by writer/director Lucía Puenzo
I spent almost one year writing the novel and the script of The German Doctor, trying to understand the complex reasons which made the Argentinean government open its doors to so many Nazis, even making a law to allow them to use their real names, while entire cities—like Bariloche—were openly friendly to receiving them… Why did hundreds of Argentinean families become accomplices to these men? What was the reaction of these closed German communities, settled down in Patagonia even before WWII, when Nazism turned into something hideous? More so, what happened with the teenagers raised in these communities when they became aware of the kind of monsters they were living with? I was interested in the voice of that girl who became fascinated with this German doctor. It is through her eyes that we see everything: the relationship with this stranger, the trip to the end of Argentina and the German community in Bariloche, which was very closed and very pro-Nazi at that time, even before the war, and how she began to understand where she is and who these people are.
In 1959, everybody was beginning to know what had happened during the Second World War, but probably not everyone knew about the role of German doctors and what had been going on in the deportation camps. That was something that began to be discovered with the trials in subsequent years… The German community of Bariloche was well prepared to receive the Germans who came from abroad and needed very quickly a new passport, a new identity, and a new job. There were networks to help with this and to help make these men disappear. And of course, there were a lot of Argentineans who were not Germans and who knew more or less who these men were.
Both the novel Wakolda and the film work with a combination of real facts of history and some fiction. It is true that Mengele lived in Argentina for 4 or 5 years. He even had his name in the phonebook, he had a pharmaceutical company, he moved around our country with complete impunity. At some point, when Eichmann was captured by the Mossad, Mengele disappeared and reappeared in Paraguay six months later. The film is located in those six months, where his tracks were lost for some time. Some people say he was in Bariloche at some point. Nora Eldoc, the Israeli spy, is a true life character based on a woman who was found murdered a few days after Mengele is supposed to have left Bariloche. Some say she was a voluntary of the Mossad. People from the Israeli embassy came to look for her body, took some documentation away and archived the episode.
There is something about Patagonia: it seems to be infinite. There are such huge distances to reach one city to another. There is something about trying to transmit the immensity of our country. I think that the first sequences can transmit how huge Argentina is. From the very beginning, with the entire team, we wanted to work on this aspect of how in the middle of paradise, something so dense would be happening. Bariloche and all of Patagonia are a paradise; it is not happenstance that this man arrives there and feels safe. He feels at home because it looks exactly the same as Switzerland. At the same time, we worked on creating the darks aspects of this paradise in every location.
I began to write both the novel and the film with the fascination of what some aspects of medicine is doing even today, in their constant intention to create perfect bodies. Of course, Nazism took this idea to its perfect and fanatic extreme: they crossed the line horribly and in a very perverse way. Mengele was a fanatic who saw himself as a visionary with this extraordinary historical opportunity: the essence of his ideology was to achieve biological perfection and to destroy anything interfering with this goal. This biomedical vision is at the heart of the Nazi movement, and not just tangential to its war movement. It is almost a paradox that Mengele, so obsessed with racial purity, should end up in a continent (not only in Argentina, he spent year in Paraguay and in Brazil), where we all have mixed blood. All these thoughts and questions triggered the plot of The German Doctor: to combine History with the story of a family who could have lived with one of the biggest criminals of all time.