One of the Cruelest Nazis

Haaretz Staff
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Haaretz Staff

The Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner was responsible for sending 140,000 Jews to the death camps. (His great-niece wrote 130,000, but reports published in Israel speak of 140,000). He is recognized as being one of the cruelest Nazis.

Brunner was born in Austria in 1912. He became an SS officer and deputy to Adolf Eichmann. After the war, Germany, France, Austria and Greece sought his extradition. In 2001 he was tried in absentia in Paris, and sentenced to life imprisonment after a single day of deliberations. The court was told of Brunner's career as a senior aide to Eichmann, from a description of a shipment of 47,000 Jews from Thessaloniki to Auschwitz and a mention of his contribution to deporting the Jewish communities of Vienna and Berlin and his behavior as commandant of the Drancy concentration camp in France .

After 1945 Brunner eluded capture in the chaos that prevailed in postwar Germany. He worked as a coal miner under an alias. His disguise was so successful that in 1954 he was selected by his Communist colleagues to the workers' committee. That same year he was convicted in absentia of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. He disappeared at around that time, traveling first to Egypt and then to Syria where he took the alias Georg Fischer.

In Damascus, Brunner quickly made friends in the Syrian government and helped to establish the country's secret service. He made a fortune importing alcoholic beverages and trading in real estate.

In 1999, a French newspaper reported that Brunner had died of old age three years earlier, but a French judge who investigated the matter determined that he was still alive and living in Damascus. He has never been captured and his hiding place has never been determined for certain.

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