Patagonia is a region at the southern tip of South America, stretching across both Argentina and Chile, providing a view of both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. It is an awesome and tranquil setting. The area was known as a safe haven for German Nazis hiding from authorities who were cognizant of their cruelty to inmates of the concentration camps over which they held sway.
One of the most notorious of these Nazis was an SS Officer and physician named Josef Mengele who was called the “Angel of Death” because of his horrific experiments on innocent people imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The film is an adaptation of the novel entitled “Wakolda” written by Argentinian author Lucia Puenzo. The word “wakolda,” loosely interpreted, means “an imperfect doll.” The film, actually entitled “Wakolda,” was screened in the United States under the title of “The German Doctor.” The story is Lucia Puenzo’s fictionalized version of the events that occurred in 1960 in Patagonia, but such events were common, and known to very few people, or totally ignored by others who were suspicious, but turned their backs.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp - Wikimedia
In the film “The German Doctor,” Joseph Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl), adopted the name Helmut Gregor to disguise his past. He headed in his car for a town named Bariloche in Argentina when he came upon a family going in that direction. He asked if he might follow them in his car as he did not know the way.
The family consisted of the father Enzo (Diego Peretti), the mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro), and their three children, the oldest of whom was Lilith (Natalia Oreiro). Eva’s mother had died in the past two months, and she and Enzo decided to move to Bariloche where the family owned a hotel. Their intention was to reopen the hotel and take in guests.
Helmut Gregor Asks to Stay at the Hotel
Although Helmut Gregor had reservations at a nearby guesthouse, he was impressed with the family’s hotel and the beautiful view, and asked if he might stay there instead. They declined the offer since they were not ready to accept visitors just yet. When Gregor offered them six months’ rent in advance, they relented, and even invited him to dinner that evening.
Gregor explained that he was a veterinary doctor and would be working at the Bariloche Veterinary Clinic nearby where they conducted genetic research on growth hormones using pregnant cows.
The children were enrolled in a local school where the faculty and students spoke only German, since a large German settlement had developed there. The children would take German lessons while they were there. Helmut Gregor knew one of the tutors there, Klaus Baier (Guillermo Pfening), and had clandestine meetings with him from time to time.
Natalia Oreiro - Wikimedia
Gregor Ingratiates Himself With the Family
Gregor noted that Eva was pregnant and offered to give her some vitamins. In an examination of her, he told her that she was probably having twins, an area of gynecology in which he was highly interested. Eva’s daughter Lilith had been premature, and therefore suffered from stunted growth and had frequent respiratory ailments. Although she was twelve years old, she looked to be only eight or nine.
Gregor was very interested in the child Lilith, almost to the point of being a predator. He offered to put Lilith on growth hormones, which Eva was not too keen about. However, when Lilith began to be bullied by the boys at school, who called her a dwarf, Eva agreed to accept Gregor’s free treatment of Lilith. He x-rayed Lilith and began taking her measurements which he would evaluate from time to time. Eva did not mention to Enzo that she had agreed to Gregor’s treatment of Lilith.
Diego Peretti - Wikimedia
Gregor Offers to Get Investors for a Doll Factory
Enzo was a doll maker, who had a unique idea of making a battery-operated, mechanical doll which could simulate an actual person. Gregor was fascinated by Enzo’s creations, and offered to find investors to finance Enzo’s need for a factory to mass-produce the dolls. Gregor liked the idea of the dolls having blonde hair, blue eyes, and no disfiguring marks, resembling the type of Aryan specimens being promoted in his home country of Germany.
An Israeli Spy
The local librarian, Nora (Elena Roger) was actually an Israeli spy, working undercover in Bariloche, who recognized that Helmut Gregor was, in reality, the escaped Nazi physican from Auschwitz. She had been suspicious of his many meetings with the tutor Klaus Baier.
Gregor is Ordered to Leave the Hotel
Enzo was not happy when Gregor proposed giving growth hormones to Lilith. In fact, he had told him not to experiment on Lilith without his permission. When Lilith came down with a serious fever and allergic rash, he raged at Gregor, who stated that Eva had given her permission for the treatment. Enzo ordered him to leave their house.
Elena Roger - Wikimedia
Enzo Seeks Gregor’s Help with the Newborn Twins
When Eva’s twins were born, it was apparent that they each had breathing problems. Enzo went to Gregor to see if he could help. Gregor came quickly to treat them with proper doses of milk and water for each twin. He brought an oxygen tank to their home, and the twins made progress in their development.
Gregor Leaves When Adolph Eichmann is Captured
A radio announcement gave the news that the notorious Adolph Eichmann had been kidnapped in Argentina by Israeli agents. They suspected that others were in the country as well. A courier came to Gregor with the news that a hydroplane was waiting for him to take him into hiding in Uruguay.
The Librarian’s Fate
Nora, the local librarian and photographer, unearthed Gregor’s notebooks before he left. There were drawings and measurements of twins which Gregor had used in his experiments. One twin was the focus of his experiments while the other was used as the control. That is why he was interested in Eva’s twins. There were also drawings of Lilith’s family. Nora’s dead body was discovered after Gregor had left. Lilith watched as a hydroplane took Gregor away down at the lake.
Josef Mengele - Wikimedia
Josef Mengele was born in Germany in 1911 and died in 1979 in Brazil. As an SS Officer and physician at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in the early 1940’s, his job was to select the inmates who would go the gas chambers and to conduct medical experiments on other prisoners of his choice. He was known as “the Angel of Death.”
In his university studies, Mengele chose to concentrate on physical anthropology and genetics. He selected Auschwitz because of the opportunities there to continue his research. Mengele arrived at the camp as a privileged officer - he had been wounded in the war and was the recipient of numerous medals, including the Iron Cross.
Although he did research on fertility to increase the population in Germany, Mengele’s major interest was in the research of twins. Twins were selected and placed in special barracks. One served as a control while the other endured the experiments. It was observed that when a twin went to the infirmary, it never returned, and the other twin disappeared also. Shots of phenol were used to kill the other twin. Dissection of the corpses for final medical analysis was well documented.
The Frankfurt Court charged Mengele with hideous crimes. Included in the crimes against humanity were lethal injections, shootings, beatings and deliberate killing.
After the war, Mengele went underground, first in Bavaria, then Italy, and then to South America in 1949. He became a citizen in Paraguay in 1959 and later moved to Brazil, where he became friends with another Nazi, Wolfgang Gerhard. It was determined that he had taken on Gerhard’s identity, and when he died of a stroke in 1979, Mengele was buried under the name of Wolfgang Gerhard. Dental records, however, proved that he was indeed Josef Mengele.