Joseph Mengele
Joseph Mengele Photo by Getty images
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He won't reveal his name, age, or city of residence. All he agreed to say was that he is a "modern Orthodox" Jew, a doctor by profession, and that he lives in the Midwest United States. Two weeks ago he purchased, for $245,000 (about NIS 840,000 ), the diaries of Dr. Josef Mengele, one of the most atrocious Nazi war criminals, known for his sadistic experiments on death camp prisoners and nicknamed the "Angel of Death from Auschwitz."

In a phone conversation with Haaretz, the buyer of the diaries sought to explain his motives, lay out his plans, and respond to the criticism expressed regarding the diaries' sale by public auction. He is the son of Holocaust survivors. Both his grandfathers and his uncle were murdered by the Nazis. He defines himself as an "absolute Zionist," understands Hebrew and has relatives living in Israel.

He has already visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum twice, and he would like to come a third time with Mengele's diaries in hand. In fact, about a year ago, before the diaries were put on auction, the auction house offered to sell the diaries to Yad Vashem. A representative came to the U.S. to examine the collection on behalf of the museum's archive, but ultimately Yad Vashem decided to turn the offer down.

"These diaries are one of the most important items in history. They are a major testament of evil. A piece of paper that represents evil, but can be used for good," the buyer said. "People are forgetting the Holocaust. I want to remind them and to preserve and pass on the knowledge."

Mengele's diaries contain some 3,000 pages in 31 notebooks. They include stories, poems, reflections and drawings.

The diaries were written in South America between 1960 and 1975, where Mengele fled after the Holocaust. Four years after they were completed, he drowned, leaving behind Mossad agents in hot pursuit.

"The decision had to do with the high price the auction house asked for the diaries, as well as the order of priorities in our archival acquisitions and the fact that the diaries were written after the Holocaust," read a statement from Yad Vashem. Yet the museum will be glad to exhibit the diaries, now that they have been purchased by the Jewish-American buyer.

"As the largest Holocaust museum in the world, Yad Vashem believes that these diaries should be preserved in a place where they will be kept in optimal conditions for many years, and will be freely available for the perusal of scholars and the general public. It is fitting that after they are exhibited worldwide, they should be kept in the Yad Vashem archive, or at least that a copy of the diaries be placed there for research purposes," stated the museum.

The buyer has two conditions for agreeing to exhibit the diaries: entrance to the exhibition should be free of charge and should not make any profit, and the diaries must be exhibited for no longer than one month.

In this way, he believes, they will arouse more interest. "I hope that hundreds of thousands of people around the world will come to see the diaries," he said.

He decided to purchase the diaries in order to ensure that they are "in good Jewish hands," as he put it. "I feared they would reach the hands of neo-Nazis, so I bought them and now they are in the hands of a Holocaust survivor," he added. "I have no intention of making money off them or becoming famous. I am their owner physically, but spiritually they belong to the Jewish people and to the victims."

He was offended by the criticism regarding trade in items from the Nazi period.

"The media presented this sale in negative terms. That isn't fair. My motive is not commercial. I am not a rich man, so I won't give them away for free, but I do want to use the advantage of being the diaries' owner in order to lend them to museums that are sensitive to the victims and represent humanistic values," he said.