Nicholas Kul­ish is an author and cor­re­spon­dent for The New York Times. His most recent book, The Eter­nal Nazi, co-authored with Souad Mekhen­net, is the sto­ry of Nazi physi­cian Dr. Arib­ert Heim, who fled post­war jus­tice and hid in Egypt from Nazi hunters. He is also the author of a nov­el, Last One In. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

For five long years Wolf­gang Lotz, a horse breed­er and bon vivant, lived the high life of an afflu­ent for­mer Nazi in Egypt. It was the 1960s and Hitler’s sci­en­tists were hard at work build­ing rock­ets for the Egypt­ian leader, Gamal Abdel Nass­er, while vet­er­ans of the Wehrma­cht trained his sol­diers. Joseph Goebbels’ for­mer pro­pa­gan­dist Johann von Leers had changed his name to Omar Amin and was now one of sev­er­al col­leagues spread­ing anti-Semit­ic vit­ri­ol for the Egyptians.

At soirees at von Leers’ home it was pos­si­ble to see Hans Eise­le, who had been sen­tenced to death for exper­i­ments on con­cen­tra­tion-camp inmates, singing the Nazi anthem known as The Horst Wes­sel Song” with old Kam­er­aden. Lotz, a reg­u­lar at the coun­try clubs as well as the sta­bles, threw the biggest, most lav­ish and booze-soaked par­ties of them all, attend­ed by pow­er­ful Egypt­ian gen­er­als as well as his fel­low Ger­mans. It was wide­ly believed that the horse breed­er had been a mem­ber of the SS but he nev­er con­firmed nor denied it, let­ting the rumor linger.

Lotz was indeed a vet­er­an of World War II, but fight­ing for the Allies. He was Ger­man by birth but his moth­er was Jew­ish. When the Nazis came to pow­er she fled with her son to what was then the British Man­date for Pales­tine. Lotz had joined the Haganah before he was 15, patrolling on horse­back. He fought for the British in North Africa, smug­gled arms for the Haganah and served in the I.D.F. before even­tu­al­ly join­ing the Mossad.

It was for the Mossad that Lotz had trav­eled to Egypt. He called espi­onage the great­est game in the world,” but it was also a dan­ger­ous one. He got to know Egypt­ian gen­er­als and shared what­ev­er secrets he could glean from them about the mis­sile pro­gram but his luck ran out and he was arrest­ed in 1965 and sen­tenced to 25 years in prison.

I stum­bled across Lotz’s sto­ry because I was writ­ing a book about a Nazi war crim­i­nal, Dr. Arib­ert Heim, who fled to Egypt one step ahead of jus­tice. This tow­er­ing blond war crim­i­nal lived out his days as a con­vert to Islam in a work­ing-class dis­trict of Cairo. His sto­ry opened an entire world to me that, frankly, I could not have imagined.

When writ­ing a book you have to pre­pare your­self for those stranger-than-fic­tion moments. I could hard­ly believe it when I learned, in Aus­tri­an munic­i­pal records, that the elu­sive Heim had a twin broth­er who died at birth. It all start­ed to feel like an improb­a­ble, pulpy paper­back thriller I had found at a yard sale.

But you also have to be pre­pared for the amaz­ing sup­port­ing char­ac­ters that pass by the edges of your sto­ry, the Rosen­crantzs and Guilden­sterns of his­to­ry. Arthur A. Beck­er was an inmate at Mau­thausen turned war crimes inves­ti­ga­tor for the Amer­i­cans after the war. He was respon­si­ble for the first known record of Heim’s atroc­i­ties in an inter­view with a wit­ness. What I did not know was that he was also a playwright.

Beck­er wrote a play called The Road Into Life” about his expe­ri­ences at Mau­thausen, which was staged in Salzburg short­ly after the war. I dis­cov­ered a copy on a back shelf at the Mau­thausen Archive in Vien­na. The archivists had no idea it was there. As I began read­ing it I came across a men­ac­ing ref­er­ence to a Nazi doc­tor named Heim. The strands of fic­tion and his­to­ry had crossed before my eyes.

Wolf­gang Lotz remained a source of end­less fas­ci­na­tion. I bought his book, The Cham­pagne Spy, and prob­a­bly wast­ed a few more pre­cious research days than I should have on this hero­ic but at times louche character.

His sto­ry had a hap­py end­ing. After the 1967 war the Cham­pagne Spy was released in a pris­on­er exchange. I nev­er could find out if he met Dr. Arib­ert Heim while he was there, one miss­ing thread in the larg­er tapes­try of my book.

Read more about Nicholas Kul­ish and his work here.

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