The SS Doctor Who Converted to Islam and Escaped the Nazi Hunters
The Holocaust, as you’ll probably know, produced some of history’s worst human beings. The thing is, though, besides those who made it into your textbooks—the Hitlers, Görings and Himmlers—many escaped unscathed, free to live out the rest of their days pretending to be mild-mannered ex-pats who’d moved to Argentina simply because they preferred empanadas and polo to bratwurst and car manufacturing.
One SS member to ultimately escape prosecution was an Austrian concentration camp doctor called Aribert Heim, who later became known as “Doctor Death.” The atrocities committed in the Nazi camps have their very own scale of horror, and Heim sits somewhere near the top (his trademark was injecting gasoline into healthy people’s hearts and keeping their skulls as trophies). However, despite his horrific crimes he managed to mostly evade the authorities, and when they did finally catch up with him in the early 60s he had already fled Germany.
Almost 50 years later, New York Times journalist Souad Mekhennet got a tip that Heim had converted to Islam and had been hiding out in Cairo. Teaming up with another NYTjournalist, Nicholas Kulish, the pair decided to follow up what they’d heard, hoping to track down Heim and explain what exactly had happened after his sudden disappearance.
An article about Souad and Nicholas’ search for Heim was first published in the New York Times, before the pair turned their investigation into a book, titled The Eternal Nazi. I recently spoke to the writers about their experience, the briefcase of Heim’s possessions they were handed in Cairo and the effect the story had on them and those closest to Dr Death.
VICE: Hi guys. So let’s start at the beginning; when did you start investigating the story of Aribert Heim?
Souad Mekhennet: It started in 2008, when I received a phone call from an old source of mine. We met, and he took out this photocopied photo of Aribert Heim. He told me that he was the most-wanted Nazi doctor, “Doctor Death.” There was information that Heim used to hide out in a certain neighbourhood in Cairo, but it wasn’t confirmed. So I spoke to Nick and we decided to take on the challenge. I took this photocopy to Cairo to see if it was true. We went from small hotel to small hotel, until, on our third day, we found someone who recognized him.
What exactly had Heim done to become the most wanted Nazi in the world?
Nicholas Kulish: He worked as a Waffen-SS doctor in a series of concentration camps, including Buchenwald in Germany and Mauthausen in Austria. He was accused of committing hideous crimes in Mauthausen in 1941, including operating on healthy living patients, killing them in the process, and injecting gasoline into people’s hearts. He also used to take the skulls with particularly good teeth as trophies and keep them on his desk.