PARIS -- Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner, who was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 130,000 Jews, died in 2001 at the age of 89, locked up in a squalid Damascus basement, a French magazine reported Wednesday.
Its investigation — described as “highly credible” by veteran Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld — aims at resolving the fate of one of the most notorious figures of the Holocaust.
Three ex-members of the Syrian secret service interviewed by the magazine XXI said Adolf Eichmann’s former assistant spent his last years in miserable conditions underneath an apartment block in the Syrian capital.
The Austrian-born SS commander was in charge of the Drancy camp north of Paris from which Jews in occupied France were sent to the gas chambers.
He remained to the end an unrepentant Nazi and anti-Semite, the sources told XXI.
One of his guards said Brunner, who went by the name of Abu Hussein, “suffered and cried a lot in his final years, everyone heard him”.
The man, identified only as Omar, said he “couldn’t even wash”.
All he had to eat were “army rations — awful stuff — and an egg or a potato. He had to chose one or the other.”
The circumstances of Brunner’s final years have remained an enigma for decades.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Vienna, which tracks down former Nazis, had declared that he had died in Damascus in 2010.
Klarsfeld, a prominent lawyer and historian, flew to Syria with his wife and fellow investigator Beate in 1982 to urge the Assad regime to expel him.
Klarsfeld’s father was arrested in Nice in September 1943 in an SS roundup led by Brunner. He later died in Auschwitz.
Eichmann, one of the architects of the so-called Final Solution who was hanged in Israel in 1962, called Brunner his “right-hand man”.
“We are satisfied to learn that he lived badly rather than well,” Klarsfeld told AFP.
“XXI’s investigation is highly credible. They have questioned someone who knew him at close quarters,” he added.
Brunner slipped through the Allies’ hands at the end of the war.
He left Germany for Egypt in 1953 with a passport in the name of Georg Fischer.
He worked for a time running guns to the Algerian independence movement, the FLN, before moving to Syria the following year.