mengele. (photo credit:Courtesy)
Previously classified Mossad files about the spy agency’s unsuccessful attempts to capture notorious Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele will be available to the public later this week
The reports, photographs and maps from the code-named “Meltzer File” about the chase after the so-called “Angel of Death” are among three volumes put together by the Mossad’s history unit about operations to capture Nazi war criminals spanning from 1959 to 1991.
The documents were recently passed on by the Mossad to Yad Vashem; its publishing will mark the first time Israel’s intelligence agency is publicly releasing such files, in acknowledgment of the historic importance of their content.
The author of the study is Yosef Chen, 81, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who came to Israel on the Exodus ship in 1947 and joined the Mossad in 1976. He spent the last seven to eight years working on this book.
One of the documents, viewed by The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew-language sister publication Maariv, contains the conclusion of secret cabinet meeting called by then-prime minister Menachem Begin in 1977: “We decided to instruct the Mossad to renew the search for Nazi war criminals, especially Joseph Mengele, with a view to bring them to trial in Israel. If they cannot be brought to trial – kill them.”
The infamous German doctor is known for carrying out genetic experiments on Auschwitz prisoners, as well as being in charge of selecting who would be sent to the gas chambers, resulting in the “Angel of Death” nickname.
According to Yediot Aharonot, the file describes bold hacks, wiretapping and complicated schemes to try and track down Mengele. In one of these operations, Mossad agents believed they had come close to capturing him – an account that was already known but had never before been confirmed by the Mossad. In 1962 Mossad agent Zvi Aharoni and his team located a man in Brazil whom they believed to be Mengele; however, they never received authorization to act. Various reasons are given as to why then-Mossad director Isser Harel decided to suspend the operation at that time, including operational, political and budgetary concerns.
But Chen told the Post on Tuesday that the reason was that the suspected man was seemingly not Mengele.
“They saw someone who they thought was him. There was somebody who was more certain it was him and someone else who was less certain and it was not entirely clear if it was him. In any case, you can’t do anything upon first sighting. You have to gather all the information and to check all possibilities and then to decide what to do,” he said, asserting that this procedure was followed. “Somebody thought it was him and in the end of the day it was seemingly not him,” he said, emphasizing the word “seemingly.” “But we can’t say for sure whether or not it was him. It’s correct that he was suspected.”
“A lot of years and time and many attempts went into trying to trap Mengele and it’s a shame they didn’t reach the desired goal,” Chen added, though he stressed it was not for want of trying.
“All paths lead to Rome. There is no path they didn’t try… There was a certain hardship because they didn’t know exactly where he was,” he said, adding that in hindsight they know he was in Brazil, but most of the search efforts in that area were for Adolf Eichmann, whom the Mossad caught in 1960 in Argentina.
“For Eichmann they had more accurate information. One of the main reasons, I think, was that Mengele protected a rich family – his family in Germany who knew well where he was and helped him financially and helped him find cover and gave excellent financial [backing] to those who helped him hide, and that helped him a lot.
“But to our happiness we know he lived like a dog being hunted – he was hiding for dozens of years in fear that he would be found,” Chen said.
Other plots detailed in the book, as reported by Yediot Aharonot, involved attempts in 1983 to trace Mengele via his son Rolf, who was living in West Berlin. One plan was to listen to an anticipated phone call between the father and son of their shared birthday. Another involved a honey trap. But neither plan worked since Mengele had died four years earlier.
Chen spoke of the “great lengths” that were gone through to chase after Nazi war criminals, however, it seems as though the Mossad had comparatively few victories. Without wishing to use the term “failure” when questioned about this, Chen says “in every case where the objective is not accomplished, that is not a success – and the goal was not achieved, at least not with Mengele. With Eichmann it was… Of course there were more [Nazi war criminals] but Israel could not run after all of them.”
Though Chen was surprised on Tuesday morning to discover that excerpts of the documents were published in newspapers, he is glad about the move. “I definitely think the people of Israel needs to known and learn this story well in the most accurate way – and what I published is the most accurate publication about the hunt for Nazi war criminals.”
Yad Vashem officials also welcomed the decision to hand over the papers. “This important report, based on archival documents, will be made available over the coming days, to researchers and the general public both online and in our Library,” Dr. Haim Gertner, director of Yad Vashem’s Archives Division and holder of the Fred Hillman Chair for Holocaust Documentation, said in a statement. “The Yad Vashem Archives, consisting of over 200 million pages of documentation, has and continues to be a valuable source of information on Nazi criminals and serves as a basis for locating criminals and bringing them to justice even today.”
Much of Mengele’s life remains a mystery. After the fall of Hitler, Mengele reportedly fled to Buenos Aires where he is believed to have lived for a decade. After Mossad agents closed in on his location, he allegedly traveled to Paraguay and then Brazil.
He drowned off the coast of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1979, after spending years on the run from Mossad agents. He was reportedly buried in a Brazilian cemetery under a false name. But investigations soon connected Mengele to his tombstone and an exhumation was ordered to prove his identity.
Mengele’s bones are being used by students at Sao Paulo University to gather information on his life fleeing authorities. The bones lay unclaimed at Sao Paulo’s morgue – the Legal Medical Institute – for years, until forensic doctor Daniel Munoz thought they would be good to use in his university course.
Reuters contributed to this report.