Uncovering Lost Path of the Most Wanted Nazi
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 remember 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, a member of Hitler’s elite Waffen-SS and a 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 by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to be at large.
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.
The briefcase 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, like 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 might 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 has dwindled, his father’s case has grown in prominence.
Shelter in the Middle East
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 be 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.