By Mark Weber
(8 April 1912 – c. 2010)
“I first heard about gas chambers after the end of the war,” says Alois Brunner, the “most wanted Nazi war criminal” still at large.
Following the Anschluss with Austria in 1938, SS Captain Brunner directed the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna, through which large numbers of Jews migrated to foreign countries.
The man known as “Eichmann’s right hand” later organized deportations of Jews from Berlin, France, Slovakia and Greece to ghettos and camps in eastern Europe.
Since the 1950s he has been living in exile in Damascus, Syria, under the name of “Georg Fischer.” Letter bomb attacks in 1961 and 1980 cost him one eye and the fingers of his left hand. Bodyguards constantly protect Brunner, who is now 76 or 77 years old; West Germany, Austria and France have asked for his extradition.
In 1985, the West German magazine Bunte published an interview in Damascus with Brunner, accompanied with color photographs. He told the Munich weekly that he had “no bad conscience” about his wartime work. Two years later, a rather widely reported Chicago Tribune interview gave the impression that an unrepentant Brunner admitted involvement in exterminating Jews.
What are the facts? Was Brunner really a mass murderer?
To pin down the truth, Austrian journalist Gerd Honsik flew to Damascus to interview Brunner. Honsik publishes the Austrian periodical Halt, which first made public the important 1948 Müller/Lachout document. (See the Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1988.)
Honsik met and talked at some length with Brunner in August 1987 in his apartment in the Syrian capital. Honsik reported in some detail on the meeting in his book, Freispruch fur Hitler?, which was published last year in Vienna. The illustrated work, which has been banned in Austria, is a collection of statements by 36 “witnesses,” including six former concentration camp inmates and several historians.
Brunner is a bitter and temperamental old man, reports Honsik, and it took some time to win his confidence.
“When did you learn about the gassing of Jews?” Honsik asked. Brunner’s reply: “After the war, from the newspapers!”