The Simon Wiesenthal Center is extending a campaign to search for aging Nazis to South America, where investigators said they believe Aribert Heim, one of the most sought-after suspected war criminals, is hiding.
Heim is accused of performing gruesome experiments on concentration camp prisoners
The Simon Wiesenthal Center will launch what may be the final phase of its "Operation: Last Chance" to nab wanted Nazi war criminals in four South American countries this week, a spokeswoman for the center's Jerusalem office said on Monday, Nov. 26.
The project, which began in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in July 2002, offers financial rewards for information which leads to the prosecution and punishment of Nazi war criminals still at large.
More than 60 years after the fall of the Third Reich, the Jewish rights group said it had found new leads that Heim, known as "Dr. Death" for performing gruesome medical experiments on concentration camp victims, is hiding in South America.
Tangle of clues
The search for Heim has brought Zuroff through Europe to South America
"We could be closer to him than we have been for a long time," Efraim Zuroff, head of the Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office and chief Nazi hunter, told the DPA news agency on Monday.
While Heim's family has said he died in 1993 in Argentina, investigators continue to search for the man, who has been unseen since he left a gynecological practice in the German city of Baden-Baden in 1962, with leads pointing to Germany, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Venezuela, Chile and Uruguay. Some believe Heim was executed by Israeli intelligence agents in 1982. If alive, Heim would be 93 years old.
Zuroff said the center estimates that "dozens, if not hundreds" of suspected Nazi war criminals are currently hiding in South America.
Zuroff was in Buenos Aires to extend the center's search for Nazis wanted for war crimes to Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. The center estimates that between 150 and 300 suspected war criminals entered Argentina after Germany's defeat in World War II.
Infamous Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele died in Brazil in 1979
"Given the large number of Nazi war criminals and collaborators who escaped to South America, the launching of 'Operation: Last Chance' in these counties has the potential to yield important results," Zuroff said in a statement.
According to the center, the program has yielded the names of 488 suspects in 20 countries and referred 99 of the cases to local prosecutors. In addition to dozens of ongoing investigations, there have been three arrest warrants and two extradition requests.
"The problem is not finding these people, but getting them into a courtroom," Zuroff told Israel's Jerusalem Post. "Political will is turning out to be more difficult than finding information and catching the suspects."