You might, but probably don't, remember this joke from a couple of years ago. Here it is as a book page, and if you knew how long it took me to draw it you'd -- but you thought I was going to say something derogatory, like that you'd throw up, didn't you? No, I think that if you knew how long it took me to draw this page you'd feel a new admiration for my perseverance.
I have deliberately kept from learning any details about Mengele, and I don't want any spoilers either, OK? I don't think I need to know much about him besides that he was a bad, bad person -- so bad that he and others like him prompted a section of the Nuremberg Treaty detailing ethics requirements for human experimentation. So I've always had mixed feelings about this joke, especially because I'm putting it in Walter's mouth rather than my own. Walter of course lived through World War Two; he in fact volunteered to fight in it, but was turned down because of his age and contented himself with writing awful martial poetry. I don't know if he was the kind of guy who would make a Mengele joke -- I don't know if anyone who lived through that time would have. But he did have kind of an inappropriate sense of humor sometimes, particularly when it came to the suffering of others.
And I do think it's a funny joke. But more than that, it's representative of how I feel about Walter's humor in general: I wish that weren't funny, but it is. I mean, Lobotomobile? The stolen cock ring? Part of my impetus for this project is that he was funny, often in a kind of gruesome and unkind way, and if we forbid ourselves to acknowledge that we give him a power that he isn't entitled to -- we become unable to challenge him fully because we won't meet him on that footing. I want to be the first Freeman biographer to do that. I want to put the funny part of him in the jar where we keep the rest, thanks to guys like El-Hai and Pressman and Shorter and Shutts and Valenstein. But El-Hai and Pressman and Shorter and Shutts and Valenstein are all so serious.
About Walter's attitude toward Jews I have only two pieces of information. First, he said that lobotomy worked better on Jews than on the general population, and attributed this to better postoperative care by the tight-knit Jewish family. Second, he noted that his own profession, psychiatry, was a disproportionately Jewish one. That's just a statement of fact! It may have been even more true in his time than in ours, and it's certainly true that the towering figures of mid-twentieth-century psychiatry were disproportionately Jewish to an almost ludicrous extent. Good shrinks, good patients: that pretty much tallies with what I know about Jews.