Image: Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff
Mauricio Saez  /  AFP - Getty Images
Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff heads "Operation Last Chance," a mission to hunt Austrian doctor Aribert Heim, 94. Heim is one of most wanted war criminals in the world.
updated 7/17/2008 3:49:47 PM ET 2008-07-17T19:49:47

The world's top Nazi hunter says he's made progress in finding 94-year-old "Doctor Death," a former concentration camp physician accused of torturing Jewish prisoners as they died and who may have been living for decades in Argentina or Chile.

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Israeli branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was ending a fact-finding mission in the southern reaches of the Americas on Thursday, saying he has received clues that may help him capture former SS doctor Aribert Heim.

Zuroff launched the investigation last week in southern Chilean fishing town of Puerto Montt, where Heim's daughter long lived. Zuroff has said she frequently traveled to the Patagonian town of San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina, which he visited this week.

"What we expected to do — and so far we have been successful — is to put in place the tools that will lead to his capture in the next few weeks — or at the most, months," Zuroff said in Bariloche.

Heim was indicted in Germany after World War II on charges he murdered hundreds of inmates at the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1941. The Wiesenthal center says he injected the corrosive poison phenol directly into the hearts of many and used "other torturous killing methods."

Zuroff says that Heim's children have made no claim to a bank account with $1.6 million and other investments in Heim's name. To do that, they would have to produce proof that "Doctor Death" was dead.

A reward of $495,000 is being offered jointly by the center and the German and Austrian governments for information leading to his capture. Heim tops the Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals.

The South American probe is part of the Jewish human rights organization's "Operation: Last Chance" — an effort to bring aging war criminals to justice before they die. If alive, Heim would be 94.

After World War II, Heim was held for two and a half years by the United States military but was released without being tried.

He disappeared in 1962 after he was tipped off that German authorities were about to indict him, Zuroff said.

"You can't obtain justice from someone who engaged in genocide," said Abraham H. Foxman, the U.S. director of the Anti-Defamation League. But he echoed Zuroff's mantra that no crime should go unpunished.

The search for Heim, Foxman said, is meant "to deliver the message to all who in the future would act in similar manners that they will not be able to have a sleepless night."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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