Questions Raised About Tardy German Effort to Find Whereabouts of Mengele
Menu JTA Search

Questions Raised About Tardy German Effort to Find Whereabouts of Mengele

Download PDF for this date

Various explanations are being advanced here as to why the West German authorities have suddenly exerted themselves to establish the truth about the whereabouts and fate of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele after more than three decades of lethargy and seeming indifference.

It was only this year that West Germany joined with the U.S. and Israel in an international effort to track down the notorious Auschwitz death camp doctor who reportedly found refuge in South America shortly after World War ll. Now it is participating vigorously in efforts to determine whether reports that Mengele died six years ago in Brazil are true.

The Mengele family, which owns a prosperous agricultural machinery factory in Guenzburg, Bavaria, insists they are. Mengele’s son, Rolf Mengele, a Frieburg lawyer, issued a statement this week saying he had been informed in 1979 of his father’s death. He said he had “no doubts whatsoever” that a man who drowned in a swimming accident in 1979 and was buried in a cemetery in Enbu, near Sao Paulo under the name Wolfgang Gerhard, was his father.


The body has been exhumed and is undergoing forensic tests to determine identification. Three West German medical experts flew to Brazil yesterday to participate in the tests. Three West German police experts have been there for the past week.

But questions are being raised here as to why this flurry of activity over Mengele has come so late. Commentors note that it was hardly a secret that the Mengele clan for years has been supporting the Auschwitz “angel of death” financially. They ask why the authorities refrained from investigating the matter; what prevented them from observing family members or employes of the Mengele factory to find out just how and where contact was made?

The State Prosecutor in Frankfurt, Hans-Eberhard Klein, who is in charge of the Mengele investigation said that under German law family members cannot be prosecuted for helping the war criminal. He confirmed however that an investigation has been opened into the activities of Hans Sedlmeier, a former Mengele family employee, who may have been the courier carrying money from the family to Mengele in his refuge in South America. Sedlmeier may be charged with failure to report Mengele’s whereabouts to the police.

But, observers are asking, why have the authorities decided to investigate the alleged courier now although the transfer of money has been going on for years.


The leftist newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau suggested that the behavior of the authorities changed under the growing pressure of international public opinion to find Mengele and bring him to justice. That pressure led the Bonn government to seek cooperation with the U.S. and Israel in what became the first serious effort to locate Mengele since the end of World War II.

Diplomatic quarters here offer another explanation. They say that growing public awareness of the Mengele case created friction with a number of South American countries with which Bonn has deep cultural and ethnic ties. This was especially the case with Paraguay whose German-born President, Alfredo Stroessner, cancelled a visit to West Germany because of accusations that he had been sheltering Mengele for years. Most reports reaching Nazi-hunters over the years placed Mengele in Paraguay where he was said to be living under the protection of Stroessner’s rightwing regime.

German experts firmly believe that Mengele did indeed die in Brazil in 1979. But the authorities refuse to make any official declaration until conclusive evidence is produced. That evidence hinges on a positive identification of the remains exhumed in Brazil.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund