Report Says Top Nazi War Criminal Died Under House Arrest in Syria

NEW YORK -
Undated picture of Austrian-born Alois Brunner, one of the world’s most-wanted Nazi war criminals. (AP Photo/file)

Infamous Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner, who has been described as “Eichmann’s right-hand man,” spent his last years living under house arrest in a dank basement in Damascus, according to a new report.

While it was widely known that Brunner had taken refuge in Syria, he was thought to have died as a free man who lived under government protection from extradition efforts by Israel, France and others. Earlier this week, French magazine Revue XXI reported, based on conversations with three former members of Syria’s secret service, that, beginning in 1989, Brunner was moved into a room underneath an apartment block for “security purposes.”

“Once he was in the room, the door was closed and never opened again,” a man, who was only identified as Omar, told the magazine.

The agents said Brunner was fed low-quality army rations during this period and that he “suffered and cried a lot in his final years. Everyone heard him.”

Historian and Nazi Hunter Serge Klarsfeld, who traveled to Syria in 1982 in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Brunner to justice, called the report “highly credible.”

Brunner was responsible for the deportation of an estimated 125,000 Jews to death camps through the Second World War. Before taking charge of the Drancy camp near Paris, he oversaw deportations from his native Austria as well as from Salonika. In 1944, he was personally sent by Adolf Eichmann to direct deportations in Slovakia.

“If it is true that he died in a cell in deplorable conditions, he got 1/10th of 1 percent of what he deserved,” Holocaust historian Dr. Michael Berenbaum told Hamodia.

After the war, Brunner avoided capture, making his way to Egypt and later Syria, where he is believed to have served as an advisor on torture and interrogation methods. He was openly unrepentant about his wartime activities, telling a newspaper in 1987, “I have no regrets and I would do it again.”

The agents interviewed say that Brunner died in 2001. Other reports had claimed that he lived until 2010. The Revue XXI report said that at the time of his death, Brunner had converted to Islam and was living under the name Abu Hussein.

“We hope it’s true that he died a very miserable death, which is a small part of what a sadistic fanatical anti-Semite like Brunner would deserve,” Simon Wiesenthal’s chief Nazi-hunter, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, told Hamodia.

Dr. Zuroff conjectured that Brunner’s conversion was a further move to encourage Syria to shield him from extradition efforts and that a change in regimes might have been the key to a change in Brunner’s fate in his last days.

“If this is true, it seems Bashar Assad did not view his presence in the same manner that his father did and decided to put him under house arrest,” he said.

Although never brought to justice, Brunner was tried and sentenced to death in absentia in France in 1954 for crimes against humanity. He lost several fingers and an eye in two letter-bomb assassination attempts, attributed to Israeli agents.