Karl Lotter, a prisoner who worked in the hospital at Mauthausen concentration camp, had no trouble remembering the first time he watched SS doctor Aribert Heim kill a man.
It was 1941 and an 18-year-old Jew had been sent to the clinic with a foot inflammation. Heim asked him about himself and why he was so fit. The young man said he had been a soccer player and swimmer.
Then, instead of treating the prisoner’s foot, Heim anesthetized him, cut him open, castrated him, took apart one kidney and removed the second, Lotter said. The victim’s head was removed and the flesh boiled off so that Heim could keep it on display.
“He needed the head because of its perfect teeth,” Lotter, a non-Jewish political prisoner, recalled in testimony eight years later that was included in an Austrian warrant for Heim’s arrest uncovered by The Associated Press.
“Of all the camp doctors in Mauthausen, Dr Heim was the most horrible,” Lotter said.
But Heim managed to avoid prosecution, his US-held file in Germany mysteriously omitting his time at Mauthausen, and today he is the most-wanted suspected Nazi war criminal on a list of hundreds who the Simon Wiesenthal Center estimates are still free.
Heim would be 93 now, and “we have good reason to believe he is still alive,” said Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s top Nazi hunter. He spoke in a telephone interview from Jerusalem before the center’s plan to release a most-wanted list yesterday and to open a media campaign in South America this summer highlighting the US$485,000 reward for Heim’s arrest posted by the center along with Germany and Austria.
According to an advance copy of the list obtained by AP, the most wanted, after Heim, are: John Demjanjuk, fighting deportation from the US, which says he was a guard at several death and forced labor camps; Sandor Kepiro, a Hungarian accused of involvement in the wartime killings of than 1,000 civilians in Serbia; Milivoj Asner, a wartime Croatian police chief now living in Austria and suspected of an active role in deporting hundreds of Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies to their deaths; and Soeren Kam, a former member of the SS wanted by Denmark for the assassination of a journalist in 1943.
His extradition from Germany was blocked last year by a Bavarian court that found insufficient evidence for murder charges.
The hunt for Heim has taken investigators from the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg all around the world. Besides his home country of Austria and neighboring Germany where he settled after the war, tips have come from Uruguay in 1998, Spain, Switzerland and Chile in 2005, and Brazil in 2006, said Heinz Heister, presiding judge of the Baden-Baden state court, where Heim was indicted in absentia on hundreds of counts of murder in 1979.
Thousands of German war criminals were prosecuted in West Germany after World War II. In the 1970s, Western democracies began a hunt in earnest for Eastern European collaborators who had fled West claiming to be refugees from communism, and the end of the Cold War gave access to a trove of communist files in the 1990s.
The Wiesenthal Center’s previous annual survey counted 1,019 investigations under way worldwide. The number is lower this year and inexact because not all countries responded, but new investigations were up from 63 to 202, Zuroff said.