One of the world’s most wanted Nazi war criminals died in 2001 aged 89 after spending more than a decade incarcerated in a dilapidated Damascus basement, a French magazine has said.
The Revue XXI magazine reported that Austrian-born SS commander Alois Brunner spent his last years living in squalid conditions.
It said he remained a fervent anti-Semite right up to his death.
Brunner is accused of deporting more than 128,000 Jews to death camps.
He was in charge of the Drancy internment camp outside Paris where Jews rounded up in France were held before being sent to the death camps. An estimated 345 children were among his victims.
For many years there has been uncertainty as to whether Brunner – born in 1912 – is still alive, although the chief investigator pursuing him told the BBC in 2014 that he believed Brunner died in 2010 in Damascus.
Brunner is believed to have fled to Syria in the 1950s from West Germany, reportedly serving later as an adviser to the Syrian government on torture tactics before being shunned by the authorities.
The latest investigation by the Revue XXI magazine (in French) quotes one of Brunner’s guards as saying that he “suffered and cried a lot in his final years, [and] everyone heard him”.
The guard, identified only as Omar, said Brunner survived on meagre army rations in the last years of his life.
The magazine’s findings have been welcomed by renowned Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld.
“We are satisfied to learn that he lived badly rather than well,” Mr Klarsfeld told the AFP news agency.
Brunner was removed in April 2014 from the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s most wanted list, in a move signifying that it too considered him to be dead.
The SS commander played a key role in the implementation of Hitler’s “Final Solution” to murder Jews and has been described by Nazi hunters as “a monster”, responsible for sending 47,000 Jews in Austria, 44,000 in Greece, 23,500 in France and 14,000 in Slovakia to camps where most were murdered.
- Was once described by Adolf Eichmann – the architect of the “Final Solution” – as one of his best men
- Eichmann dispatched Brunner wherever he felt round-ups of Jews were proceeding too slowly
- From June 1943 until the liberation of France, he sent thousands of Jews to their almost certain deaths
- He waged a reign of terror on the French Riviera, hunting down Jews who had sought refuge in the relative safety of the Italian-occupied zone
- It is widely believed that he lived under the false name of Georg Fischer while in Syria – and that successive regimes offered him protection
- Syria has repeatedly denied harbouring him
In 2001 he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment by a court in France and is reported to have survived at least two Israeli intelligence assassination attempts while in Syria in 1961 and 1980.