Seemingly innocuous information in U.S. intelligence files on Dr. Josef Mengele, the notorious "Angel of Death" of the Auschwitz concentration camp, has once again raised the question of possible U.S. involvement with the elusive war criminal after World War II.
The listing of Mengele's residence on two old index cards has prompted Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, to urge the Army to investigate whether intelligence officers once knew Mengele's exact whereabouts in postwar Germany.
In a letter last week, the rabbi told Lt. Gen. William Odom, assistant chief of staff of Army intelligence, that it is "difficult to understand" why American intelligence listed Mengele's residence as the Bavarian community of Autenried.
"The problem with this data is that based on all available research, no member of the Mengele family was ever believed to have resided in Autenried, which is 12 kilometers outside of Gunzburg," Hier wrote the general. Gunzburg is the birthplace of Mengele and the residence of Mengele's family.
After the war, Mengele is reported to have returned to Gunzburg where he lived undisturbed for a time before making his way to Argentina and then to Paraguay. The West German government issued an order for his arrest in 1959. Hier pointed out that military government denazification questionnaires--called fragebogen--filled out by Mengele's father, Karl Sr., and his brother, Karl Jr., after the war never indicated Autenried as a place of residence.
Focus of Inquiry
"If they (American intelligence officers) did not receive this information (about Autenried) from any American or German printed fragebogen, your office should research the probability that U.S. intelligence possessed an exact address for Josef Mengele after World War II," Rabbi Hier said.
Hier, who obtained the cards under the federal Freedom of Information Act, told The Times that he awoke one morning and realized what had bothered him for months about the seemingly prosaic mention of Autenried. He had never read or heard anything connecting Mengele or members of his prominent and affluent family with that city.
And, when he checked with national archivists in Washington and with the prosecutors in charge of the Mengele investigation in West Germany, he said, he discovered that they were equally baffled by the listing of Mengele's residence as Autenried.
He advised Odom that the prosecutor's office in Frankfurt had assured the Wiesenthal Center that it was investigating whether a doctor by the name of Mengele had lived in Autenried from 1945 to the early 1950s.
Home for First Wife
Since writing Odom, Rabbi Hier said, he has talked with a West German prosecutor and learned that investigators have discovered that Mengele's first wife, Irene, and her son lived in a rented Autenried farmhouse after the war, possibly until 1951.
According to the rabbi, the owner of the farmhouse has denied to investigators that a man lived there during the time it was rented to Irene Mengele, but, he said, prosecutors have learned that the owner has been associated with the Mengele family.
"Now, the prosecutors have launched an all-out investigation in the Autenried area asking local and federal police to question local residents about whether they recall a man living at the farmhouse," he said.
To Rabbi Hier, the fact that Mengele's wife lived in Autenried before her divorce from Mengele in 1958 lends credence to the possibility that Mengele may have stayed there, too, and the individual who penned Autenried on an undated intelligence card on Mengele knew it.
Tied to 400,000 Deaths
If Mengele is alive today and living in South America, as Rabbi Hier and others suspect, he would be 74 years old. As the world's most wanted war criminal, he is blamed for 400,000 deaths and deadly pseudoscientific experiments on humans while serving as the chief medical officer at Auschwitz in Poland.
Efforts to find Mengele and to determine if U.S. officials ever knew of his whereabouts in Europe have been stepped up since the Wiesenthal Center announced in late January that Army documents disclose that Mengele may have been arrested by American authorities in Vienna in 1947.
Ben J.M. Gorby, a U.S. counterintelligence corps officer in Germany, wrote his commanding officer in 1947 that an informant had reported Mengele's arrest. Gorby, now living in Israel, told The Times that the information came from a reliable source.
Another possible "sighting" of Mengele under U.S. control was reported last month by a former U.S. Army private who served as a guard in a German camp for war criminals. Walter Kempthorne, a 59-year-old retired engineer from Riverside, said he saw a prisoner identified as Mengele at the Idar-Oberstein camp in the Rhineland in 1945.
Point of Recollection
The incident was imprinted on his memory, Kempthorne told reporters, because another guard who was forcing a prisoner to exercise had said: "We're getting him in shape to get hung. This here is Mengele, the bastard who sterilized 3,000 women at Auschwitz."