Publicity May Step Up Pressure on War Criminals Still at Large
The wave of publicity surrounding efforts in Brazil to identify human remains believed to be those of the notorious Auschwitz camp doctor Josef Mengele is likely to increase pressure on Nazi war criminals still at large, according to West German officials involved in the investigations.
“Whenever there is a major find or a lot of publicity, it brings others up, too,” said Alfred Streim, director of the Center for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes in Ludwigsburg, a few miles north of Stuttgart. The center is the principal West German government institution devoted exclusively to gathering evidence about fugitive Nazi criminals.
“We are optimistic the Mengele affair will generate new pressure on the big names,” Streim, who has worked at the center for 22 years, said.
Winnowed by Time, Death
The passage of time, deaths of some of those on the run and, occasionally, the arrest of an old Nazi have all reduced the center’s caseload. From a peak strength of 50 prosecutors and a staff of 130 in the late 1960s, the center operates today with 10 prosecutors and a backup staff of about 40 people.
Still, despite the passage of four decades since the end of World War II, Streim said, new evidence continues to come into the center and 30 new cases have been opened so far this year.
About a dozen Nazi war criminals that Streim calls “big names” are still believed to be in hiding.
Altogether, approximately 135 cases, mostly involving minor war criminals, are pending. “These are people well down the chain of command,” Streim said.
Although none of the prominent Nazis still at large compare to Mengele in terms of notoriety, their crimes are considerable.
Brunner in Syria?
For example, Austrian-born Alois Brunner as a senior member of Hitler’s elite SS--the organization charged with administering the concentration camps--helped Adolf Eichmann arrest and deport Jews from Vienna and signed deportation orders for an estimated 46,000 Greek Jews in 1943. Most of those deported died at Auschwitz.
West German authorities believe that Brunner is living under an assumed name in Syria, most likely in Damascus, the capital.
The public prosecutor’s office in Cologne, which is in charge of the Brunner case, issued an extradition order earlier this year, partly, Streim said, because there were hints of a change in the Syrian government position on the matter. So far, however, there has been no breakthrough.
A March, 1983, report in the Times of London identified Brunner as living as an Austrian pensioner under the name of George Fischer in the Abu Rumaneh district of Damascus. The newspaper said Fischer lived under armed government protection and at one time served as an adviser to the Syrian security police.
A correspondent from the paper, who managed to pass a note to Fischer containing an interview request, was informed that there would be no interview because he had agreed with the Syrian government never to give interviews.
Kutschmann in Argentina?
Walter Kutschmann, accused of murdering an estimated 2,000 Jews while serving as a lieutenant in the SS, is suspected to be living in Buenos Aires, also under an assumed name.
In early 1983, the official Argentine news agency, Telam, reported that police were investigating a man living in the beach resort town of Miramar, about 200 miles southeast of Buenos Aires. The report said police suspected that the man, known as Pedro Olmo, was Kutschmann, but no arrest was made.
“We think he is still most likely in Buenos Aires,” Streim said. The public prosecutor’s office in the north German industrial city of Dortmund has an extradition order pending against Kutschmann.
Josef Schwammberger, commandant of the Przemysl concentration camp in Poland, is also believed to be living in Argentina.
Sometimes, cases against Nazi criminals have been resolved by the criminal’s own death, as mounting evidence indicates may have occurred with Mengele.
West Germany’s two-decade effort to obtain the extradition from Chile of Walter Rauff, who organized convoys of mobile gas chambers in which an estimated quarter of a million people were killed, ended last year. Rauff, who had lived in Santiago since the early 1960s, died days before a West German courier with a fully documented charge sheet was scheduled to depart for the Chilean capital.
There is also success, as was proved two years ago when Bolivia expelled the infamous Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie, who presided over the killings and deportations of thousands of French Jews between 1942 and 1944. He is now preparing to stand trial in France.
Streim noted that the statute of limitations does not apply to Nazi war criminals and that his center had no plans to stop its work.
“As long as we continue to get evidence and as long as Nazi criminals are still free, we have a job,” he said.