The most prominent Nazi war criminal still at large -- Aribert Heim, nicknamed "Dr. Death" -- died in Cairo more than 16 years ago, according to newly surfaced documents from Egypt. But the Simon Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter isn't wholly convinced.
Aribert Heim, a doctor in Hitler's SS who was accused of cold-blooded lethal injections and gruesome experiments in an Austrian concentration camp, died in Cairo in 1992, according to a joint report Wednesday by Germany's ZDF television and The New York Times. Heim is currently considered the world's most-wanted Nazi war criminal, especially since a Nazi hunter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center flew to South America last July saying he had significant leads that Heim was hiding there.
But the Times and ZDF report that Heim disappeared to Egypt after a brush with West German authorities in 1962. They claim a dusty briefcase full of documents show Heim changed his name to Tarek Hussein Farid, converted to Islam, lived for years in the Cairo hotel where the briefcase has now surfaced and died of rectal cancer at the age of 78. Heim would be 94 now if he were still alive.
He was nicknamed "Dr. Death" for his career as a Nazi doctor at Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen in Austria. His alleged crimes at Mauthausen include poisonous injections, removing organs from healthy patients and surgery without anaesthesia -- in essence the sadistic murder of hundreds of non-terminal prisoners. Witness testimony from Mauthausen claimed he would choose prisoners with good teeth, kill them with injections and prepare their skulls as paperweights.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center made a last public effort to arrest Heim in July 2008. The passage of time had left him at the top of the list of the world's most wanted Nazi criminals. "In the last few days," said the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff last July, "we've received information from two different sources, both relating to Chile, which we think have very good potential."
Heim's daughter lived in Chile at the time. But Zuroff's subsequent trip there failed to find him.
'There's No Grave'
People who remember "Uncle Tarek" in Cairo say they remember a tall German who liked to wander the streets with a camera but didn't want his own picture taken. "I didn't know that he was a doctor and that he is the most wanted Nazi war criminal," said Tarek Abdelmoneim el Rifai, a dentist who treated the man he knew as Tarek Hussein Farid, in a phone interview with the Associated Press.
"I am surprised. He introduced himself to my father as a German and I know that he converted to Islam and changed his name. … The only thing I knew about him is that he fled from the Jews."
Heim's son, Rüdiger, lives in the German city of Baden-Baden. In a Wednesday interview with ZDF he claimed for the first time in public that he had visited his father in Cairo more than once. The last visit, he said, was in the summer of 1992, when his father died.
"It was during the Olympics," he said. "There was a television in the room, and he was watching the Olympics. It distracted him. He must have been suffering from serious pain."
Zuroff told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the evidence from Cairo -- which he had not yet seen -- sounded strong, but wasn't conclusive. He also said Rüdiger Heim now has to account for discrepancies in the story he has told the Wiesenthal Center and German officials until now.