Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Journey of Dr Death

The world's most wanted Nazi war criminal hid in Egypt, converted to Islam and was buried here, Sophi Ibrahim reports

weekly.ahram.org.eg (Cairo)
12 - 18 February 2009

Passport photo of Aribert Heim (Tarek Hussein Farid); his son Ruediger

In Cairo's most populous district, a tall athletic man who speaks Arabic with an accent moved from one place to another. For 30 years, neighbours and their children would call him the "German man" or "Uncle Tarek" who played table tennis and carried a camera all the time but never allowed himself to be photographed.

No one seemed to know his real identity -- a Nazi war criminal, concentration camp doctor Aribert Heim. During the 1930s, Heim earned the nickname Dr Death. The most wanted Nazi war criminal was still believed by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human rights organisation aimed at hunting down Nazis and bringing them to justice, to be at large.

Even after his death in 1992 and his burial in the Poor's Cemetery, Heim remained -- to his neighbours at least -- a German who converted to Islam, and who lived a simple life. He had few friends, he said few words and would walk long miles from Ataba and Ramses where he used to live, to Groppi Café for coffee and Al-Azhar Mosque, Islam's most renowned institution, for prayers.

Only when Heim's son Ruediger spoke up did the long and mysterious life of Uncle Tarek start to be unravelled.

Heim, a member of Hitler's elite Waffen-SS and a medical doctor at the Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen concentration camps, left a son who constantly denied knowledge of his father's whereabouts. Only last week, Ruediger, the son, told the press that his father had died in Egypt in 1992. He had tried to close his father's file, claim inheritance and stop anti-Nazi police from searching for Heim all over the world, especially Latin America where he was thought to have taken shelter.

Ruediger gave the press tips on how to trace his father's journey in Egypt. Most importantly was Heim's suitcase that carried documents, research papers, medical reports, letters and newspaper clippings. The suitcase had been kept for 17 years, since the death of Heim, with the family of Mahmoud Doma, the owner of Qasr Al-Madina Hotel in Port Said Street where Heim lived and died.

Heim is accused of committing atrocities against Jewish prisoners in Mauthausen, in his native Austria. He allegedly performed operations on prisoners without anaesthesia; removing organs from inmates, then leaving them to die on the operating table; injecting poison, including gasoline, into the hearts of others; and taking the skull of at least one victim as a souvenir.

After living off the radar of Nazi hunters for more than a decade after World War II -- much of it in the German spa town of Baden-Baden where he had a wife, two sons and a medical practice as a gynaecologist -- he escaped capture just as investigators closed in on him in 1962. Investigators suspected that he took shelter in Latin America where his illegitimate daughter lives in Chile. They also received tips that he might be in Saudi Arabia, Argentina or Vietnam.

A travel document found inside his briefcase showed that he entered Egypt in 1963 after driving through France, Spain and Morocco, under his real second name. In the space marked "profession", he was described as a "doctor/ economist" but then crossed it out. Other applications for extension of residency showed that he lived in Egypt under his real name until the late 1970s when bank receipts showed the transfer of money to a Tarek Hussein Farid.

In the dusty briefcase, there were also research papers he wrote in English that show his attempt to prove that Jews are not Semitic. He planned to send the documents to several figures including former United Nations secretary-general Kurt Waldheim, former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and ex-Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito.

There was also a letter dated 1980 which described all allegations about torturing Jews in the concentration camp as "new" and "lies".

Medical reports issued by several Egyptian officials showed that he suffered from cancer, which his son said, led to his death.

A death certificate, however, described Tarek Hussein Farid as being Egyptian who died at age 81. None of the papers in his briefcase showed that he carried Egyptian citizenship. He was also reportedly born in 1941, meaning that he died at 68.

His friends in Egypt, including a family member of his dentist, were shocked to learn that Uncle Tarek or The German was in fact a Nazi war criminal.

"The only thing we knew about him was that he fled from the Jews and he was in conflict with the Jews," Tarek Abdel-Moneim El-Rifaai, son of Heim's dentist, Abdel-Moneim El-Rifaai, said. "He was well built, he was very kind -- he brought us cakes and chocolates -- but I never knew he was a Nazi or that he was a doctor."

"Dr Heim lived with his real identity when he was granted some sort of political cover in the 1960s and early 1970s," Emad Gad, an expert in Israeli affairs in the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, believes. "But when this political cover was lifted, he converted to Islam and dissolved into Egyptian society."

Heim's political cover, Gad added, was blown after Egypt signed its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, who had been searching for Heim and who travelled to Chile last July to raise awareness about the case, expressed surprise when informed by The New York Times of Heim's apparent fate, saying the centre had been about to raise the reward leading to information or his arrest to $1.3 million from $400,000.

Heim's last wish was to donate his body organs for scientific experiments. However, in Egypt, this was not possible.

Doma's family wanted to bury the body in the family cemetery. Doma tried to bribe health employees, however, police found out and buried the body instead in the Poor's Cemetery where it is impossible to keep track of the deceased.

German authorities said earlier in the week they were waiting for Egypt's permission to go to Egypt and search for the body remains. Until now, Egypt has not made any official comment, but in all cases, finding the body will be an almost impossible task.