Alois Brunner – of the world’s most wanted Nazi criminals who invented mobile gas-vans to kill Jews during WW2 – met his death in a squalid cellar in Damascus 16 years ago.
The fate of Brunner has been one of the lingering mysteries left over from WW2.
But on Wednesday a French magazine reported that the monster, who described Jews as ‘human garbage’, met his end in the country which gave him sanctuary after 1945.
Veteran Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld said from his Paris home that he had read the report in the magazine XXI and found it ‘highly credible.’
Brunner, who was 89 in 2001, was one of the most notorious of Nazi killers during the Holocaust which claimed six million Jewish lives.
Until a few years ago he occupied the number one slot of most wanted war criminals on a list compiled by by the Simon Wiesdenthal Nazi hunting organisation in America.
Brunner was the right-hand-man to Adolf Eichmann, the supreme logistician of the Holocaust of who plotted the transports across Europe to the extermination camps in occupied Poland.
A diabolical Nazi, Brunner was the inventor of mobile ‘gas vans’ – innocent looking trucks whose passenger compartments were sealed.
Exhaust gas from the engine of the trucks fed back into the van, killing all its occupants.
The vans operated outside of ghettoes and concentration camps in eastern Europe before the static killing factories like Auschwitz went on-line.
Brunner was also personally responsible for rounding up at least 130,000 Jewish men, women and children in France and had them shipped off for extermination.
He fled to Syria after the war where the regime sheltered him for decades. Israeli agents managed to send him parcel bombs on two occasions which wounded him but did not end his life.
Now three ex-members of the Syrian secret service who he tutored in torture and clandestine police work have confirmed to XXI that his remaining years were spent in ‘miserable and squalid’ conditions beneath an apartment block in Damascus
One of his guards called Omar said Brunner, who went by the name of Abu Hussein, ‘suffered and cried a lot in his final years. Everyone heard him. In the end he couldnt even wash himself.
‘All he had to eat were army rations — awful stuff — and an egg or a potato. He had to choose one or the other.’
Klarsfeld, whose father was murdered in Auschwitz, once flew to Damascus in the 1980’s to plead with the Assad regime to give Brunner up for trial in the west.
‘I am satisfied to learn that he lived badly rather than well in exile,’ sáid Klarsfeld after the magazine was published on Wednesday.
‘XXI’s investigation is highly credible. They have questioned someone who knew him at close quarters,’ he added.
Brunner left Germany for Egypt in 1953 with a passport in the name of Georg Fischer and worked for a time as a gun-runner for Algerians fighting to throw off French colonial rule in their country.
Then he moved on to Damascus where he passed on all the terrible interrogation and torture techniques of the Gestapo he had learned during the Third Reich.
Convicted by French courts in absentia to death, he lost an eye and four fingers in the two Mossad bomb attacks, but nothing diminished his love of Nazism or his hatred of the Jews.
In a 1987 telephone interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in 1987 he stated that he didn’t regret his part in the Holocaust. ‘All of them deserved to die because they were the devil’s agents and human garbage. I have no regrets and I would do it again.’
According to XXI, Brunner was practically under house arrest in his apartment in the diplomatic quarter of Damascus from 1989 onwards. He was moved into the basement by the Assad regime for unspecified ‘security reasons.’
‘Once he was in the room, the door was closed and never opened again,’ Omar told the magazine.
He claimed Brunner was buried secretly in accordance with Muslim rites in the city’s Al-Affif cemetery in December 2001.
‘In a dictatorship like Syria, he was untouchable as long as the dictator didn’t want rid of him,’ said Klarsfeld.
‘Until the end he kept his hatred of Jews intact, as well as his faith in National Socialism,’ he added. ‘He was someone who hated France as much as he hated Jews.’
In 2011 it was learned Nazi hunters were foiled in 1989 from capturing him by the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The East German state was poised to get back Brunner from his exile in Syria when the country imploded, and with it the last chance to make him answer for his crimes.
Documentation came to light that showed Damascus was prepared to send him back to the German Democratic Republic in return for trade deals and money.
The details of the negotiations were found by journalists working for the Austrian news magazine Profil which discovered them in the archives of the old Stasi secret police of East Germany in Berlin.
‘Brunner, Alois, will likely be extradited from Syria to the GDR,’ read a Stasi document from 1988.
Another document from April 1989, quoting former East German foreign minister Oskar Fischer, went on: ‘Comrade Erich Honecker has arranged for the GDR general prosecutor to initiate the necessary measures to prepare for criminal proceedings against Brunner in the event that he arrives in the GDR.’
However, the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 severed contacts between the two regimes and put paid to the extradition plans.