Sidelight on Damascus' "dirty secret" might illuminate others' crimes
"WHAT did I do?" ALOIS BRUNNER, alias GEORG FISCHER, Nazi with a long career
POET and broadcaster Michael Rosen shined a torch into a neglected if not hidden corner of Syria's political history with a letter in the Guardian last week:
One dirty secret that might have light shone on it as a consequence of the Syrian conflict (Report, 16 October) concerns the fate of Alois Brunner. In 2003, the Guardian described him as "the world's highest-ranking Nazi fugitive believed still alive" and he was reported to be last seen in Syria. As a captain in the SS and under the command of Adolf Eichmann, he was personally responsible for thousands of deportations from Austria, Greece, Slovakia and France.
My family has a personal interest in knowing more as Brunner deported my father's uncle and aunt from the Hotel Excelsior in Nice to Drancy, from where they were taken to Auschwitz. It has not been established how he evaded capture in 1945, how he made his way to Syria or how he lived there. Lives are being lost and international interests being played out in Syria. I wouldn't want the story of Brunner to be any kind of trophy or bargaining chip in all this. I would hope that as and when the people of Syria find peace and justice they are also able to tell us more of what he did, what happened to him and why.
LondonThough I can't claiim any family or personal interest like Mike's in investigating Brunner and his crimes, I did think it worth putting a word in, and wrote to the Guardian myself:
Amid the killing and turmoil happening in Syria, Michael Rosen is quite right to remind us that a perpetrator of past horrors found employment and refuge there. (Guardian Letter October 18). What seems to be known is that Eichman's number 2. Alois Brunner, was enlisted like many another Nazi by Reinhard Gehlen's spy network which worked for the Americans for a time before becoming the official intelligence service of the German Federal Republic.
In his book "The Game of Nations", former CIA man Miles Copeland who served in both Damascus and Cairo boasted of how he arranged for Nazis to take intellgence and security posts in Arab countries in order to counter communist influence. Alois Brunner became an adviser to the Syrian government and doubtless found ample use for Gestapo and SS experience. Uncovering such stories is relevant today both for understanding the darker aspects of Middle East history and weighing the claims of some Western institutions and agencies to be bearers of democracy and freedom.
I expect the Guardian letters editor had more than enough correspondence on other matters to sort out this week, what with the TUC march against austerity, the US presidential contest, and the row over Jimmy Saville and the BBC, not forgetting the continuing conflict in Syria too. Libya seems to have flared up again too (though I'll be interested to see how if at all that is reported by British media). There has been bombing in Gaza, car bombing in Beirut, and angry demonstrations in Kuwait. So one letter focusing on an old Nazi either dead or in his nineties in Damascus may have seemed like stretching topicality enough.
Still, well done to Michael Rosen for managing to raise the question of Brunner, who seems to have remained an unepentent Nazi murderer to the end. Here's what Wikipedia says:
It has been alleged that Brunner found a working relationship after WWII with the Gehlen Organization.It seems he was not the only one to go to Damascus. Walter Rauff, who invented the mobile gas chamber to ease the work of Nazi troops and einsatzgruppen on the Rusian front, and was later sent to undertake similar operations in North Africa, was another who found a niche in the Syrian capital for a time. Rauff is said to have served various intelligence, including Mossad and MI6 in his time, and ended up helping run Pinochet's DINA secret police in Chile, where he died peacefully at home.
He then fled Germany only in 1954, on a fake Red Cross passport, first to Rome, then Egypt where he worked as a weapons dealer, and then to Syria, where he took the pseudonym of Dr. Georg Fischer. In Syria, he was allegedly hired as a "government advisor" — with some suggesting he was advising the Syrian dictatorship on torture and repression techniques, some dating from his time as an SS torturer. Syria has constantly refused entry to French investigators as well as to Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld who spent nearly 15 years bringing the case to court in France. Simon Wiesenthal tried unsuccessfully to trace Brunner's whereabouts.
In his 1980s interview by the German magazine Bunte, Brunner declared that his sole regret was not having murdered more Jews. In a 1987 telephone interview to the Chicago Sun Times, he stated: "The Jews deserved to die. They were garbage, I have no regrets. If I had the chance I would do it again...
As for Brunner, who was reported to be living in Damascus under the alias of Dr. Georg Fischer.there were unconfirmed reports in 1999 that he may have died in 1996, but he was reportedly sighted in 2001. There some reports suggesting he was no longer in Syria, but these seemed unsubstantiated. In 2011, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the German intelligence service BND had destroyed its file on Brunner in the 1990s, and that remarks in remaining files contain conflicting statements as to whether Brunner had worked for the BND at some point.
It is possible that contact with wanted Nazis like Brunner were handled indirectly, via the old Nazi commando Otto Skorzeny, who had his own web at the same rime as running an arms business in Spain.
Uncovering the full story of what Nazis like Alois Brunner were able to do while enjoying protection from regimes like that in Syria might be more than a scandal for the Federal German intelligence service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND) and the CIA. It could throw light on the way these services operated to bring about the results they wanted, in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Five years after the Iraqi revolution took Baghdad out of the imperialist-backed "Baghdad Pact", and its government began attempting to turn the petroleum industry to the service of the people, Damascus was the base for CIA-backed plots to bring down the regime of Colonel Kassem. Involved in these was a little known officer called Saddam Hussein. On the night of February 8, 1963, the Ba'athist coup took place. Kassem was shot soon after. At least 5,000 Iraqis were killed in the ywo days that followed, as the Ba'athist forces went on a house to house hunt for "communists", assisted it is said with lists of names supplied by the CIA.
Was the Americans' intelligence in Iraq that strong, or did others assist? Did West German intelligence and its Nazi assets like Brunner help and provide expertise?
We don't know.
But three years later there were far bigger scake killings as well as round ups for detention after another CIA backed coup, this time in Indonesia. And by a coincidence, after each of these right-wing coups there arrived, in Iraq and then in Indonesia, another old relic from the Nazi Reich, the banker Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, bringing economic advice..