Nazi-hunters cast doubt over Heim death reports

JERUSALEM Thu Feb 5, 2009 2:16pm EST

1 of 2. A document with pictures of Nazi war criminal Aribert Heim is presented during a news conference at the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in this November 27, 2007 file picture.

Credit: Reuters/Marcos Brindicci/File

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Nazi-hunters in Israel and Germany expressed doubts on Thursday about reports that Aribert Heim, dubbed "Dr Death" for killing concentration camp inmates with lethal injections to the heart, died in Cairo in 1992.

Officials at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem and Germany's Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Ludwigsburg said there was neither solid evidence of Heim's death nor any remains of the man who fled West Germany in 1962.

Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told Reuters there was "no doubt" Heim had lived in Egypt -- as German television network ZDF and The New York Times reported.

"But the question is whether he died in Egypt? We have serious doubts about that," Zuroff said.

Heim, the most notorious surviving perpetrator of the Nazi killings of 6 million Jews, died in Cairo in 1992, ZDF said. It said Heim spent nearly 30 years there and converted to Islam in the early 1980s.

"I'm not yet convinced about these results," Joachim Riedel, the deputy head of the Ludwigsburg investigation agency, told Reuters. "It's possible that someone is trying give investigators the runaround or throw us off the track.

"We've experienced it often enough in the past. I'll believe it when we have an official forensic examination."

Heim has been accused of killing hundreds of inmates at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria by injecting gasoline into their hearts and performing surgery and severing organs without anesthesia, crimes he documented himself, Zuroff said.

"MAN OF GOOD DEEDS"

People who said they knew Heim after he converted to Islam and lived in what is now a shabby hotel near downtown Cairo described him as a friendly man who kept a low profile.

Abu Ahmed, a hotel worker, said he had no idea that the man who changed his name to Tarek Farid Hussein was wanted. "He was a man of good deeds," he said. "He helped needy people."

Tareq Abdel Moneim al-Rifaie, a 51-year-old dentist whose father was Heim's dentist in Egypt, said he had met Heim once or twice at his father's offices in the late 1980s.

"I was definitely surprised to know he was wanted," he said. "We used to refer to him as the German man," he said, adding Heim used to send them chocolate and cakes from Groppi, a well-known confectioner and coffeehouse in downtown Cairo.

But he added his family had the impression Heim "hated Jews, or had problems with them" and sent them a paper he had written arguing that modern Jews were not Semites.

Germany's ZDF, in footage from a documentary being aired in full on Thursday, showed Heim's son Ruediger saying his father had died of cancer of the rectum on August 10, 1992, after spending 30 years in Cairo under the assumed name.

Zuroff said news of Heim's death came as the Simon Wiesenthal Center was preparing to triple its reward for finding him to 1 million euros. He said the reports lacked concrete evidence.

"What is not clear, what is missing from the presentation by ZDF and the New York Times, is the conclusive proof he indeed died in Egypt in 1992," Zuroff said. "There's no grave, there's no body. We can't do any DNA testing."

Riedel too was skeptical. "The son's statements are curious. For years he said he did not know anything about his father's whereabouts," he said.

ZDF said it was believed Heim's body was buried in a pauper's cemetery near Cairo's old town.

An Austrian doctor with Adolf Hitler's infamous SS, Heim is said to have removed organs from victims without anesthetic. He kept the skull of a man he decapitated as a paperweight.

Heim was captured by U.S. forces near the end of World War Two but released in 1947. He worked as a doctor in West Germany until coming to the attention of war crimes investigators, and fled in 1962.

(Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine in Cairo and Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; editing by Andrew Roche)

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