LONDON (Aug. 29)
French prosecutors are expected this week to indict Alois Brunner, who played a key logistical role in the Holocaust, on charges of crimes against humanity.
Brunner, 87, was private secretary to Adolf Eichmann, chief engineer of the Holocaust, who was tried and executed in Israel in 1961.
Brunner, whose trial is expected to begin next year, is considered to have been responsible for deporting some 130,000 European Jews to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
The French government is exerting intense pressure on the Syrian government to extradite Brunner from his safe haven in suburban Damascus, where he lives under the pseudonym Georg Fisher.
Brunner is said to be easily identifiable because he lost an eye and several fingers in letter bombs allegedly sent to him in Syria by Israel’s intelligence services.
Previous attempts to persuade Syria to release Brunner failed. Germany applied for his extradition in 1987, and in 1991 the European Parliament voted to condemn Syria for continuing to harbor the alleged war criminal.
French sources say that even if Syrian President Hafez Assad rejects the personal appeal of French President Jacques Chirac for Brunner’s extradition, the trial will go ahead in his absence.
The central charges against Brunner will focus on two specific incidents:
The deportation of 250 French Jewish children to Auschwitz on July 31, 1944.
An incident on Aug. 17, 1944, when 51 hostages, including French aircraft manufacturer Serge Dassault, were forced to accompany Brunner on the last deportation train from Paris to Germany. After cutting their way out of a cattle wagon, 27 escaped. Some of the others were gassed or died in medical experiments.
The decision by the state prosecutor comes 13 years after Nazi-hunting French lawyer Serge Klarsfeld launched a private prosecution against Brunner, who was responsible for the deportation and death of Klarsfeld’s father.
Brunner was born in Austria in 1912 and joined the Austrian Nazi Party in 1931 at the age of 19. His anti-Semitism was considered to be so extreme that he was swiftly tapped to be Eichmann’s private secretary.
As head of the Nazi’s Jewish affairs office in prewar Vienna, he organized persecution that forced thousands of Jews to flee to other European countries and the United States.
When World War II started, he sent 47,000 Austrian Jews to concentration camps.
After organizing mass roundups in Berlin, he transferred to Greece, where he was responsible for deporting all 43,000 Jews in Salonika within just two months.
In June 1943, he was sent to France to take over the Drancy transit camp near Paris from its French administrators.
During 14 months in France, Brunner sent an estimated 25,000 men, women and children to their deaths.
The Brunner trial is being seen as the climax to France’s belated, painful attempt to come to terms with its role in the Holocaust.
Brunner’s prosecution will follow the trials of Klaus Barbie, Paul Touvier and Maurice Papon, all convicted in French courts of crimes against humanity.