Son says 'Doctor Death' died in 1992 after search tracks down SS fugitive to Cairo hotel
The hunt for the world's most-wanted Nazi war criminal, Aribert Heim, appeared to have come to an end today with reports suggesting that he died in Cairo almost 17 years ago, after converting to Islam. According to new evidence published today, Heim, known as "Doctor Death" for the atrocities he committed against Jews as a physician at the Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen concentration camps, spent the last decade of his life living in Egypt after reinventing himself as an apparently kindly old man called Uncle Tarek, who played ping-pong with local children.
While serving with the SS, he was accused of injecting petrol into his victims' hearts, removing organs from healthy patients and decorating his desk with the skulls of prisoners he killed.
Heim was the prime target of Operation: Last Chance, the campaign by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre to track down the last surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust. After 240 leads, which mainly focused on south America, Heim appears to have been tracked down to a hotel in Cairo. His son, Ruediger Heim, has admitted for the first time that his father died of cancer on 10 August 1992, after watching the Barcelona Olympics on TV. He said he was with his father when he died.
An investigation by the New York Times and the German broadcaster ZDF discovered a briefcase belonging to Heim which included his passport, bank details, and newspaper clippings of reports of efforts to track him down and his trial in absentia. It also included letters protesting his innocence and accusing Simon Wiesenthal of inventing Heim's atrocities.
ZDF reported that Heim was buried in a cemetery for the poor in Cairo, where graves are reused after several years "so that the chance of finding remains is unlikely".
According to friends in Egypt, the doctor who had applied himself so vigorously to butchering and torturing his victims in the name of medicine had asked for his own body to be donated to medical research at his death. According to ZDF, his wish was not granted for religious reasons.
Today, the Wiesenthal Centre said that while there was "no doubt" that Heim had lived in Egypt, it had not been established that he had died there.
"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," Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the centre, told Reuters. "There's no grave, there's no body. We can't do any DNA testing."
Zuroff also pointed out that Ruediger Heim had previously said that the only contact he had had since his father went into hiding in 1962 were two notes, and that he had no idea if he was alive or dead.
"Ruediger has been lying," Zuroff told the Associated Press. "Either he is lying now or he was lying before, and he has a vested interest in this so anything he says has to be taken with a certain amount of scepticism and suspicion and the most important thing is missing: the body."
If it turns out to be true, however, Zuroff said that "the German police have a very important investigation on their hands in terms of prosecuting people who helped Heim escape justice". Ruediger Heim refused to comment when contacted at his home by the Associated Press.
Born on 28 June 1914, in Radkersburg, Austria, Heim 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, a concentration camp near Linz, Austria, as a camp doctor in October and November 1941. He was held by the Americans after the war but released before the true extent of his crimes had become clear. He kept a low profile for the next two decades, even avoiding being photographed in the team picture of the ice hockey club he played for.
In 1961, German authorities were alerted that Heim was living in Baden-Baden and began an investigation, but when they finally went to arrest him in September 1962, they just missed him, apparently after he had been tipped off. Heim fled through France and Spain before crossing into Morocco, and eventually settling in Egypt, ZDF and the New York Times reported, citing Ruediger Heim.
He lived in Cairo, under the name Tarek Hussein Farid, at the Kasr el Madina hotel for the 10 years leading up to his death, the report said. Mahmoud Doma, whose father owned the hotel, said Heim was known as Uncle Tarek, and that he played table tennis with him on the roof of the hotel. He said he bought sweets for children in the neighbourhood. Heim converted to Islam and worshipped at Cairo's famous al-Azhar mosque, the New York Times said.
Ruediger Heim told ZDF that he first visited his father in 1976, organising the trip through his aunt and arranging to meet with him in a hotel.
"He recognised me right away," Heim recalled. "It was a meeting of worlds. I was there for 14 days."
But, he said, he did not talk with his father about the allegations against him, largely because he said he was not fully aware of them himself.
"I didn't ask him: 'How many people did you kill?' because I didn't know. I didn't know any concrete details," he told ZDF. "Later, on other visits, I got to know his life better."