For two weeks Dr. Wilmes Teixeira and his team of 17 international experts had pored over the decaying, earth-stained bones exhumed from a grave near Säo Paulo, Brazil. Their purpose: to prove conclusively that the remains were those of the world’s most wanted Nazi war criminal, Josef Mengele. Slowly, the forensic jigsaw puzzle began to take shape. Tests showed that the age of the skeleton corresponded
with that of Mengele, who was said to have died in Brazil in 1979 at 68. Then, an examination of the skull revealed a gap between the two upper front teeth—a feature recalled by survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, where the Nazi doctor had performed sadistic experiments on Jewish victims.
Finally, last week, after the forensic team met for the last time in Säo Paulo police headquarters, Teixeira had an announcement: “I have no doubt that the remains belong to Josef Mengele.” Other experts confirmed Teixeira’s judgment, explaining that the skull and teeth had matched perfectly with Mengele’s Waffen SS records. Said Dr. Lowell Levine, a New York City police department dental specialist: “It’s him; there’s no way it’s not him.”
With that, the 40-year search for the Nazi “Angel of Death” appeared at last to be over. In Washington, Attorney General Edwin Meese said he was ending a five-month hunt by U.S. investigators for the man held responsible for 400,000 deaths at Auschwitz. “It is my sincere hope,” said Meese, “that this will be the final chapter in a tragic and
horrible part of world history.” Added famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who had been skeptical of the reports from Brazil: “We have no choice but to accept the findings of the experts.”
In Säo Paulo federal police chief Romeu Turna said the forensic evidence backed up testimony from an Austrian couple that Mengele had died in a 1979 swimming accident after living at a house they owned in the town of Embu,
southwest of Säo Paulo, for four years in the late 1970s. When he died, the couple buried him under the name of Wolfgang Gerhard, a Nazi sympathizer who protected Mengele and gave him his identity papers. Gerhard died in Austria in 1978. Last week, in a second search of the couple’s home, Tuma’s men discovered a tape recording of a speech by
Adolf Hitler and a Burberry raincoat that matched one worn by Mengele in a picture taken in the 1970s.
In Germany, Mengele’s son Rolf, a 41year-old lawyer, gave the Munich magazine Bunte more than 30 lb. of notebooks, letters and photographs documenting the war criminal’s life as a fugitive. In an interview with Bunte, Rolf said that his father had lived in Brazil for more than 17 years while authorities searched vainly for him in Argentina and Paraguay. Rolf said that the police “were looking for a man who lived in a white villa by the sea, with a Mercedes, protected by bodyguards and Alsatian dogs.” Instead, said Rolf, Mengele wore shabby clothes and subsisted on a family stipend of $150 to $200 a month. “Nobody,” he added, “thought of looking for [him] behind such a shabby facade.”
According to Mengele’s correspondence with his son, the former SS officer worked as a groom in a small Bavarian town for four years following the war before escaping to South America in 1949. Rolf first met his father at the age of 12,when Mengele, using the name Helmut Gregor, invited him for a skiing holiday in 1956. Only three years later did he learn that “Uncle” Helmut was his father. The two had only one more encounter, when Rolf visited Brazil in 1977 to find Mengele living like a “hunted creature.” The old man was bitter at his exile but insisted he had “not the slightest cause” to apologize for his wartime deeds. When Rolf suggested that he submit to justice, Mengele replied: “For me there are no judges, only revenge seekers.”
With the confirmation of Mengele’s death, many Jews felt cheated. “One so immeasurably evil somehow should not have lived and died in so commonplace a way,” said Nathan Perlmutter, U.S. director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith. Others said the sensation over Mengele’s demise may have done some good. Said Säo Paulo’s leading rabbi, Henry Sobell: “This is making people aware of the Holocaust—and that’s what world Jewry is aiming ^ for.” -MARCUS GEE, 5 with Richard House in z Säo Paulo and Peter Lewis in Bonn.
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