Robert Fisk: Butcher of Buchenwald in an Egyptian paradise

War criminals

Share
Related Topics

Not long ago, a Hizbollah fighter in Lebanon insisted to me that there was life after death.

With my fascination for "life beyond the grave", I told him to prove it. "Mr Robert," he replied, "do you believe in justice?" Well, yes, I said, I did. "So do you think there is justice in this world?" Nope, I replied. "Well that proves it. If there's no justice in this world, there must be justice in the next – so there's another life!"

I remembered this piece of esotericism a few days ago, when in Egypt I bought a second-hand copy of an old book about the Cairo suburb of Maadi, a grand old place of villas – until it was destroyed, of course, in Cairo's 1970s building plague – in which British colonialists, Germans and Austrians and Egyptians (many of them Jewish) and Italian and Armenian families made their homes amid parties and tennis matches at the Maadi Sporting Club and the children's college and, during the Second World War, a vast horde of Commonwealth troops waiting for El Alamein.

But one page caught my eye. Samir Raafat, who must know more about Maadi than anyone else in the world, had dug up the story of a quiet German doctor, Carl Debouche, who moved into a bland house on the corner of Orabi Street in 1958. Most of the neighbours, according to Raafat, noticed that he would spend hours at his window, staring at the Maadi synagogue across the road. Then shortly afterwards, an Egyptian postman called with a parcel that exploded in his hand, blowing his eye out. "Debouche" was unharmed. Readers, however, will already have guessed what is to come.

For yes, indeed, "Debouche" had a dark past. He wasn't even "Debouche". His real name was Dr Hans Eisele, former Nazi party member 3125695, former SS Hauptsturmführer (SS no 237421) and convicted war criminal.

He began by fighting on the western front and ended up working in Nazi concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, Natzweiler, Dachau and Buchenwald. According to the American who prosecuted Eisele, Colonel William Denson, Eisele started off as the good doctor, called "the Angel" by prisoners, but steadily became cruel and sadistic, until, at Buchenwald, he was called "the Butcher" because he carried out medical experiments on prisoners, allowing them to die slowly after injections of cyanide.

He was twice sentenced to death (in 1945 and 1947), but both sentences were commuted until in 1952 – and this showed the degree to which the then West German government connived in helping its war criminals – he was freed from Landsberg prison. With compensation! So he set himself up as a doctor in Munich and then fled six years later when he was warned he would yet again be arrested.

So those neighbours in Maadi were right to be suspicious. And, of course, if the West Germans were grotesque in their attitude to war crimes, so was Nasser's Egypt, which positively welcomed ex-Nazi scientists and torturers to help to run socialist Egypt. Alois Brunner, the man who sent the Jews of Salonika to Auschwitz, was one of them (until he set off to help Syria's secret policemen) and he may have been one of the men and women who attended Eisele's all-German soirées. Eisele's true identity, of course, meant that he had to close his practice in Cairo and he died a widower in 1967. But he was given a friendly funeral at the German cemetery in Old Cairo.

So, mindful of my Hizbollah acquaintance's belief in the afterlife – and of the Marriott hotel's advice that in Cairo it might be easier to find a dead man than a living one – I set off this week to find the last resting place of the Butcher of Buchenwald. It took about two hours even to locate the German cemetery; with infinite irony, it lies only a few hundred yards from Cairo's oldest synagogue and a British Second World War graveyard. But sure enough, the moment I walked through the Teutonic portals, there was a little paradise of tall trees and flowered bushes and – cut off from the roar of Cairo – a peaceful garden, its concrete paths washed, its shrubbery carefully cut.

The cemetery keeper's wife, an unsmiling lady who inspected my five Egyptian pound tip as if it might be forged, produced the book of the dead. And there he was, complete with his real identity and his false name. "Eisele, Hans, Dr med. 13/3/12 – 3/5/67, Carl Debouche 1901-1957." There was no explanation for the fake name or the fake dates beside it. Eisele may have invented the first date. But why would he invent the second – before he even arrived in Cairo? Then there was that slight missing heartbeat when you glanced to the right of the page: "Grave No 99."

No movie would dare carry that cemetery number for a doctor from hell. But the grumbling Egyptian housewife walked me beneath the trees and pointed at a cement rectangle with the number "99" on a small marble plaque and, at the top, a massive piece of black stone – carved, as they say, "from the living rock" – which bore the words, crudely and perhaps in a deliberately "Aryan" way fashionable in the 1930s – "Dr Med Hans Eisele. *13/3/12 + 3.5.1967".

That's all. He got away with it. There is a pink flower and some cabbage-type plants on his well-tended grave. Far from the fumes and chaos of the city he fled to – far further than the fires of Buchenwald – tucked away at the side of this pretty little cemetery, the doctor from hell ended up in a little paradise. If my Hizbollah man's theory is right, of course, he has already been sentenced by a judge far more erudite (and a lot harsher) than US Colonel Denson. Be good to know, though, wouldn't it?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape