German investigators to look for Nazi's body

February 5, 2009 8:11:57 AM PST
German investigators who have hunted Nazi war criminal Aribert Heim for decades said Thursday that new information indicating the former concentration camp doctor died in Egypt in 1992 appears credible and that they will attempt to find his body. The Baden-Wuerttemberg state police unit that investigates Nazi-era crimes is preparing a request that Egyptian authorities allow them to pursue the case in Cairo, unit spokesman Horst Haug said.

"We want to attempt to find the body," Haug told The Associated Press.

Heim was accused of taking part in experiments on Jewish prisoners at Mauthausen camp in Austria, such as injecting various solutions into their hearts to see which killed them fastest. He was indicted in Germany in absentia on hundreds of counts of murder in 1979.

Heim's son Ruediger told Germany's ZDF television that his father fled to Egypt after authorities tried to arrest him at his Baden-Baden home in 1962. The younger Heim contradicted previous statements that he had never had any contact with his father since that time, telling ZDF that he had met with him several times in Cairo, starting in the mid-1970s.

Asked about the discrepancies, Heim told the AP on Thursday that the ZDF interview was the correct version of the story.

"You can trust this interview," he said.

Heim would not elaborate on why he decided to speak now, or why he kept his silence for so long.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center's head Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, said Aribert Heim has previously been linked to Egypt, but the story raises "more questions than it answers."

"There's no body, no corpse, no DNA, no grave - we can't sign off on a story like this because of some semi-plausible explanation," Zuroff told the AP in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.

"Keep in mind these people have a vested interested in being declared dead - it's a perfectly crafted story; that's the problem, it's too perfect."

ZDF reported that Heim was buried in a cemetery for the poor in Cairo, where graves are reused after several years and so it is unlikely remains will be found.

Aribert Heim, born in 1914 in Radkersburg, Austria, joined the local Nazi party in 1935, three years before Austria was annexed by Germany. He later joined the Waffen SS and was assigned to Mauthausen, near Linz, Austria, as a camp doctor in October and November 1941.

While there, witnesses told investigators, he worked closely with SS pharmacist Erich Wasicky on such experiments as the heart injections.

Karl Lotter, a non-Jewish prisoner who worked in the Mauthausen concentration camp's hospital, said he remembered the first time he saw Heim kill.

An 18-year-old Jew had been sent to the clinic with a foot inflammation and Heim asked the boy why he was so fit. The young man said he had been a soccer player and swimmer before he was imprisoned, Lotter said.

Lotter said Heim anesthetized the teenager and began operating on him but instead of treating the inflamed foot, he cut the young man open, castrated him, took apart one kidney and removed the second, Lotter said. The victim's head was then removed and the flesh boiled away so that Heim could keep it on display.

Lotter's account of the 1941 atrocity was in a witness statement he gave eight years later, part of a 1950 Austrian warrant for Heim's arrest uncovered by the AP last year. "Of all the camp doctors in Mauthausen, Dr. Heim was the most horrible," Lotter said.

In 1961, German authorities were alerted that Heim was living in Baden-Baden and began an investigation, but when they went to arrest him in September 1962, they just missed him.

Heim would be 94 today.

Last summer, Ruediger Heim tried to have his father declared legally dead so he could take control of an estimated euro1.2 million in investments in his name, saying that he would donate the money to charity.

ZDF, working with the New York Times, reported Wednesday that they had found more than 100 documents left by Heim in a briefcase in the Cairo hotel room where he lived under the name Tarek Hussein Farid. They included a passport, application for a residence permit and personal letters.

The report said Heim was living under the pseudonym and had converted to Islam by the time of his death from intestinal cancer.

Ruediger Heim confirmed to ZDF that his father used the name Farid, and that the documents belonged to him.

At the hotel, the shabby Kasr El Madina Hotel in a commercial area in downtown Cairo, a daughter of the owner screamed at reporters on Thursday and refused to allow anyone inside.

She refused to give her name but said it all happened a long time ago and they had nothing to do with it any more.

An Egyptian Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media, said authorities were investigating the whole case, but suggested it might be difficult to come up with any information.

In Germany, Haug said the state police investigators now had copies of the documents, but without the originals could not vouch for their authenticity.

But, he said, "we got information one way and the New York Times and ZDF got it another and they add up, so we think it is plausible, but we can't give any official statement yet that Aribert Heim is dead."

Haug said the police investigators received their information at the beginning of this week from someone "close to Aribert Heim."

That person confirmed that Heim died in Egypt in 1992, Haug said.

He would not identify the informant saying only that "it was a serious source that we take earnestly."

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