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No Charges Likely for Aiding Fugitive Mengele

Times Staff Writer

A senior prosecutor indicated Wednesday that criminal charges are not likely to be brought against people in West Germany, including Mengele family members, who may have played key roles in helping fugitive Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele.

Hans Eberhard Klein, the Frankfurt public prosecutor in charge of the case since 1974, told reporters at a news conference that no criminal case can be brought against any member of the Mengele family, because West German law excludes family members from exposure to charges of harboring a criminal.

He added that no charges will be placed against Hans Sedlmeier, a former employee of the Mengele family agricultural business who investigators believe carried family money to Mengele in Brazil, if the remains exhumed by Brazilian authorities last week from a Sao Paulo-area cemetery are positively identified as Mengele’s.

Statute of Limitations

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“The statute of limitations for this crime is five years,” Klein said, “and if Mengele has been dead for six, there is no case.” The remains being investigated are those of a man who reportedly died in February, 1979.

It was Sedlmeier’s boasting of his role in providing Mengele with financial support that led to the recent dramatic break in the case. Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death” of Auschwitz concentration camp, has been held responsible for the deaths of 300,000 to 400,000 prisoners, most of them Jews.

Klein also noted that under West German law, family members cannot be compelled to bring evidence against one another, relieving the Mengele family from any legal obligation to provide evidence for the case. That immunity allowed them to remain silent about Mengele’s whereabouts for more than a quarter of a century.

“We are reliant on their good will,” Klein said of the Mengele family. “They don’t have to say anything.” However, he said, the family has declared its intention to cooperate in the case with government investigators.

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On Tuesday, Josef Mengele’s son, Rolf, broke the family’s long silence and issued a brief statement saying that he has “no doubt” that the remains being studied in Brazil are those of his father. He added that the family “is prepared to give further information.”

No Further Information

It was initially believed that Klein had called Wednesday’s news conference to make new information public, possibly an elaboration of Rolf Mengele’s statement. However, the prosecutor told reporters that a statement given to him by Mengele family attorney Fritz Steinacker was identical to the one released Tuesday.

“The only additional thing I can add,” Klein said, “is that the statement has been confirmed by other family members.”

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He identified these family members as Mengele’s wife, Martha, who lives in Italy, and his two nephews, Karl-Heinz and Dieter Mengele, who run the family agricultural company based in Guenzburg, 70 miles west of Munich.

Members of the Mengele family and their attorney were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

“We expect . . . further contact (with the family) in the course of this week or next week at the latest,’ Klein said, adding that the decision to cooperate in the investigation marked a reversal of the position the Mengeles have held since the first warrant for Josef Mengele’s arrest was issued in 1959.

‘They Said Nothing’

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“From the beginning, they have always said nothing,” Klein said. “We tried to get to one family member last week, but were blocked. There has now apparently been a change of heart.’

Klein said that during his meeting with Steinacker he had requested “certain items” from the family. He declined to be specific about the evidence he had asked for.

A family spokeswoman, Sabine Hackenjos, said in Munich on Wednesday that the Mengeles would have another statement Friday.

While Tuesday’s statement from the family appeared to lend further credence to the belief that Mengele died in Brazil while living under the name of Wolfgang Gerhard, Klein rejected suggestions that the family’s statement had resolved the case.

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“No. This statement is not enough,” he said. “We will go forward until we have a result, until there is a positive identification of the remains.”


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