'Dr. Death' is dead, Germany concludes

Nicholas Kulish / New York Times News Service /

BERLIN — The hunt for Aribert Ferdinand Heim, a Nazi fugitive and concentration camp doctor, has officially come to a close, German authorities announced after they determined that the man known as Dr. Death (for his unnecessary operations) had died in Egypt 20 years ago.

A regional court in Baden-Baden, Heim’s last known German residence, said it had suspended the criminal investigation because “no doubts remained” that the fugitive who eluded the authorities for decades had died of cancer in Cairo in 1992.

The Austrian was a member of Hitler’s elite Waffen-SS and worked at the Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen concentration camps.

He was held as a POW by U.S. authorities after the war and detained for more than two years, but escaped prosecution and was ultimately released.

The New York Times and the German television station ZDF reported in 2009 that Heim had escaped justice by hiding in North Africa. An old dusty briefcase full of letters, handwritten notes about the case against him and medical records corroborated the accounts of Egyptians who knew him there.

Investigators established that the documents were real and had belonged to Heim but could not prove conclusively that he was dead. Witnesses said he had died after a long struggle with rectal cancer. At the same time, they said he had been buried in a common grave, meaning that nearly 20 years on, neither DNA nor dental records could be used to confirm his death.

“The only way that could have been proven conclusively was with forensics,” Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in New York, said in a telephone interview. “I’m not ruling it out conclusively, but I, in good conscience, could not rule out the case without some forensic proof of a dead person who is Aribert Heim.”

Proof of death

Egyptian authorities produced a death certificate in the name of Tarek Hussein Farid, which witnesses said was the name Heim took after becoming a Muslim. There was insufficient evidence proving that Heim and Farid were the same person, the court said, and the case remained open.

This year, however, Heim’s lawyer presented the court with additional papers, including an Egyptian driver’s license with a photo of the German under the name Tarek Hussein Farid and most significantly a certificate confirming his conversion to Islam and name change.

“Tests by the state police confirmed the authenticity of this certificate,” the Baden-Baden court said in its statement. The court also questioned Heim’s son Ruediger Heim, who said he was in Cairo when his father died.

“I am relieved that I could be helpful to German justice in drawing the logical conclusions from the revelations in recent years,” his son said in a telephone interview Friday. “I hope that this brings an end to the many rumors that have circulated without foundation in fact.”

From U.S. prisoner of war to most-wanted Nazi

After his release after the war, Heim married, had two sons and a gynecology practice in the spa town of Baden-Baden, in southwest Germany, where the family lived in a stately white villa. His time at Mauthausen came back to haunt him after former inmates told the police that he had killed healthy prisoners in senseless operations and murdered others with lethal injections to the heart.

He fled Baden-Baden in 1962 with investigators at his heels. After a shorter stay in Morocco he moved to Egypt in 1963, slowly integrating into the local culture. He learned to speak Arabic and lived in a modest hotel away from other expatriates in a middle-class area of Cairo.

The search for Heim, named the most-wanted Nazi war criminal in the world by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in 2008, rekindled interest in the fates of Nazi fugitives more than half a century after the end of World War II. Like a character out of a James Bond film, Heim, a tall, athletic former professional ice hockey player, wore a tuxedo in one of the photographs circulated by investigators, which only added to his mystique as a wealthy doctor eluding investigators.

“People’s fantasies elevated him to the status of a myth,” his son said.