By SOUAD MEKHENNET and NICHOLAS KULISH
Published: February 4, 2009
CAIRO — Even in old age the imposingly tall, athletic German known to locals as Tarek Hussein Farid maintained the discipline to walk some 15 miles each day through the busy streets of Egypt’s capital. He walked to the world-renowned Al Azhar mosque here, where he converted to Islam, and to the ornate J. Groppi Cafe downtown, where he ordered the chocolate cakes he sent to friends and bought the bonbons he gave to their children, who called him Uncle Tarek.
Friends and acquaintances here in Egypt also remembered him as an avid amateur photographer who almost always wore a camera around his neck, but never allowed himself to be photographed. And with good reason: Uncle Tarek was born Aribert Ferdinand Heim, member of Adolf Hitler’s elite Waffen-SS, and medical doctor at the Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen concentration camps.
It was behind the gray, stone walls of Mauthausen in his native Austria that Dr. Heim committed the atrocities against hundreds of Jews and others that earned him the nickname Dr. Death and his status as the most-wanted Nazi war criminal still believed to be at large by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Dr. Heim was accused of performing operations on prisoners without anesthesia; removing organs from healthy inmates, then leaving them to die on the operating table; injecting poison, including gasoline, into the hearts of others; and taking the skull of at least one victim as a souvenir. After living below the radar of Nazi hunters for more than a decade after World War II — much of it in the German spa town of Baden-Baden where he had a wife, two sons and a medical practice as a gynecologist — he escaped capture just as investigators closed in on him in 1962.
His hiding place, as well as his death in 1992, have remained unknown until now.
Investigators in Israel and Germany have repeatedly said that they believed Dr. Heim was alive and hiding in Latin America, near where a woman alleged to be his illegitimate daughter lived in Chile. Witnesses from Finland to Vietnam and from Saudi Arabia to Argentina have sent tips and reported sightings to investigators.
A dusty briefcase with rusted buckles, sitting nearly forgotten in storage here in Cairo, hid the truth behind Dr. Heim’s flight to the Middle East. Obtained by The New York Times and the German television station ZDF from members of the Doma family, proprietors of the hotel here where Dr. Heim resided, the files in the briefcase tell the story of his life, and death, in Egypt.
It contains an archive of yellowed pages, some in envelopes that were still sealed, of Dr. Heim’s letters and medical test results, his financial records and an underlined, annotated article from a German magazine about his own manhunt and trial in absentia, even drawings of soldiers and trains by the children he left behind in Germany. Some documents are in the name Heim, others Farid, but many of the latter, such as an application for Egyptian residency under the name Tarek Hussein Farid, have the same birthday, June 28, 1914, and the same place of birth, Radkersburg, Austria, as Dr. Heim.
Although none of the 10 friends and acquaintances in Cairo who identified a photograph of Dr. Heim knew his real identity, they described signs that he may have been on the run. “My idea, which I’ve taken from my father at that time, is that he was in dispute with maybe the Jews, but he took refuge in Cairo at that time,” said Tarek Abdelmoneim el Rifai, the son of Abdelmoneim el Rifai, 88, Dr. Heim’s dentist in Cairo and close friend.
A certified copy of a death certificate obtained from Egyptian authorities confirmed witness accounts that the man called Tarek Hussein Farid died in 1992. “Tarek Hussein Farid is the name my father took when he converted to Islam,” said his son, Rüdiger Heim. In an interview in the family’s villa in Baden-Baden, Mr. Heim, 53, admitted publicly for the first time that he was with his father in Egypt at the time of his death from rectal cancer.
“It was during the Olympics. There was a television in the room, and he was watching the Olympics. It distracted him. He must have been suffering from serious pain,” said Mr. Heim, who is tall, like his father, with a long mournful face and speaks softly and carefully. Dr. Aribert Heim died the day after the Games ended, on Aug. 10, 1992, according to his son and the death certificate.
Mr. Heim said he learned of his father’s whereabouts through his aunt, who has since died. He said he did not come forward because he did not wish to bring trouble to any of his father’s friends in Egypt. As the number of surviving Nazi war criminals have dwindled, his father’s case has grown in prominence.
Despite the newly uncovered evidence of Dr. Heim’s time in Egypt, it is impossible to definitively close his case, with the location of his burial site still a mystery.
His death would mark a significant but hitherto unknown milestone in the winding up of the passionate and at times controversial hunt for Nazi war criminals that led to the trial and execution of the Holocaust planner Adolf Eichmann but never managed to catch up with Josef Mengele, the most famous of the Nazi doctors, who died in Brazil in 1979, as forensic tests later proved.
While the secret lives of Nazis in countries like Argentina and Paraguay captured the popular imagination in books and films like “The “Odessa File” and “The Boys From Brazil,” the Heim case casts light on the often overlooked history of their flight to the Middle East.
Until political winds shifted, ex-Nazis were welcomed in Egypt in the years after World War II, helping in particular with military technology. Rüdiger Heim said that his father told him he knew other Nazis there, but tried to steer clear of them.
Even so, how Dr. Heim was able to elude his pursuers for so long, while receiving money from Europe, most notably from his late sister, Herta Barth, and corresponding with friends and family in long letters, is unclear.
“The Arab world was an even better, a safer haven than South America,” said Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who had been searching for Dr. Heim and traveled to Chile last July to raise awareness about the case. “On one level I’m in complete shock,” said Mr. Zuroff when informed of Dr. Heim’s apparent fate.
He said the center was about to raise the reward for information leading to his arrest from $400,000 to $1.3 million .
The search for Dr. Heim began shortly after World War II, while he was still an American prisoner of war. A United States war crimes investigating team took testimony about his alleged crimes from Josef Kohl, a former inmate at Mauthausen, on Jan. 18, 1946, less than a year after the German surrender.
“Dr. Heim had a habit of looking into inmates’ mouths to determine whether their teeth were in impeccable condition,” Mr. Kohl said, according to a transcript of the interview. “If this were the case, he would kill the prisoner with an injection, cut his head off, leave it to cook in the crematorium for hours, until all the flesh was stripped from the naked skull and prepare the skull for himself and his friends as a decoration for their desks.”
Mr. Zuroff said that because Dr. Heim was at Mauthausen for a short time early in the war, in the fall of 1941, he is “aware of no people alive today who suffered at his hands and can give first-hand testimony of his crimes.”
German investigators said that Dr. Heim was careful throughout the postwar period when less-controlled people might have let down their guard.
Investigators noted that Dr. Heim, a talented ice hockey player, stayed out of pictures when his hockey team posed for its group portrait, even after they won the German championship. Dr. Heim owned an apartment building in Berlin, which investigators said for years provided him with income for his life incognito.
At the headquarters of the Baden-Württemberg state police in Stuttgart today, small magnets freckle a map of the world, marking the spots where clues or reports of sightings surfaced. Investigators said that they had searched continually since his disappearance in 1962, checking more than 240 leads and ruling out several people thought to be Dr. Heim. While they never caught him, they appear to have come tantalizingly close to his hiding place in the Middle East.
“There was information that Heim was in Egypt working as a police doctor between 1967 and the beginning of the seventies,” said Joachim Schäck, head of the fugitive unit at the state police. “This lead proved to be false.”
According to his son, Dr. Heim had left Germany and driven through France and Spain before crossing into Morocco, and eventually settling in Egypt. “It was only sheer coincidence that the police could not arrest me because I was not at home at the time,” Dr. Heim wrote in a letter to the German magazine Spiegel, after a report about his war-crimes case was published there in 1979. It is unclear whether he ever sent the letter, which was found in his files, many of which were written in meticulous cursive style in German or English.
In the letter he also accused Simon Wiesenthal, who was interned at Mauthausen, of being “the one who invented these atrocities.” Dr. Heim went on to discuss what he called Israeli massacres of Palestinians, and added that “the Jewish Khazar, Zionist lobby of the U.S. were the first ones who in 1933 declared war against Hitler’s Germany.”
The Turkic ethnic group the Khazars were a recurring theme for Dr. Heim, who kept himself busy in Cairo, researching a paper he wrote in English and German, decrying the possibility of anti-Semitism owing to the fact, he said, that most Jews were not Semitic in ethnic origin. Mr. Rifai recalled that Dr. Heim had showed his family many different drafts of the paper, which were among the papers found in the briefcase that The Times and ZDF television obtained. A list also showed plans to send drafts of the paper to prominent people around the world — under the name Dr. Youssef Ibrahim — including United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito.
He formed close bonds with his neighbors, including the Doma family, which ran the Kasr el Madina hotel, where Dr. Heim lived the last decade before his death. Mahmoud Doma, whose father owned the establishment, said Dr. Heim spoke Arabic, English and French, in addition to German. Mr. Doma said his neighbor read and studied the Koran, including a copy in German that the Domas had ordered for him.
Mahmoud Doma, 38, became emotional when talking about the man he knew as Uncle Tarek, whom he described giving him books and encouraging him to study. “He was like a father. He loved me and I loved him.”
He recalled how Uncle Tarek bought rackets and set up a tennis net on the hotel roof, where he and his siblings played with the German Muslim until sundown. But by 1990, Dr. Heim’s good health began to fail him and he was diagnosed with cancer.
After his death, his son Rüdiger insisted that they follow his father’s wishes and donate the body to science, not an easy task in a Muslim country where the rules dictate a swift burial and dissection is opposed. Mahmoud, who wanted to put Uncle Tarek in the family crypt next to his father, opposed the plan.
The two men rode in a white van with the body of Dr. Heim, which had been washed and wrapped in a white sheet in accordance with Muslim tradition and placed in a wooden coffin. Mr. Doma said they bribed a hospital functionary to take the body, but Egyptian authorities found out, and Dr. Heim was instead interred in a common grave, anonymously.
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