Menu JTA Search

Behind the Headlines the Hunt for Mengele

The most publicized Nazi war criminal still at large is Josef Mengele, the SS physician at Auschwitz who carried out gruesome medical experiments on inmates, especially twins and children, and who was involved in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Nazi concentration camp. He was called the “angel of death” for his “selection” of prisoners arriving at Auschwitz.

Ever since the early 1950’s, the search for Mengele has become a sort of political olympiad, with Nazi-hunters, politicians, organizations and newspapers vying with each other in tracking the mass murderer.

Like clockwork, innumerable sightings of Mengele are fervidly reported. He has been “positively” identified, seen, talked to and “verified” at one and the same time in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Paraguay and — even in the United States. The worst offenders, quite frequently are newspapers which prefer sensationalistic headlines to facts. More respectable newspapers are relatively cautious about reporting Mengele sightings, but nevertheless also indulge in media hype.

EXTREME FORMS OF ‘MENGELITIS’

The waves of “Mengelitis” sometimes takes extreme and bizarre forms. Recently, the front page of the tabloid New York Post screamed: “‘Angel of Death’ May Be Living in Florida!!!” Its flaming “Extra” edition featured the demand of an Israeli Nazi-hunter that President Reagan “have U.S. authorities arrest Mengele who may be living in retirement in Florida.” The Nazi hunter, Tuvia Friedman, stated that he had “new evidence” that “Mengele has retired to Florida.”

Even the FBI has been caught up in the hysteria on occasion. An FBI memorandum dated December 8, 1966 on “Joseph Mengele, SM-C (Security Matter-Confidential)” stated that an FBI informer said that “the wanted Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele is masquerading under the name of Harold Endinan and resides in Riviera, Arizona.”

The FBI source further said that “Mengele is masquerading as a construction worker … has dyed his hair, has scars and has had plastic surgery …”

The FBI report added that “The files of the Los Angeles office reflect that Mengele was subject of a report of (a) ‘SA’ (Special Agent) dated 2/9/44… New York … (and) was the subject of Denaturalization Proceedings apparently because his name appeared on Nazi Party lists.” The FBI checked out this information and of course it proved false.

Every so-called Nazi-hunter in the United States will produce this FBI document to “prove” Mengele has been in the United States, alluding mysteriously to the scars, plastic surgery and dyed hair.

SOME FALSE LEADS

This correspondent checked out the Mengele reference against the August 1946 “Nazi Party Membership Records” that was part of a U.S. Senate probe in 1946.

The name “Joseph Mengele” appears on Page 9 of that list. His Nazi Party enrollment number was 05735. He was said to have entered the United States on August 1, 1932, that he was born in Munich on January 1, 1904, lived in The Bronx in 1944 and worked in a warehouse, and that he was naturalized in 1932. The FBI checked out this report, according to my sources, and again found the allegations false. In fact, the “angel of death” was born in Guenzberg, Germany, on March 16, 1911 and most certainly did not live in The Bronx in 1944.

The latest wave of Mengelitis occurred on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Those Auschwitz survivors who had actually undergone the tortures of Mengele’s experiments on their bodies as well as having witnessed Mengele sending families and friends to the gas chambers, rightly focused on the continued liberty of the “angel of death.”

In turn, this eminently proper concern and collective cry of outrage has become a symbol of the entire spectacle of Nazi war criminals who have escaped justice, especially those hundreds, perhaps thousands — some of whom committed far greater crimes than Mengele — who have found haven here in the United States and, in some instances, probably have been used by U.S. intelligence agencies.

SOME QUESTIONABLE CHARGES

At this flashpoint in late 1984, highly publicized charges were made both individually and collectively by officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Wiesenthal himself and U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato (R.N.Y.).

Their charges reportedly derive from documents released by the Freedom of Information section of the U.S. Army’s Intelligence and Security Command to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, and to D’Amato.

Emerging above the hoopla surrounding the released Mengele documents as well as CIA reports that were declassified for D’Amato, certain broad claims have been made by this amorphous group:

* That Mengele was immediately after the war in the custody of the U.S. Armed Forces and was allowed to escape.

* That, in a curiously convoluted statement by Hier, the U.S. CIC (Counter-Intelligence Corps) documents “create reasonable doubt as to whether or not the U.S. had a role in the case of Mengele.” In short, that the U.S. had in some way utilized or protected Mengele.

* That Mengele had applied for and got — again with U.S. complicity — a visa to enter Canada.

* That Mengele had in fact been in Canada.

* That Mengele in fact had been in the United States.

Because of poor reporting and innuendo, the media have managed to convey the impression that such conclusions have been demonstrated. A careful examination of the general claims against the hard data actually found in the released CIC and CIA documents shows that none of these claims are new, having been made often over the years of Mengelitis.

Moreover, the released documents are often unclear or ambiguous at best. Indeed, the documents sometimes state quite the opposite.

A FEW TELLING EXAMPLES

A few telling examples make the point.

A source at the U.S. Army’s intelligence center told this correspondent that “no records” on Mengele were turned up using the “aliases of Mengele provided by Rabbi Hier of the Wiesenthal Center.” The 14 pages of CIC reports, said this Army source, “were unearthed solely by us, not through Hier’s leads.”

There is not a shred of hard evidence among the documents showing that one “Joseph Menke” had sought a Canadian visa from Argentina “to enter (in 1962) Canada as a landed immigrant” and that “the man Joseph Menke … was in fact Josef Mengele” as was asserted at a press conference on January 23, 1985 by the Hier group.

A pertinent fact of monumental proportions that went entirely unreported by the American media was a Jewish Telegraphic Agency story filed out of Toronto on February 19, 1985: “Recently released documents by … the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) indicate that Josef Mengele did not apply to come to Canada … was never in Canada, contrary to allegations made last month (January 1985) by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Canadian representative Sol Littman.”

These claims — made by Hier, D’Amato and Littman — were made before the Canadian documents were released. A person “named Joseph Menke” and living in Ontario had been thoroughly checked out as recently as 1982. He was, of course, not Joseph Mengele.

This correspondent questioned Littman, pointing out to him on February 22, 1985 that D’Amato persisted in making the claim that “Menke” was Mengele and that Mengele had entered Canada.

Littman angrily denied the D’Amato claim which, incidentally, D’Amato repeated before the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Philadelphia this past April 22.

Littman also agreed with this correspondent’s observations that “there are no hard data in the released CIC documents, that merit an assumed U.S. intelligence utilization” of Mengele.

LAST ‘CONFIRMED’ SIGHTINGS

Earlier this month, Wiesenthal told the media that “the last confirmed sighting” of Mengele was “in a settlement northeast of Encarnacion” in Paraguay. That is precisely the area where, according to CIA documents released in April, Mengele was “reported to be” through CIA informants in 1962, 1968 and the early 1970’s.

On the other hand, Serge Klarsfeld of Paris, and, along with his wife, Beate, a rival of Wiesenthal, stated unequivocally this past week: “Mengele is living in a mansion outside of Asuncion, either one owned by (General Afredo) Stroessner, (German-born dictator of Paraguay) or a friend of Stroessner.”

Amidst all this contradictory hoopla, are there any substantial facts that may lead to the resolution of the hunt for Mengele?

(Tomorrow: Part Two)

NEXT STORY