Alois Brunner could be in Damascus
Alois Brunner, assuming he is still in the land of the living, is about to celebrate his centenary in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Many researchers believe it. But few former Nazis have had so many conspiracy theories swirling around them as this collaborator of Adolf Eichmann who sent thousands of Jewish men, women and children to their deaths in the camps in the early 1940s.
An Austrian citizen born in April 1912, Brunner fled to Syria in the 1950s where he gave interviews to German and American newspapers. As late as 1987 he is known to have been still alive, remarking in a magazine interview, “The Jews were garbage and deserved to die.” The former SS captain added that he would do the same again if he had the chance.
All attempts to have Brunner extradited failed. Until today, the Syrian government has refused to discuss him or the possibility he might have taken up residence in Syria. There were rumours that the East German secret police, the Stasi, were about to move in and capture Brunner in an undercover operation in 1989. However, the fall of the Berlin Wall the same year ended all such hopes. Or so we are invited to believe.
As late as 2007 the Austrian government was reported offering 50,000 euros for information leading to his arrest. Now disclosures that 518 pages of secret documents on Brunner disappeared in 2011 from the German BND (the equivalent of Britain’s MI6) have caused another rash of theories, not to mention embarrassment in the security services.
The BND’s in-house historians recently revealed that staff ordered the Brunner file wiped off the computers at some point in the late 1990s. Suspicions of a cover-up have been raised because Brunner is thought to have worked for the BND in Syria, as its Damascus agent, following his flight. There still is extant a handwritten document from 1997 which records a conversation with Volker Foertsch, then head of security in the BND, in which he stated he knew for a fact that the espionage rumours about Brunner were true.
Evidence surrounding the missing Brunner file is contained in reports submitted to the BND’s then head which stated that they had contained material on the fugitive Nazi dating from 1957 to 1964, dealing with the man’s postwar life. However, these reports go on to say that there was no evidence that he had worked officially for the German or Austrian governments at any time.
The murky revelations about Brunner follow disclosures that the BND knew of Adolf Eichmann’s whereabouts prior to his capture in Argentina by Israeli agents in 1960 as well as claims that the organization regularly used Nazi war criminals as agents both in Europe and the United States.
In 2004 a new technology, facial recognition software, stated that there was a 95 percent likelihood that a wartime photo of Alois Brunner matched one of Georg Fischer taken in Syria some 40 years later. But critics said the technology was less reliable when trying to match photos of two men so many years apart. Meanwhile, there was a quite separate report that Brunner was now living in Brazil, although a supposed match of two sets of fingerprints proved false.
Finally in 2009 the Simon Wiesenthal Centre announced it was “unlikely” that Brunner was still alive but was aware that investigations were continuing. If he is still living it’s a fair bet that the Syrian government won’t announce his demise. They have a lot of other things on their mind at the moment.