Death on the Nile A Nazi War Criminal's Last Years in Cairo

Aribert Heim, a former concentration camp doctor, apparently received support from his family in Germany as he hid for decades in Egypt. His family allegedly visited him without attracting the attention of authorities and kept mum about his death for 16 years.

By , Amira El Ahl and


The body of former concentration camp doctor Aribert Heim still hasn't been recovered.
DDP

The body of former concentration camp doctor Aribert Heim still hasn't been recovered.

Ataba is a neighborhood in Cairo where tourists rarely go astray. This was probably precisely what made it such a perfect hiding place for the tall German man. Abd al-Hakim Duma remembers the slim, athletic man well. Everyone in the neighborhood called him "the foreigner."

Duma's father owned the Hotel Kasr al-Medina on Port Said Street. The foreigner lived in a plain room on the eighth floor, directly adjacent to the Duma family. "He often came to our apartment for lunch," Abd al-Hakim Duma recalls. After converting to Islam, the German, who spoke fluent Arabic, took the name Tarek Hussein Farid. He was like an uncle to the children, often taking them along on his walks. He cited "problems with his family" at home in Germany as the reason that he emigrated to Egypt.

But his problems were of a more existential nature. The hotel in Cairo was apparently the last refuge for Aribert Heim, who is believed to have committed atrocities and murder at the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1941 and had been sought by police since 1962. Last week the New York Times and Germany's ZDF television network aired some of the mysteries surrounding the former Nazi's fate. According to their accounts, Heim died of cancer in Cairo on Aug. 10, 1992, at the age of 78. Several witnesses, including Heim's son Rüdiger, and file full of documents allegedly described his life in hiding.

The news of this death on the Nile marks the preliminary end of a decades-long hunt around the globe. But the details also attest to the embarrassingly lax work of the German investigators, who searched for Heim around the world after he had fled Germany in 1962. As far back as 1965 and 1967, the investigators had uncovered clues that Heim was living in Egypt. The German officials mailed friendly requests to the Egyptian authorities, and when they were unable to contribute in a substantive way, the Germans let the matter drop. They failed to notice the regular trips family members were apparently making between Germany and Egypt at the time.

Aribert Ferdinand Heim allegedly lived in the Kasr el Madina Hotel in Cairo's popular El Muski neighborhood.
DPA

Aribert Ferdinand Heim allegedly lived in the Kasr el Madina Hotel in Cairo's popular El Muski neighborhood.

According to information SPIEGEL has obtained, Rüdiger Heim was not the only one to visit the convert with a Nazi past in his new home on the Nile. His sister, his Frankfurt attorney and his mother-in-law are also believed to have met with Heim. Of all his relatives, he could rely most on his sister Hertha.

According to information recently uncovered, she was the one who brought cash to Switzerland in a suitcase and transferred it to Egypt from there, using Heim's only slightly modified name (he simply used his middle name, Ferdinand, as his first name). Heim used the money to buy more than just chocolate cake, too. Using a middleman, he bought property, including the Hotel Baghdad and an apartment in Alexandria. Investigators at the time also completely missed the flow of money to Egypt, which was only moderately concealed. Heim's sister, who had always held a protective hand over her brother and his memory, died in 1997. Shortly before her death, she told an acquaintance in Vienna that her brother had died of cancer. But she lied about the place of his death, telling her friend that Heim had passed away in South America. His other confidants remained tight-lipped. Only six months ago, Heim's son Rüdiger said: "If he is dead, I don't know where he is buried."

Investigators suspected for years that Rüdiger Heim knew more than he was saying. They questioned him repeatedly, even after they had received new clues about Egypt in 2004. This time they had a contact make inquiries locally, although he was unable to find a single one of the numerous clues that have now emerged.

Heim apparently lived on this street in Cairo, evading German investigators for decades.
AP

Heim apparently lived on this street in Cairo, evading German investigators for decades.

The investigators are irritated by the revelation that Heim's family, living in the southwestern German city of Baden-Baden, had not reported the fugitive's death in the last 16 years. Their doubts are also fueled by a current clue, unearthed in late January, that Heim supposedly lives in Spain and still receives money from family and friends. For this reason, the investigators are not yet prepared to close the case. Experts are still perplexed by the missing body and the strange role played by Heim's son Rüdiger. He claims to have been by his father's side when he died, but that he knows nothing about the whereabouts of the body. The Stuttgart investigators' next step is to search for DNA evidence in Cairo.

A fully packed briefcase belonging to Haim, which has now surfaced, closes some gaps in information about the suspected war criminal's spectacular run from the law. One of the documents is an eight-page letter to SPIEGEL, dated March 19, 1979, as a "response" to an article the magazine published about Heim's dark past. In the letter, which he never sent, Heim sets aside suspicions that he had received an insider tip before his abrupt disappearance in 1962. It was "pure coincide," Heim writes, "that the police were unable to arrest me, because (I) happened to be away from my house on business at the time."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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