From The Wall Street Journal:
Few life stories are as confounding as that of Anne Spoerry (1918-99), a physician whose tale of unconscionable evil and quest for expiation spanned several decades and two continents.
In Kenya, where the Swiss-French expatriate made her home starting in the late 1940s, Spoerry was revered as “Mama Daktari,” an indefatigable “mother doctor” and the first female member of the Flying Doctors service of the African Medical and Research Foundation (the nongovernmental organization now known as Amref Health Africa). For more than 30 years, she piloted her small plane across thousands of miles to remote areas of the country, in order to provide medical care to an estimated 1 million patients. By the time of her death, her reputation as an altruist extraordinaire had spread throughout the world via numerous admiring articles and honors.
Then her pre-Africa life came to light. At the end of Spoerry’s life, a nephew found in one of her safes a cache of personal papers that revealed a closely guarded secret. She once had been known as “Dr. Claude,” a notoriously brutal kapo during her time as an inmate at Ravensbrück, a women-only Nazi concentration camp. A post-World War II French court found her guilty of “anti-French and anti-patriotic behavior” in 1946. The following year she was arrested in Switzerland, having been charged with torture by the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects. Her father bailed her out of jail, but the possibility of further trials and imprisonment loomed, and with the help of her family’s connections, she fled to Africa. “In Full Flight: A Story of Africa and Atonement” is the attempt by one of Spoerry’s many friends to make sense of her stunning, opposing personae.
John Heminway, a winner of two Emmys, first met and interviewed Spoerry in Kenya in 1980, when he was working in Africa as a journalist and filmmaker. He was curious about Spoerry’s past but was rebuffed when he asked her about it. Nonetheless, Spoerry let him accompany her as she flew from one rural village to another on her medical rounds—treating and operating on many of Kenya’s poorest inhabitants and vaccinating them against polio and smallpox. Mr. Heminway wrote often about these journeys, and an expanded version of one of these profiles appeared in his book “No Man’s Land” (1983). But throughout the 20 years that Mr. Heminway continued both to write about and socialize with Spoerry, he was never able to persuade her to open up about her life before she became Mama Daktari. On that, she remained silent and inscrutable.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal