To Nazi hunters, Aribert Heim is the most coveted target still at large. The German and Austrian governments, as well as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, all believe that the so-called Butcher of Mauthausen is alive, and they are offering $430,000 for information on him. They periodically send investigators around the world to find him, most recently to Chile.
There is just one small problem: Heim is now said to be dead, executed in 1982 in California by a secretive cell of Jewish avengers.
So, at least, says Danny Baz, a retired Israeli air force colonel who claims he was a member of The Owl, a covert Jewish death squad made up of former American and Israeli military and intelligence officials. Baz claims that the group spent years tracking down and killing Nazis who fled to the Western Hemisphere after World War II.
Baz’s sensational allegations appear in “Not Forgotten or Forgiven: On the Trail of the Last Nazi,” a memoir released last month by mainstream publisher Grasset in France, where it received broad media coverage.
Baz has been fiercely condemned by the Wiesenthal Center and other Nazi hunters since the book appeared in mid-October. The American government backs the critics.
“This is a bunch of baloney,” said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations at the U.S. Justice Department. “What is true is that there is a real person who calls himself Danny Baz and is trying to make some money with this book at the expense of the truth.”
Baz and his publisher turned down requests for an interview or comment. Aline Gurdiel, a Grasset spokeswoman, said Baz granted interviews only in France when the book was launched and that he would not comment by phone or e-mail.
The Austrian-born Heim, who would be 93 today, is known for carrying out grotesque medical experiments on inmates of the Mauthausen camp in 1941, including the removal of human organs, with no use of an anesthetic, to see how long victims lived. After World War II, he spent two years in prison before resuming work as a physician in the German city of Baden-Baden.
Following the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1962, Western countries boosted efforts to find Nazis around the world. In Germany, Heim disappeared just before he was to be arrested in 1962. Sightings have been reported over the years in Egypt, Uruguay and Spain. Chilean media reported this summer that German investigators had come there and questioned his family.
Baz’s book, which he wrote with investigative reporter Fabrizio Calvi, claims that Heim was in fact executed in California after first being located by The Owl in 1980 in the Catskills region near New York, where he could count on a small cadre of loyalists and on wealth he reportedly spirited out of the Third Reich.
Baz writes that The Owl was created by a former concentration camp prisoner identified as “Barney,” who later became a wealthy oil magnate. “Barney” allegedly survived a Heim torture session and dedicated an “unlimited” budget to eliminating Nazis. The Owl also received support from higher-ups in the CIA, the FBI and Israeli intelligence, Baz claims. The organization purportedly folded after eliminating Heim and his aides.
The book reads like a James Bond novel, with brave Jewish heroes fighting nasty, heavily armed Nazis. It includes wild chases by boat, helicopter and airplane, cutting-edge technology and even a small love affair. The 18-month chase ranged from the Catskills to Alaska to Canada, where “Doctor Death” was allegedly snatched from a hospital and shipped to Santa Catalina Island in California for “trial” and execution in 1982.
There is no evidence in the book to support the allegation — Baz claims he doesn’t even know where the body is buried — and only three people are identified, two of them deceased. One is Ted Arison, the Israeli-born billionaire founder of Carnival Cruise Lines and of the Miami Heat basketball franchise, who died in 1999. Baz claims that Arison introduced him to the group in New York in 1980. Arisons’s son, Mickey Arison, speaking through a representative, called the allegations “completely untrue.”
Another character is former Mossad chief Isser Harel, who purportedly confirmed to Baz that Heim was hiding in the United States. Harel died in 2003. To the Justice Department’s Rosenbaum, this alone is evidence that the book is fictional, “with ‘movie’ written all over it.”
“I knew Isser Harel quite well,” Rosenbaum said, “and I can tell you that he would have told us immediately if Heim was in the U.S, where there is an outstanding warrant against him.” There is no indication that Heim ever set foot on American soil, he added.
The only character still alive is Israeli writer Naomi Frankel. She could not be reached for comment.
Heim is number two on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of targets under “Operation Last Chance,” a effort to track down Nazi criminals. Number one is Alois Brunner, who is believed to be in Syria, though many experts think he is dead. A prize totaling 310,000 euros ($434,000) is offered for information leading to Heim’s arrest, including 130,000 euros from the Wiesenthal Center.
Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel director, dismissed Baz’s claims as “pure fantasy,” but said that they could, in the end, help stir up new leads. Zuroff added that he had “good reasons” to believe that Heim is alive and probably in Spain or Latin America.