HOHENAU -- Paraguay's national addiction is yerba mate, a holly bush that when ground to a coarse powder and steeped in scalding water creates a bitter, astringent tea. It would be mildest exaggeration to say that by noon every day, most Paraguayans have drunk more yerba mate by volume than most Americans drink of coffee in a week. The slavish devotion to the drink extends to all classes and ethnicities, including Europeans. Indeed, I have heard of only two Paraguayans who scorned the stuff. One was Bernhard Foerster, the Jew-mauling founder of New Germany, and the other was Josef Mengele.
Getting her jones.
The finest mate in Paraguay is grown here in Hohenau on plantations owned by descendants of Germans. Mengele lived in Hohenau for at least two years. For him not to have picked up a taste for the drink suggests a profound remove from the society where he was forced to live. Not to drink mate in Paraguay is like swearing off beer and pork-knuckle in Bavaria, or fish in Japan.
I think of this alienated abstinence -- its tiresome pickiness, its inflexibility -- because it contrasts so harshly with how people thought Mengele and Bormann lived on the lam. In Ladislas Farago's entertaining but semi-ridiculous Aftermath, he mentions a "heavily fortified island called El Dorado, in the Parana in southern Paraguay, guarded day and night by thirty men of [Mengele's] own SS guards." In another version, Bormann inhabits a fortress "in an uncharted region" of southern Paraguay called Waldner SS, protected by five blockhouses of praetorian guards assigned by Stroessner himself. These two mythical Nazis live like South American Prester Johns, regents of rich, hidden Aryan kingdoms. In still another version, this one The Boys from Brazil, Mengele is Gregory Peck, strong and confident in white suits and wood-paneled rooms, dispatching assassins to disembowel the young Steve Guttenberg when he gets too close:
Young Jewish assassins tried to go find and kill Mengele, the stories went, but they ended up floating facedown along the banks of the Parana, their throats slit.