues, and help me gain new perspective on my life. Maybe, magically, something would surface that would light the path ahead of me.
I was right. Something did surface. Of course, it was not quite the “resurrection” I had in mind.
One evening I browsed the internet in search of holocaust memoirs. I came across a website belonging to a young man in Pennsylvania who said he was the reincarnation of Dr. Josef Mengele.
The website, which was dedicated to “the greatest war criminal of the twentieth century,” had been up for a few months. I was curious
A 22-year-old man in Pennsylvania, Joseph Muller, was claiming to be the reincarnation of Mengele. I can think of very few novelists who could spin a convincing story out of something so outlandish, even trite. Here, however, was a 22-year-old who had put together a documentary, including much detailed research, archival photos, and his own personal writing about being Mengele. It took all evening to read from beginning to end and was almost a book in itself -- well beyond what one would expect from a young man in his early twenties.
Not that parts of it were not disturbing, to say the least. If it had not rung at all true, it would have been a terrible waste of creative energy. What was so odd, was that this boy obviously believed he was Mengele. He also seemed, at times, to be fully aware of what that meant, in terms of the need to explain himself. Quite clearly, he was trapped in the overwhelming irony of having to account for deeds which, at their core, were unspeakable.
As I read, I recalled how the clinic at Auschwitz remains closed to the public, an indication of how little we really know about this man and his ugly career. But here was some kid living in Nowhere, Pennsylvania, trying to bring it out into the open. At times, he might have been writing from Transylvania. Part of him was a cartoon, yet even that part bore a disquieting resemblance to reality.
Joseph Muller was obsessed with details of Mengele’s life. He seemed to bask in the reflected notoriety of a man everyone hated, whose crimes were beyond imagining and perhaps were best kept secret and hidden from humanity.
Stubbornly, with an air of preaching, he spelled out his politics in prose which could be colourful, pompous, or dry, depending. He was not a neo-Nazi, he said, and had no respect for those who embraced the ideology of the Third Reich without having lived through its madness.
One thing was certain: he was not kidding. Whatever his shortcomings as a writer, Joseph Muller never slipped out of character, or veered too far into caricature. He always came across as exactly what he pretended to be: a young man in Pennsylvania, burdened by memories of having been a notorious monster.
He opened his autobiography with a photograph of Mengele’s son, Rolf, as a little boy, and a letter asking for forgiveness and understanding in language that conjured all the defensiveness and self-pity of an ageing war criminal, who nevertheless suffers from the fact that his own son has turned against him.
He went on to relate how he was born into this lifetime out of wedlock and unwanted by his mother, a young nurse in Pennsylvania who eventually placed him in a foster home. How, at age 11, in 1991, while his history teacher was talking to the class about the holocaust, he first saw a photo of the famous war criminal and found he somehow knew more about the man than was normal for a kid who, until that moment, had never even heard of Dr. Mengele.
Afterwards young Josef began writing poems and making drawings which seemed to unearth buried details from what, in his mind at least, could only be a past life as a doctor at Auschwitz.
He could call up horrific scenes, including memories of a field hospital near Stalingrad where, as a young doctor in 1942, Mengele dodged bullets on the battlefield while performing operations to save the wounded and dying. Awarded an Iron Cross for bravery in combat, he describes how as a 30-year-old SS doctor, officer and decorated war hero, he underwent a terrible transformation after the disastrous defeat of the German forces in Russia.
This, he writes, was when he lost his personality and became the embodiment of evil, totally indifferent to suffering and bloodshed – probably as a result of post traumatic stress. Having witnessed so much death and destruction, he lost the ability to feel anything for anyone. By the time his superiors in Berlin dispatched him to Auschwitz, in the spring of 1943, he was a psychopath, albeit a high functioning one. How could he care about trainloads of Jewish refugees filing past on the railway platform, on their way to a quick death? He had already seen so much suffering, their lives meant absolutely nothing to him.
Many people would recoil at the spectacle of a “reincarnated” war criminal trying to excuse himself by invoking a plea of insanity. At the beginning of 1945 Nuremberg trials, psychiatrists weeded out those deemed too deranged to stand trial, but Mengele never stood trial – his American captors released him supposedly by mistake.
Here is the reincarnated Mengele, who escaped justice for over 30 years, using a term, PTSD, that gained currency decades later, and using it in self-defence. And although I took young Muller’s confession with numerous grains of salt, and often with a shudder of distaste, I could not completely dismiss it. People who have never lived through violent combat are in no position to judge others, who have.
Of course, Josef Muller hadn’t really been in combat, either – unless you believe in the possibility that traumatic experiences can be transferred, or recalled, from one lifetime to the next.
What gave Josef’s story a touch of extra credibility at the beginning, was a testimonial by Eva Moses Kor. A former Mengele twin and Holocaust survivor, whose twin sister perished in Mengele’s clinic at Auschwitz, Kor is the founder of C.A.N.D.L.E.S. holocaust centre in Minneapolis, and has an international reputation as a writer and advocate for healing through forgiveness.
In her statement, published on Josef’s website, she describes their first contact, her initial reactions and questions, and how she gradually came to believe that Josef Muller might well be who he claimed to be.
Another “note of authenticity” came at the end where Josef included his e-mail address at hotmail.com, a combination of letters and numbers drawn from Mengele’s name and a certain model of BMW which Josef liked to drive at high speed around Pennsylvania -- at least until his accident.
I decided to see if this address actually worked. I wrote a message, and fired it off.
After hitting “SEND,” I waited nervously. At hour later, his reply was in my mailbox. It was as if I had pressed a button on a coffin, and out popped Count Dracula.
Subject: Dear Dr. Mengele
Date Tue, 25 Jun 2002 203314 EDT
Today I found your website, and after reading almost all of it, I have just come across your e-mail address. I was Visitor Number 101. To my surprise, I found I was quite moved by your story.
I am 51 years old, and have been having flashbacks to my death in the holocaust since childhood. I have just returned to my home in Canada from a trip to Poland, where I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, and in particularly crematorium I, at Auschwitz. This gas chamber is identical in size and shape to the one I found myself in during a hypnotic regression in 1998. I believe I arrived in the hospital wagon of a transport from (possibly) Breslau in the winter of 1941-42. Something tells me it was in mid-February.
I was a woman of about 30, and I had been involved with a group of young Poles from the cities who were blowing up German trains carrying supplies and soldiers en route to the Eastern Front. As I had been attacked and beaten in the train station, I could not walk and was taken immediately to the gas chamber. I was alone at the time of my death, and I remember noticing that the interior walls of the chamber had just been freshly whitewashed.
I am just beginning to write my own story, about my past life as a young German/Polish woman who was connected with the resistance. Like you, I am coming to terms with the effects of that lifetime on this one.
At Auschwitz I bought Dr. Nyiszli's book, I was Dr. Mengele's Assistant, and finished it about a week ago. The photo of Mengele in that book surprised me, as it did not seem to be the face of an evil man. I sometime give creative writing workshops. I believe writing is the most effective therapeutic tool for healing trauma.
Your memoir is very impressive. I believe it will help a lot of people to forgive themselves. Thank you for writing and publishing it.
I read, with a mixture of disbelief, fascination and irony:
Thank you for the compliments. I would like to go back to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Eva and I do plan on returning there in the upcoming years. We also plan on visiting my hometown of Gunzburg. I did intend on going back into medicine and science, but with the way HMO's are treating people in America, I do not wish to have my hands tied behind my back when I must save someone's life. What many of these people do not realize (the ones who choose to limit what a doctor can and cannot do) is that they are only hurting themselves in the end when it will be their turn to receive medical care. Also, my dream was to correct congenital defects while in utero, so that the woman won't need to bother with an abortion, and that a healthy baby will be born. This way I would create a win/win situation. Yet, I'm limited there as well due to the "Religious Right". Since medicine is not medicine anymore (with the exception of rare circumstances), and scientists have too many restrictions, I chose to focus on teaching the Holocaust. Back in April, I believe, I noticed in the paper that there are Ph.D.s for Genocide studies. I figured that, since I tend to be a bit "overqualified" for teaching the Holocaust, I might as well utilize my experiences to teach other people. In the end, I would like to become a "Holocaust Professor".
I might as well make the best use of being reincarnated, and I really couldn't think of any better way. I keep in touch with another reincarnated 'victim' of Auschwitz. Our friendship has brought in many ideas, and has done much healing, despite the fact that we're on opposite ends of the Atlantic. If you'd like to keep in touch with me, feel free to do so. And if you have any questions about the camp, experiments, or things related, don't hesitate to ask. Ironically, I've gotten along better with reincarnated 'victims' than one of the other reincarnated Nazis, who was a member of the Einsatzgruppen. I know, it's strange but true.
I'm still working on my book, and since I've become the official field doctor for a Feldlazaret, you'll start noticing photographs of me with the German Red Cross nurses (DRK nurses) popping up. I already have a collection that I will add next month from this year's WW2 re-enactment in Reading, Pa. Personally, my book will never be 'completely' done since the memories will go on forever. Currently I'm trying to finish getting my 1938 Inaugural Medical Dissertation on the book. I only have a few more pages to go, but...it tends to be a pain in the gluteous maximus, if you know what I mean. I'm glad that you find my memoir healing. Writing it helped me understand myself better, and I believed that I just could not die and not have done this since I know that it will have a big impact on many. I would like to have more than just a tombstone to my name when I die. I don't intend on re-reincarnating either. I've had enough, and seen enough...it's nothing against the good people I've met, but I would like to spend my "spiritual life" back in Gunzburg, and with my brothers who I really miss. Therefore, I fully intend to make the best use of this time on earth.
He was certainly a complicated fellow, prone to operatic mood swings, hypersensitive to anything that could be taken as a personal slight, unforgiving if crossed: traits that also applied to the real Mengele. He boasted of having super-human powers: he could murder people just by focusing on them, mentally.
In my second e-mail, when I was still uncertain how to approach this correspondence I had flirted with his darker side:
Really, apart from my fear of rejection (as an older woman, I have to worry about such things), I'm also afraid that if we got involved and it didn't work out, you might give me a lethal injection. …Oh, I forgot to mention that I am a twin in this lifetime.
Perhaps he took this as a come-on. His reply was definitely peculiar:
I would have no reason to give you a lethal injection. Cripes, my criminal record is clean...well, at least this half is, and I'd like to keep it that way As an SS officer, we were not to have criminal records at all Therefore, all this SS discipline does pay off in the end.