Search Not Over Yet for “Dr. Death”

Friday, February 6th, 2009

A recent headline-news story in the German press was the discovery that fugitive Nazi war-criminal Aribert Ferdinand Heim had been living under another name in Cairo, Egypt since shortly after fleeing Germany in 1962, and that he had died there back in the summer of 1992. Known as “Dr. Death” for the gruesome medical procedures and experiments he undertook while serving in the SS at a series of concentration camps, Heim had long been top-of-the-charts when it came to old Nazis that the German authorities – aided by among others the famous Simon Wiesenthal Center – believed to be still alive and were trying to locate to bring them back to Germany to face justice. In fact, the New York Times account reports that the current director of the Jerusalem branch of the Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, “had been about to raise the reward for information leading to his arrest to $1.3 million from $400,000,” adding that “Mr. Zuroff expressed surprise when informed of Dr. Heim’s apparent fate.”

“Surprise,” indeed; from a brief interview with Marie Simon of the French news-magazine L’Express, it seems that Zuroff is not ready to accept that Heim is dead yet. “I have serious doubts on this subject. . . . There is no body, no tomb, no DNA test possible.” He calls it a “curious thing” that Heim’s son has not tried to claim Heim’s inheritance, said to amount to some €2 million, and that, while he is now claiming his father died in Egypt in 1992, as of two months ago he also declared he had never seen him. (But, as the NYT reports, he now says he was with him when he died. Whether that is true – i.e. whether he ever was there, although travel and passport-control records could show that, and, more importantly, whether Heim actually died when claimed – is another matter.)

Zuroff indicates to his French interviewer his definite intention to travel to Cairo to examine the documents attesting to Heim’s death himself. But for now he believes (“according to our latest information”) that Heim may well still be alive, having absconded at some point to that more-traditional Nazi refuge, South America – although Zuroff also points out that Egypt actually was an even better place to hide after the war for Nazis on the run, one endorsed by Franz Stangl, commandant of the Treblinka death camp, who made that country his first stop on the run.

(Wikipedia note: Strangely, the Wikipedia entry on the Simon Wiesenthal Center records that “In November 2005, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem Director, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, located Aribert Heim, who had been hiding in Spain for 20 years. Aribert Heim died in 1992 in Cairo, Egypt a free man.”)

UPDATE: An article in Le Monde now adds some further relevant details, mainly that German police now intend to travel to Egypt shortly to positively confirm Heim’s death by finding actual evidence, like the remains of a body.

It also recounts how the Austrian authorities submitted in 1950 a detailed request to arrest Heim to the (then West-) German Ministry of Justice, even listing his exact location of residence within Germany. Heim was originally Austrian, you see, plus the outrages for which he was most infamous occurred at the Mauthausen concentration camp located within Austria. But that request was ignored by the West German authorities.

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