A Justice Ministry spokesman said today that Israel will continue the search for Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele despite reports from Brazil that the Auschwitz death camp doctor died there by drowning six years ago.
As long as there is no definite identification of the body found in Brazil Israel will continue its efforts to capture Mengele and bring him to justice and the $1 million reward for information leading to his capture and trial remains in effect, Yitzhak Feinberg of the Justice Ministry said.
He was referring to the remains of a man buried under the name Wolfgang Gerhard in a cemetery in Enbu, 20 miles south of Sao Paulo in 1979, the victim of a swimming mishap. The body has been exhumed and is undergoing forensic tests. Mengele’s dental X-rays were flown to Sao Paulo from West Germany over the weekend to help with the identification.
REPORT CALLED FRAUD
Israelis and Nazi-hunters here and abroad are largely skeptical of the information that has emerged so far, which apparently has almost convinced some Brazilian officials that the body belongs to Mengele. Menahem Russak, head of the Nazi War Crimes Department of the Israel Police declared in a radio interview today that Mengele is still alive.
Russak maintained that the report on the body was a fraud perpetrated because for the first time since the end of World War II a serious international effort has been mounted to track down Mengele and substantial rewards have been offered by Israel, West Germany and by organizations such as the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Sources here noted that ever since Israel offered its reward, the search centers in Israel, the U.S. and West Germany have received information indicating that Mengele is alive, adding to similar information amassed over the years. Sources also observed the “remarkable” coincidence: As the heat was being turned on Mengele, it is suddenly alleged he has been dead six years. The question raised is why the people who provided this information chose to remain silent until now.
The Brazilian authorities were led to the body in Enbu on the basis of claims by an elderly couple of Austrian origin, Wolfram and Lisolette Bossert, that a man they found out was Mengele had lived with them for a time and died while swimming. The Bosserts, who are Brazilians citizens, claimed they kept silent for fear of being accused of sheltering a wanted war criminal.
Another immigrant to Brazil, Gitta Stammer, 65, who is from Hungary, told police that Mengele lived with her family between 1961-74 under an assumed name and managed the family farm. She said in Sao Paulo over the weekend the man admitted he was Mengele after she confronted him with a newspaper photograph.
Stammer said she and her husband feared to denounce him because he made veiled threats to harm their children. She said the man died in a 1979 drowning.
Sao Paulo police chief Romeu Tuna said last week that documents and a diary produced by the Bosserts made him “90 percent convinced” that the man buried in Enbu was Mengele. Israeli, West German and U.S. officials involved in the search for Mengele and forensic experts from those countries arrived in Sao Paulo over the weekend to assist in the investigation. The Brazilian authorities reportedly rejected their help in identifying the remains which include a skull with seven teeth.
The tests on the remains began Friday and according to sources in Brazil it could be a matter of days or weeks before conclusive evidence is produced.
Vienna-based Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, in New York over the weekend, was quoted in press reports as saying he was “less skeptical” now than last Thursday when he heard the first reports of Mengele’s alleged drowning.
WIESENTHAL CENTER URGES CAUTION
In Los Angeles, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said the Center welcomed the seriousness with which the Brazilian authorities are conducting the investigation. But he said, all information pertaining to the alleged death of Mengele should be considered with caution.
U.S. officials said that Neil Sher, chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) involved in the international search for Mengele, is in Sao Paulo to help with the investigation.
Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R. NY) said in Washington “we should not jump to any quick conclusions” about the reports from Brazil. He warned they may be a “Mengele smokescreen” and urged the Justice Department to send a team of four forensic specialists to Brazil to verify whether or not the exhumed remains are those of Mengele.
A federal prosecutor in West Germany said Friday that the police were treating the case seriously but he also cautioned against jumping to conclusions. Hans Ebergard Klein, the Frankfurt official in charge of the Mengele case, said at a press conference Friday that there was little data to go by. The only positive knowledge is that Mengele was about 5 feet 10 inches tall and was born on March 16, 1911 which would make him 74.
He said the dental records sent to Sao Paulo were from 1938 and may be of limited value in determining the identity of the remains. “A lot can happen to a man’s teeth in over 40 years,” he said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.