Has the tortuous hunt for Dr Death ended in Cairo?

The world's most wanted war criminal lived out his days as 'Uncle Tarek' in an Egyptian hotel, his son has revealed. But without a body, his pursuers refuse to be convinced, writes Tony Paterson
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The Independent Online

Aribert Heim was known, and pursued, the world over as "Dr Death" or the "Butcher of Mauthausen" because of the horrific pseudo-medical experiments he performed on concentration camp prisoners during the Second World War. It emerged yesterday, however, that the world's most wanted Nazi war criminal had lived undetected in Cairo for at least 20 years, until his death from bowel cancer 16 years ago.

He was called "Uncle Tarek" by locals, who knew him as simply an elderly German who read the Koran and gave out sweets to children.

His friends and family disclosed how he watched the 1992 Barcelona Olympics on television from his hotel bed in the Egyptian capital, dying one day after the games ended.

The peaceful end of a Nazi whose crimes against humanity equalled those of the more notorious SS death camp physician Dr Josef Mengele, could hardly have been more banal or in greater contrast to the furious efforts that were still being made to bring him to justice.

As recently as last July, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre – the international Nazi-hunting organisation based in Los Angeles – said it believed Heim was still alive at the ripe old age of 94. He was thought to be living somewhere in a remote part of southern Chile. Ephraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's director for Israel, launched a highly publicised "Operation Last Chance" in an effort to catch him. The organisation offered a £250,000 reward for information that would lead to his capture and dispatched its own Nazi hunters to Patagonia.

Yesterday the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said it was astonished by the reports that Heim had died in Cairo in 1992. It had been planning to increase the reward for information leading to his capture to some $1.3m (£888,000).

The convincing – but not entirely conclusive – evidence of his demise that has emerged indicates thatHeim converted to Islam and lived in Egypt for more than 20 years before dying in 1992.

It was contained in a dust-caked suitcase, held shut with rusting clasps, that was handed over to Germany's ZDF television and The New York Times by members of the Doma family, which ran the Cairo hotel where Heim appears to have spent the last years of his life.

The suitcase was found to contain a veritable archive of yellowing pages, letters, medical records, drawings by Heim's children, and a press cutting about attempts to track him down. It also held his passport and a detailed record of his time in Egypt. Some of the papers found bore the name of Heim. Others bore his Egyptian pseudonym, Tarek Hussein Farid.

Mahmoud Doma, 38, son of the family that ran the Kasr el Madina hotel in Cairo where Heim lodged, recalls "Uncle Tarek" as a fatherly man who gave him books and encouraged him to study.

It emerged that Heim had applied for, and was apparently granted, an Egyptian residence permit under his Egyptian pseudonym, although the application bore Heim's place and date of birth: Radkersburg, Austria, on 28 June 1914. The media investigators also obtained a death certificate from the Egyptian authorities which confirmed that Farid had died in 1992.

Heim's dual identity was confirmed by his 53-year-old son, Rudiger, who has now broken his silence about his father's whereabouts and death.

"Tarek Hussein Farid is the name my father took when he converted to Islam," the son told interviewers at his family's villa in Baden Baden in Germany. He also admitted that he was with his father in Egypt at the time of his death from bowel cancer: "It was during the Olympics, There was a television in his room and he was watching the games," he said. "It distracted him. He must have been suffering from serious pain," he added. The death certificate records that Heim died on 10 August 1992 – the day after the games ended.

Yet the whereabouts of his body remains a mystery. The hotel owners, who provided him with a home for many years without being fully aware of his true identity, apparently bribed a hospital functionary to take his body and fulfil the Heim family's wish to see the body given to science.

However the Egyptian authorities are reported to have found out and subsequently had Heim buried anonymously in a common grave.

Heim is likely to be remembered as another Josef Mengele – a war criminal guilty of unspeakable brutality who managed to elude his captors for more than half a century and ultimately "get away". Mengele was never caught. Forensic records showed that he died unnoticed in Brazil in 1979.

Heim was only imprisoned once. The American military authorities held him for two-and-a-half years, but he was released without being tried. He had worked as an army battalion doctor during the closing stages of the war, a job which appears to have allowed him to cover up his earlier activities.

In the late 1940s, he worked as a gynaecologist in the quiet spa townof Bad Nauheim near Frankfurt, married and played in the local ice-hockey team. The net did not begin to close until 1957, when Austria launched an investigation. Their inquiries led German state prosecutors to issue a warrant for his arrest. By that time the enormity of his crimes had become apparent: Heim had joined the notorious Nazi Waffen SS before the war, but it was his brief tour of duty at Austria's Mauthausen concentration camp for which he is remembered.

Heim spent only seven weeks at Mauthausen in 1941. But during that time he murdered hundreds of mainly Jewish inmates by carrying out brutal operations on them, often without anaesthetic and when they were fully conscious. A court which tried him in his absence in 1979 concluded that Heim "wallowed in the fear of death suffered by his victims". Camp survivors have revealed in evidence how Heim injected prisoners in the heart with different cocktails of lethal drugs and other substances and timed their deaths with a stopwatch in order to find the most efficient murderinstrument. Karl Lotter, a non-Jewish political prisoner who worked in the hospital in Mauthausen, testified how an otherwise fit Jewish man of 18 was sent to Heim to receive treatment for an inflamed foot. Heim anaesthetised his patient, cut him open, castrated him, removed one kidney and dismembered the other. The man's head was then cut off and the flesh boiled, so that Heim could display the skull on his desk as a "decoration". He is reported to have provided skulls for several of his friends after beheading the patients he murdered. In another case he is reputed to have removed the skin of a tattooed prisoner to make seat coverings for the camp commandant's flat.

German state prosecutors gradually amassed evidence against Heim from surviving camp inmates, and in September 1962 they were ready to pounce. But Heim is believed to have been tipped off by a group of Nazi sympathisers. He simply climbed into his red Mercedes parked outside his home and sped away. There were alleged sightingsof him in Spain, South America, Egypt and Germany, but the first hard evidence of his whereabouts only surfaced this week. Rudiger Heim says his father left Germany and drove through France and Spain before crossing to Morocco and eventually settling in Egypt, which like South America, was a haven for former Nazis after the Second World War.

Heim apparently knew other Nazi residents of Cairo, but did his best to avoid them. He is believed to have survived largely from the rent from a block of flats owned by the family in Berlin. Heim's German lawyer, Fritz Steinacker, consistently refused to surrender any information to the authorities.

Absolute proof that Heim is dead is still lacking. German investigators announced yesterday that they were contacting the Egyptian authorities in an attempt to locate Heim's body.

As the Wiesenthal Centre's Mr Zuroff put it: "The most important thing is still missing: there's no grave, no corpse, no DNA test."

Aribert Heim

Born: 28 June 1914

Aliases: Dr Death, the Butcher of Mauthausen

Crimes: Conducted brutal experiments without anaesthetic on Jewish inmates at Mauthausen concentration camp in 1941, killing hundreds

Later life: Served two and a half years in a prisoner-of-war camp from 1945. Worked in Baden-Baden after his release. Learning of his impending arrest, he disappeared in 1962, and settled in Egypt, where he converted to Islam.

Died: 10 August 1992 (though no body has been found)

Nazis at large

John (or Ivan) Demjanjuk

Known as "Ivan The Terrible", it was said that he operated the engines that powered the gas chambers at Treblinka. Sentenced to death in 1988 but later reprieved. Aged 89, he faces a new trial.

Charles Zentai

Now living in Australia, Zentai is alleged to have beaten a 17-year-old Jew to death for not wearing a yellow star in Hungary. His extradition was approved last year.

Harry Mannil

An Estonian businessman now living in Venezuela, Mannil, a police officer during the war, is accused of sending hundreds of Jews and Communists to their deaths. Estonia cleared him, but the Simon Wiesenthal centre said there had been a whitewash.

Sandor Kepiro

Kepiro has twice been convicted of involvement in a massacre of more than 1,000 people, mostly Jews, in Hungary in 1942 – but never served his sentence. He fled to Argentina after the war. Home again, and aged 92, he was named as a prime candidate for a new trial.