Page last updated at 07:26 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

The life and crimes of 'Dr Death'

A German television station has reported that one of the most wanted Nazi criminals, Aribert Heim, died in 1992 after living under a pseudonym in Egypt.

The BBC profiles the doctor who was accused of carrying out atrocities during World War II.

Aribert Heim - date unknown
Aribert Heim was accused of cruel medical experiments

Aribert Heim's crimes were so severe that he earned the nickname 'Dr Death'.

Born 28 June, 1914 in Radkersburg, Austria, Heim joined the local Nazi party in 1935, three years before Austria was annexed by Germany. He later joined the Waffen SS.

He earned his chilling sobriquet for his sadism as a doctor at the Nazi's Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

After World War II, Heim practised medicine in the German town of Baden-Baden until 1962, when he was indicted as a war criminal and fled the country.

The subsequent search over the following decades for the former SS medical officer took investigators from Germany all around the world.

Tips came from Uruguay, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil and Chile.

Nazi-hunters were recently confident that Heim was seeing out his twilight years near his daughter in southern Chile, or across the border in Argentine Patagonia, the region between the Andes and the south Atlantic.

Now German's ZDF television has reported that Heim had been living under a pseudonym in Egypt's capital, Cairo, had converted to Islam and actually died in 1992.

Bizarre experiments

The Austrian-born physician was indicted by Germany on charges that he murdered hundreds of inmates while serving as a doctor at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he earned his nickname.

He was accused of killing Jews using exceptionally cruel methods. According to Holocaust survivors, he performed operations and amputations without anaesthetic to see how much pain his victims could endure.

Injecting victims straight into the heart with petrol, water or poison was said to have been his favoured method at Mauthausen.

And when he was "bored", he apparently timed patients' deaths with a stopwatch.

Dr Efraim Zuroff
Efraim Zuroff believed that Heim was living in South America

One testimony from a camp survivor accuses him of cutting off the head of a murdered Jewish prisoner and boiling off the flesh to enable the skull to be used as an exhibit.

Stories like this abound. One claims that the doctor removed tattooed skin from one victim and turned it into a seat cover.

Unclaimed cash

Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's top Nazi-hunter, travelled in July to the Chilean town of Puerto Montt, 657 miles (1,058 km) south of the capital Santiago, where he said Heim's elderly daughter lives.

This was because he believed the former Nazi to be living in the area.

Heim was number one on the Center's Most Wanted List of Nazi war criminals.

Heim's daughter said that her father died in 1993 in Argentina, but a death certificate was never produced.

Neither she nor her two brothers, who live in Germany, claimed the estimated $1.5m (900,000 euros; 750,000) that sat in a European bank account in Heim's name.

Members of the Heim family have previously said their father should be declared dead.

If the reports of Heim's death turn out to be true, however, Dr Zuroff said that "the German police have a very important investigation on their hands in terms of prosecuting people who helped Aribert Heim escape justice".

He pointed out that Heim's son Ruediger has previously said that the only contact he had since his father went into hiding in 1962 were two notes that appeared in his family's mailbox, and that he had no idea if he was alive or dead.

Dr Zuroff says he wants closer examination of the evidence before he finally calls off the hunt for the infamous doctor.

"The most important thing is missing: the body," he said.

"There's no grave, there's no corpse, there's no DNA tests."

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