Officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies said Friday they are 99.9% convinced that the human remains found in a Brazilian grave are really those of concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele.
Rabbi Marvin Hier nevertheless urged that the investigation be continued beyond the conclusions announced Friday by forensic specialists in Brazil, saying he believes that any further information "will help us take these findings from the probable to the absolute." Such information could come from family members such as Mengele's second wife, Irene, who has not yet cooperated with investigators, he said.
Hier, dean of the center, expressed some disappointment at the outcome of the Mengele search. If Mengele had been caught alive and tried, he said, the doctor accused of sending as many as 400,000 people to their deaths at Auschwitz concentration camp would have been forced "to tell young people how such an intelligent man, with medical and philosophy degrees, a lover of music, could become the 'Angel of Death.' "
'Don't Forget Executioner'
Appearing with Hier at a press conference in the Wiesenthal Center's museum in West Los Angeles, Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone said she "would be tremendously disappointed if it is true" that Mengele died without being tried and punished for his crimes.
While still not convinced "at the gut level" about the body in Brazil, she said that even if it is proved 100% to be that of Mengele, she and other survivors will not feel that the time has come to forget.
"You don't forget your mother's and sister's executioner," she said. "Not after 40 years, not after 50 years. It will stay with us forever. And what about the rest of the Nazi criminals still alive? They have to be brought to justice. They have to tell their stories. There is no final finish to this."
Hier said, "History has been robbed of an important lesson." But he added that survivors of Auschwitz, especially Jews, can comfort themselves with the thought that their tormentor lived his last decades as a "depressed and lonely" man, forced to witness the establishment of a Jewish state despite the killing of millions of Jews by the Nazi regime.
He also charged that West German governments "never seriously pursued" the search for Mengele and other former Nazis despite their vigor in smashing terrorist groups such as the Baader-Meinhof gang.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Hier's associate, said countries such as Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina enjoyed warm relations with West Germany, yet Bonn failed to press the search for hundreds of former Nazis believed to be living there.
The result was "a very clever non-signal," Cooper said, adding that the criticism is not directed solely at Chancellor Helmut Kohl but includes all German governments since World War II. "It has never been a high-priority issue," he said.
Spotlight of Publicity
Pressure from surviving former Nazis may have been one factor in the recent disclosures that led to the discovery of the remains identified as those of Mengele, Cooper said. What with millions of dollars in reward money offered and the spotlight of publicity trained on the search for Menegle, these former Nazis may be hoping that now they will be left alone, Cooper said.
"Our job is to see that the spotlight doesn't go off," he said.
To that end, the Wiesenthal Center is preparing to post rewards for all the major Nazi criminals still at large, Hier said.