An international manhunt is underway for the most wanted Nazi war criminal, Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann's top aide, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Israel Police sources said the manhunt was focused on Brazil, where authorities believed Brunner might have recently entered to hide.
Despite recent media reports that a Brazilian investigation was closed four months ago, Israel Police sources confirmed to the Post that police in Brazil and other South American countries were in the midst of a concentrated investigation after receiving intelligence information that Brunner may be hiding in Brazil. The officers said there was a "good chance" the Austrian-born Brunner was alive and in South America.
"There is an ongoing investigation, not only in Brazil but also in other South American countries," Dep.-Cmdr. Asher Ben-Artzi, the head of Israel's Interpol and Foreign Liaison Section, told the Post. "If you ask me, there is a good chance that Brunner is really hiding in Brazil."
At the beginning of the month, Ha'aretz reported that Brazilian police suspected that a man traveling under the name Alois Brunner was the Nazi war criminal, despite his claims that he was Swiss and more than 20 years younger than the real Brunner who, if alive today, would be 95.
The day after the report was published, Swiss police tracked down an Alois Brunner in Lucerne and confirmed that he was not the wanted Nazi war criminal, Ben-Artzi said.
"It turns out that the name Alois Brunner is a common name, kind of like Avraham Cohen in Israel," he said. "In addition, the man in Switzerland is much younger and, unlike the real Brunner, he has all his fingers and both eyes."
A deputy to Eichmann, Brunner assisted in implementing the Final Solution and is held directly responsible for the deaths of at least 130,000 Jews. He is believed to have spent the last 40 years hiding in Syria under the assumed name of Dr. Georg Fischer.
Ben-Artzi said Israel's police representative in South America was in constant touch with Brazilian police and was keeping tabs on the investigation, which he said was of extreme interest to Israel. The Brazilians were searching for a different man, not the one from Switzerland, who they suspected might be Brunner, he said.
If caught, Brunner would be extradited to France where he was sentenced in absentia in 2001 to life in prison on charges of crimes against humanity in a trial that reportedly lasted only several hours.
Brazil contacted Interpol in May and asked member countries, particularly Israel, for assistance in identifying a man they suspected was Brunner. When Ben-Artzi was asked to provide a set of Brunner's fingerprints, he passed the request on to Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel. The fingerprints were not found.
According to Ben-Artzi, Brazilian authorities believed Brunner might still be hiding in their country and were searching for him. "We told them that they don't need fingerprints and that it is enough to look at his hand and see that he is missing several fingers," he said.
Brunner was wounded twice by letter bombs sent to him - reportedly by the Mossad - during the 40 years he spent in Syria. In 1961 he reportedly lost his left eye in an explosion and in 1980 he lost three fingers in a similar blast.
Zuroff said he was surprised that Brazil was interested in investigating Brunner's whereabouts.
"Brazil has never expressed interest before in searching for Nazi war criminals," he said. "The only explanation is that the name Alois Brunner inspired their interest since he is the most wanted Nazi."
While he also doubted the veracity or the Brazilian motives and the possibility that Brunner was in Brazil, Zuroff said: "Brunner is such an important Nazi war criminal that any lead, no matter how slight, should be looked into."