New Testimony on Mengele Revealed : Nazi Lived With Her Family in Brazil, Hungarian Swears; Identifies Photos
Confident that they have solved the mystery of Josef Mengele, Brazilian police Saturday disclosed testimony from a Hungarian woman who swears that the fugitive Nazi war criminal lived as an unwelcome guest with her family in Brazil for 13 years.
In a detailed and compelling deposition, 65-year-old Gitta Stammer paints the portrait of a frightened, arrogant, Mozart-loving Mengele protected in hiding by fellow Nazis while supported financially by his family in West Germany.
Although fresh inconsistencies surfaced Saturday and a wait-and-see attitude persisted among international groups that have been searching for Mengele for 40 years, the Stammer document is a keystone in the Brazilian investigation.
Stammer in her deposition asserts that she identified seven pictures of Mengele, the death camp doctor of Auschwitz, and swears that the same man is pictured on two identity documents bearing the name Wolfgang Gerhard. In prior testimony, an Austrian-born couple that claims to have sheltered Mengele in the last years of his life told police that Mengele assumed Gerhard’s identity when the real Gerhard returned to Austria around 1975. Austrian police say the real Gerhard died there in 1978.
Forensic Tests Due
Thanks to the Stammer deposition, Brazilian authorities believe that they can now reconstruct Mengele’s movements between 1961 and Feb. 7, 1979, when a man police say had Mengele’s picture on Gerhard’s documents suffered a stroke and drowned in the ocean off a Brazilian beach and was buried as Wolfgang Gerhard. On Monday, forensic scientists will begin detailed examination of the remains exhumed Thursday from Gerhard’s coffin.
Sao Paulo’s Police Chief Romeu Tuma, who is heading the investigation, said Saturday that no final assertion that Mengele has at last been found could come before scientists complete their study.
A team of five pathologists and forensic dentists will examine the bones and teeth against Mengele’s physical description and dental records from the files of the SS, Adolf Hitler’s elite security force to which Mengele, a physician, belonged. Mengele is held responsible for sending 300,000 to 400,000 Jews to their deaths while he served as the doctor at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II.
Handwriting Tests Due
Handwriting experts will compare papers found where the purported Mengele lived in Brazil with authenticated samples of Mengele’s handwriting being sent from West Germany and the United States. It will be an all-Brazilian inquiry, and it could last all month.
Tuma may not have been making any claims of success Saturday, but when he showed up at police headquarters for a prolonged talk with reporters, Sao Paulo’s top policeman was the epitome of a man who is happy with his work.
Tuma conceded that it was always possible that the entire Mengele affair was a carefully assembled smoke screen to sidetrack the long-running hunt. Still, he said, the saga struck him personally as too cumbersome, too improbable, involving too many people over too long a time to have been contrived.
‘Publicity Makes Publicity’
In response to questions, Tuma said that he knew about the woman dentist who made page one here Saturday, claiming to have treated Gerhard/Mengele months after he supposedly drowned but saying she had destroyed the records.
“Publicity makes publicity,” Tuma said.
Brazilian reporters Saturday quoted the police doctor who in 1979 signed the drowning victim’s death certificate as saying that the man was only 53--too young to have been Mengele, who then would have been 68. Tuma was undismayed by the report.
“Does the doctor remember that one drowning six years ago in particular, or was the age simply recorded from the identity documents?” Tuma asked. Although death by drowning was certified by superficial examination, apparently no autopsy was performed, Tuma added.
Tuma said that on Monday he will talk to the doctor and the woman dentist, along with a second dentist who believes he may have treated Mengele.
Before declaring the investigation in recess until then, Tuma produced the Stammer deposition with the air of a gambler unveiling an unbeatable ace in the hole.
First he recounted Stammer’s testimony. Then Tuma allowed reporters to hurriedly read the original copy of the five-page, legal-sized, single-spaced typed document in Portuguese that was signed by Stammer on Friday in the presence of two witnesses.
In her deposition, the Hungarian-born Stammer said she came to Brazil in 1948 from Austria.
In 1961, Stammer asserted, she and her husband Geza lived on a small coffee and fruit farm in the town of Araraquara in Sao Paulo State. Police say that Geza Stammer is separated from his wife and living in Europe. They have not said where.
One day in 1961, according to Stammer’s account, Wolfgang Gerhard, an acquaintance of her husband’s, appeared at Araraquara with a man whom he introduced as a Swiss national named Peter Hochbichlet.
Stammer said she was told that the Swiss would move with the family to a new farm in the town of Serra Negra, which the stranger would administer. Stammer described the newcomer as quiet, “anxious to avoid being photographed, and exceptionally curious about any visitors who came to the farm.”
She said that his behavior struck her as so strange that she finally asked the man if he was hiding under a false name. He assured her that he was not.
In 1962, according to Stammer, a visiting produce buyer left a newspaper at the farm. In the paper was a picture of Josef Mengele.
Stammer said that she confronted the purported Swiss with the picture and demanded to know if he was the same man. “He confirmed his identity,” the deposition says.
Stammer said that she was furious, demanding that Mengele leave.
“I did not want Josef Mengele living under the same roof,” she said.
A Man Named Peter
Stammer said that she and her husband contacted the Mengele family in West Germany and that the real Wolfgang Gerhard came to see them again. A man named Hans also came from West Germany, she said.
Stammer asserted that Hans, whose last name is not recorded in the deposition, worked for the Mengele family’s farm machinery company in West Germany and would prove in later years to be the continuing source of large amounts of American dollars that Mengele received regularly.
Famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal has identified a Hans Sedlmeier, a lawyer associated with the Mengele family business, as an alleged conduit between the family and the war criminal, the Associated Press reported.
Wiesenthal, who initially was skeptical of reports that Mengele’s body may have been found in Brazil, said Saturday that “I am less skeptical” and that “I changed my opinion when I heard from what source (West Germany) this is coming.”
Wiesenthal told the AP in New York that he proposed to U.S. authorities three weeks ago that they question Hans Sedlmeier, who he identified as the retired deputy director of the farm machinery factory owned by Mengele’s family in Guenzburg, West Germany.
About the same time, a letter from Paraguay to authorities searching for Mengele also mentioned Sedlmeier, and West German officials searched the man’s residence in Guenzburg, Wiesenthal told the AP.
He added that Sedlmeier, now about 72, was a friend of Mengele’s and allegedly served as a liaison between the fugitive Nazi and his family in the 1960s.
‘This is the Key’
In an interview on ABC-TV’s “Nightline” on Friday, Wiesenthal said of Sedlmeier: “This is the key person in the whole case of Mengele.”
In West Germany, Frankfurt prosecutor Hans-Eberhard Klein said that he was tipped recently by a university professor that a lawyer for the Mengele family business in Guenzburg had boasted of arranging financial help for the fugitive. The lawyer’s house was searched May 31, and a cache of letters from Brazil, partly in code, was found, Klein said. It was this find that made Brazil the focus for the search for Mengele and led to the exhumation of the remains of the man drowned in 1979 and buried under the name of Wolfgang Gerhard.
Klein refused to identify the Guenzburg attorney in whose house the letters were found, saying that authorities have begun an investigation against the man and his wife for suspected obstruction of justice, the Associated Press reported from Frankfurt. Other officials have identified the attorney as Hans Sedlmeier, the AP said.
In her sworn statement made public by Sao Paulo Police Chief Tuma on Saturday, Gitta Stammer said that Mengele remained with her family over her protests when his friends were unable to find him another place to live.
She described Mengele as speaking Portuguese with a strong Spanish accent. Mengele abandoned his quiet mein after his true identity became known to her, Stammer said. Thereafter, he was abrasive and overbearing in dealing with farm employees and intrusive in the Stammer family life, the deposition said.
Stammer said that she never dared report Mengele’s presence to authorities because Gerhard, whom she sometimes heard referred to as “Lange,” threatened “that something bad might happen to my children.” Stammer was at her home Saturday but she would not talk to reporters.
Stammer described Mengele as “a well-educated and intelligent” man who read deeply in history and philosophy and loved Mozart’s music.
Mengele never talked about World War II, Stammer said, but did say that he had been in Auschwitz concentration camp, leaving after he contracted typhus.
The woman said that Mengele told her he had gone to Italy after the war and from there to Buenos Aires “on a small French boat.” From Argentina, Mengele said he went to Paraguay, living for a time outside Asuncion, the capital. The deposition says that from Paraguay, Mengele said he had come to Brazil after a brief stopover in Uruguay.
In 1969, Stammer said, the family sold the Serra Negra farm and moved to the town of Caieiras, also in Sao Paulo State.
Mengele Moves With Family
Stammer said that Mengele accompanied the family in a move which brought fresh visits from the German named Hans, Gerhard, and, for the first time, Wolfram Bossert, a fellow former member of the German army. “Bossert knew Mengele as ‘Peter,’ ” Stammer’s deposition said.
On Wednesday, Bossert and his wife Liselotte told police here that Mengele moved in 1975 from Caieiras to a house they own in Eldorado Paulista, a suburb of this industrial city. Neighbors there knew the elderly man with a heavy accent as “Mr. Peter.”
According to the Bosserts’ testimony to police, Mengele lived alone in the yellow bungalow at Estrada Alvarenga 5555 until his death in 1979. According to Stammer, the bungalow was sold by the Stammer family to the Bossert family only after Mengele’s death.
Bossert said in his deposition that he was hospitalized trying to save Mengele from the surf that summer day at the beach in 1979. (February is midsummer in the Southern Hemisphere.) Liselotte Bossert said that she feigned illness at the funeral to keep the cemetery administrator from opening the casket and learning that the body inside was not that of Wolfgang Gerhard, whom the administrator had known personally.
By the time Mengele left her house in 1974, Stammer said, he was often unwell, the victim of migraine headaches, rheumatism, and swelling that sometimes left his left leg twice the size of his right leg.
Stammer told police that she heard in February, 1979, that Mengele had drowned.