Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi war criminal known as the "Butcher of Auschwitz" for his experiments on humans, may have been arrested by American authorities in Vienna in 1947 and released, the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies said Wednesday.
Citing documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act, officials of the Los Angeles-based center also reported that Mengele might have applied for a visa to Canada in 1962.
They called on President Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada to launch formal investigations of the possible involvement of the two countries in the Mengele case. The answer was not long in coming from Canada where the prime minister ordered a "vigorous investigation" of the questions raised in press conferences held by center officials in Los Angeles and New York City.
But center officials said they were not happy with White House reaction.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's associate dean, told reporters in Los Angeles that Mengele's possible arrest was mentioned in a letter written in 1947 by an Army counterintelligence officer stationed in Germany.
In it, Ben J. M. Gorby, then a special agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps, wrote to the commanding officer of the 430th CIC detachment in Vienna saying his staff had heard through an informant of Mengele's arrest in the U.S. Zone of Vienna.
Gorby asked that, if possible, Mengele should be questioned about the fate of 20 Jewish children whom he removed from the Auschwitz death camp in November, 1944.
"The fact of the removal of the Jewish children from Auschwitz by Dr. Mengele was confirmed to this office by the father of one of the children who lives in (deleted). Other parents of children among that group are still alive and most eager to have news from or about their children," Gorby wrote.
Since it obtained a copy of the letter from Department of the Army files, the Center has spent more than two months trying to locate Gorby on three continents through the U.S. Army and the Veterans Administration, but without success, Cooper said. The search is hampered, he said, by personal privacy laws in the United States.
"We have gone as far as we can," he said. "We don't know where he went after he left the U.S. Army in 1949. We don't know whether he's still alive. Clearly, Gorby himself could, if he could be found, shed a great deal of light on these issues."
Cooper also said that the center has obtained a second document indicating that in 1962 a man named Joseph Menke applied for a Canadian visa in Buenos Aires, and in response to a Canadian query, Maj. Buford F. MacCharen Jr., a U.S. Army intelligence officer in Europe, wrote a Canadian visa control officer in Germany that Menke was in fact Josef Mengele.
Not Known if Granted
It is not known whether the visa was granted and, if so, whether Menke ever entered Canada. In a letter to Prime Minister Mulroney on Dec. 20, Sol Littman, Canadian representative of the Wiesenthal Center, found that fact to be "particularly distressing."
"This leaves us with the frightening possibility that Mengele may actually be living in Canada today," Littman wrote. "If this possibility seems too incredible to credit, let me remind you that former SS Master Sgt. Helmut Rauca, who was responsible for the death of 9,200 innocent men, women and children in one afternoon, arrived in Canada as an immigrant in 1950 and lived here totally undisturbed until he was finally tracked down by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) in 1982."
Mengele, who would be 73 if he is still alive, lived openly in Argentina until the mid-1960s, representing Karl Mengele & Sons, a Bavarian farm machinery firm managed by his brother. Since then, he has been reported in Paraguay, though officials there insist he has not lived there since 1960, when he was granted citizenship by order of the Paraguayan Supreme Court.
In July, 1959, West Germany asked Argentina to act on a warrant accusing Mengele of gruesomely and horribly killing human beings with experiments "for the love of killing."
Mengele, called the "Angel of Death" by Auschwitz prisoners, sorted new arrivals to the camp by separating children and the old, weak, sick and pregnant from those who could work, and then supervised their deaths with poison gas.
Among his many crimes, Mengele was accused of shocking prisoners with electricity to see how much current they could stand, of exposing a group of nuns to extreme X-ray radiation, of injecting deadly fluid into eyes, of castrating or sterilizing 100 male inmates, and of shooting female prisoners and cutting off parts of their bodies to be used as culture materials for experiments.
In a letter to President Reagan on Dec. 19, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said the documents turned over by the Department of the Army raise "serious questions" about U.S. involvement. Until now, he said, the common assumption has been that Mengele's whereabouts after World War II were unknown, and he avoided arrest until leaving Guinzburg, West Germany, for South America in 1951.
Hier called for a full investigation to answer the questions of whether Mengele was ever arrested by U.S. authorities, whether the United States passed on information in 1962 about Mengele's presence in South America at a time when West Germany was seeking his arrest for crimes against humanity and whether there were discussions between the United States and Canada about action to apprehend Mengele.
"The dimension of Mengele's crimes, and the legacy of his 400,000 victims, demand that no stone remain unturned in the quest to bring this man, who is the personification of evil, before the bar of justice," Hier wrote. "Only a thorough investigation ordered by your Administration could ascertain what role the United States played in the case of Joseph Mengele."
On Jan. 2, Marshall Breger, special assistant to the President for Public Liaison, informed Hier that his letter to Reagan had been forwarded to the Department of Defense.
"To be blunt about it, we don't feel that that letter sending it to the Department of Defense is the kind of move that will bring quick answers or even definitive answers," Cooper said Wednesday. "We feel the need for the personal stamp of approval from the President.
"If, in fact, for whatever reason, purposefully or bureaucratic snafu, it would be the opinion of the Wiesenthal Center that if somehow the United States let this man go that we would have a most definite and immediate responsibility to try and bring him to the bar of justice."
Cooper announced that the center planned to go to federal court in Washington soon to seek the release of four other documents withheld.
One document was not released on national security grounds. Three others were withheld because they contain information concerning foreign government information which is considered classified.