An international Jewish human rights organization said Thursday it had "serious doubts" about whether former Nazi Aribert Heim, dubbed Dr. Death, died in Cairo in 1992.
Aribert Heim was being hunted by both Germany and Austria
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said reports Wednesday by German TV broadcaster ZDF and The New York Times that Heim passed away in Egypt 17 years ago could not be proven because the whereabouts of his body remained unknown.
ZDF was set to air a 45-minute documentary Thursday evening making the case that the SS doctor lived incognito in Cairo off rents from his Berlin apartments. The documentary asserts that he converted to Islam and died at 78 of cancer in a hotel room with his German son caring for him.
Investigative journalists from ZDF and the Times showed photos of Heim's dusty old satchel of documents from the hotel.
ZDF and the Times said they also had Heim's death certificate, his assumed Arabic name, Tarek Hussein Farid, and his correct date of birth, June 28, 1914.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center had Heim at the top of its most-wanted list
The Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office has a mandate to hunt former Nazi war criminals like Heim. Efraim Zuroff, director at the office, said there was no doubt Heim had resided in Egypt after he fled Germany when the Nazis were crushed.
"But the question is whether he died in Egypt. We have serious doubts about that," Zuroff said. "There's no grave, there's no body. We can't do any DNA testing."
Heim was given the name Dr. Death for injecting concentration camp inmates with gasoline and performing surgery and removing organs without using anesthesia.
He is alleged to have killed hundreds of Jews at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria and is the most hunted surviving member of the Nazi regime that killed 6 million Jews during the war. He has been missing since 1962 after escaping a search by German police. The reward for locating Heim recently tripled to 1 million euros.
Germany, Austria unconvinced
Some estimates say more than a quarter million prisoners died at Mauthausen
Zuroff said the Simon Wiesenthal Center had not closed the book on Heim, adding that German police had told him they had also not taken as truth the reports of his Cairo death.
Joachim Riedel, deputy head of Germany's national office on war crimes, told German news agency DPA: "I'm still not convinced that this finding is correct. It could be that somebody is supposed to be fooled by this."
Riedel added it was a proven fact that other Nazi war-crimes suspects had planted false evidence of their own deaths. German police said they were considering beginning a search for Heim's grave.
Austria's Justice Ministry said it would further investigate the reports of Heim's death before deciding whether to end its own search.
"The search will remain open until it has been verified that he is dead," a spokesman from Austria's Criminal Intelligence Service said. A criminal case against Heim for murder and genocide has been pending for years in Austria.
Historians: Heim not lone Nazi in Egypt
Many former SS members were believed to have escaped to Egypt
But Heim's son, Ruediger, told ZDF his father died of cancer of the rectum on Aug. 10, 1992, after having lived in Cairo 30 years under an assumed name.
ZDF's website contained a two-hour interview with Ruediger Heim describing in detail the suspect's final years and death.
Historians say that Heim was not the only Nazi to seek refuge in Egypt after World War II, and that it is common knowledge that several Nazis were employed by the Egyptian government after 1956 to generate propaganda against Israel after its establishment in 1948.
Johann Von Leers, who had close associations with Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, was made head of the anti-Zionist propaganda service at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said Nazi era historian Kurt Tauber.
Tauber said Egypt's post-war ministries of information and defense hired former SS and SA officers such as Louis Heiden, Walter Bollmann and Wilhelm Bocker.