By Simon Gardner
SANTIAGO, May 19 (Reuters) - The most wanted Nazi war criminal still thought to be alive, Dr. Aribert Heim, is likely hiding in southern Chile’s Patagonia region, leading Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff said on Monday.
Heim, nicknamed "Dr Death" for killing hundreds of inmates at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria with injections of gasoline or poison direct to the heart, has been on the run for 46 years since evading police in Germany in 1962 prior to a planned prosecution.
An Austrian doctor with Adolf Hitler’s dreaded police unit the SS, Heim removed organs from victims without anesthetic. He even kept the skull of one man he decapitated as a paperweight.
Heim would be 93, though his family claims that he died in 1993.
Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem who has tracked down dozens of fugitive Nazis over nearly three decades, believes he has narrowed his search.
"Chile is one of the more likely possibilities," he told Reuters in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.
"Part of the reason for the interest in Chile is the presence of his daughter, who lives in Puerto Montt. He may be in Patagonia, but at this point there’s nothing definitive," he added, listing Argentina and Brazil as other possibilities.
Puerto Montt, 657 miles (1,058 km) south of the capital Santiago, is the gateway to Chile’s remote, picturesque Patagonia region of glacial lakes, towering snowcapped peaks and volcanoes that are a magnet for adventure tourism.
Hundreds of Nazis sought refuge in Latin America after World War Two, many lured to Argentina thanks to the open-door policies of General Juan Domingo Peron, who had fascist sympathies, as well as to Chile and Brazil.
ESCAPE TO ARGENTINA
Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz, escaped to Argentina and also lived in Paraguay before he died in Brazil in 1979.
Zuroff believes Heim has kept on the move in recent years, and sees his capture as the ultimate prize of the world’s remaining fugitive Nazis. He thought he had located Heim in Chile in August, but it turned out to be a false alarm.
"He is the most important war criminal most likely to be alive," Zuroff said. "He murdered .... tortured hundreds of inmates, he used body parts for experiments. In that respect you could say he’s a symbol of the Nazi’s perversion of science, of medicine."
Holocaust survivors remember Heim relishing seeing the fear of death in the eyes of his victims. After administering lethal injections, he would time death with a stopwatch.
At age 93, the time to catch Heim is running out.
"Our fear is that one of the worst criminals of the Holocaust, a person who personally murdered hundreds of innocent people, will have eluded justice," Zuroff said.
"This is something that will only encourage future genocide and mass murderers, and something which we find to be a travesty of justice." (Editing by Philip Barbara)