The German intelligence service destroyed the file of the world's most-wanted Nazi criminal, Alois Brunner, and may have tried to recruit him into its ranks, Der Spiegel reported over the weekend.
Brunner, who worked closely with Adolf Eichmann, assisted in the deportation of some 130,000 Jews to extermination camps. After the war, he escaped to Damascus. There has been no recent information as to his whereabouts or even whether he is alive. If so, he would be 99 years old.
According to the news magazine, the German intelligence service, the BND, destroyed all 581 pages of the Brunner file in the 1990s. This raised suspicions that he, like other Nazi criminals, worked after World War II on behalf of German intelligence and came under its protection.
Historians working for the BND found that an order was given to erase Brunner's files from its computers at some point between 1994 and 1997, at the time of the chancellorship of Conservative Helmut Kohl. The heads of the BND and Kohl's adviser on security services said over the weekend they had no knowledge of the directive.
In one of the documents cited by Der Spiegel, dated to April 22, 1994, an employee of the BND's security department wrote: "The organization needs to part with these documents." A document written three years later said: "The information-security officer made sure it was erased. Nothing remains."
The destruction of the documents raises suspicions of an effort to conceal evidence that Brunner worked as an agent for West Germany in Syria after the war. The chief historian of the BND told the magazine he would like to find the file, which would help allay such allegations.
Austria-born Brunner was a close aide to Eichmann and assisted in deporting a large number of Jews, mostly from France. He escaped using a false identity after the war, and in the 1960s moved to Syria. He began working as a special adviser to the government there, and became close friends with future President Hafez Assad.
Brunner was tried in absentia several times, and was convicted of crimes against humanity. In 1961 and 1980, he was injured by postal bombs sent by Mossad agents, losing several fingers and one eye.
He never expressed remorse for his actions, saying in an interview in 1987 that "the Jews needed to die. They were trash. If I could, I would do it all again."
The scandal over Brunner's file is just the latest in a series of embarrassing revelations about the BND. Among these, it was reported recently that the service knew of Eichmann's hideout in Argentina about eight years before his abduction by the Mossad and his transfer to Israel for trial and execution, and also that it employed Nazi criminal Klaus Barbie - commander of the Gestapo in the French city of Lyon - known as the Butcher of Lyon. Barbie was eventually extradited to France from Bolivia. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, and died in prison of leukemia in 1991.
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