One was a concentration camp doctor who purportedly injected poison into the hearts of Jews. The other was once an aide to Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann. Austria wants to find Alois Brunner and Aribert Heim, both in their 90s if still alive, and bring them to justice.
A notice posted on the Justice Ministry’s Web site this week features photos and descriptions of Brunner and Heim and offers rewards for information leading to their capture. Brunner, the most-wanted Nazi war criminal, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is described as having mutilated hands and only one eye, after reportedly being disfigured by mail bombs.
Justice Minister Maria Berger, in an interview Friday with Austrian radio, said she hoped the rewards would be more than a “symbolic act,” and stressed Austria would do everything possible to find the fugitives.
“I know the odds aren’t the greatest, but in particular given the ages and indications that both are possibly still alive, I think one should seize this potentially last opportunity,” she said.
Heim is “strongly suspected of murdering numerous prisoners” in the Mauthausen concentration camp by injecting poison into their hearts, according to the notice on the Web site.
Brunner is “strongly suspected of being significantly involved in the deportation of Jewish persons with the aim of murdering them,” the notice reads. Brunner lived in Syria for decades, under government protection, and was last seen there in 2001, according to the Wiesenthal Center.
Heim practiced medicine in Germany after World War II and fled after the government charged him in 1962 with killing hundreds of inmates in Germany and Austria with lethal injections. He presumably lives in Spain or South America, according to the Wiesenthal Center.
Berger acknowledged that Austria has been criticized for not doing enough to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. “For me it’s important that we now do all that can still be done,” she said.
An estimated 65,000 Austrian Jews perished in the Holocaust.
Austria has offered $69,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest of the men. The notice, available in four languages, states that only private citizens — not authorities who prosecute criminals — are eligible.
The Wiesenthal Center welcomed Austria’s move and noted that past financial rewards have “proven critical.” Camp commander Josef Schwammberger lived in Argentina for decades before a German reward led to his arrest in 1987.
'We're running out of time'
Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter, asked the Austrian government last year to match Germany’s prize of $179,450 for information leading to Heim’s capture.
“The passage of time in no way diminishes the crimes committed by Brunner and Heim and, therefore, their prosecution remains just as important, if not even more important, today than it would have been years ago,” Zuroff said in a statement.
He told The Associated Press that he hoped Austria would continue to be “more attentive” to Nazi fugitives. “We’re running out of time,” Zuroff said.