Alois Brunner, a high-ranking SS officer who helped run the concentration camps and was convicted and condemned in absentia for Nazi war crimes, died only recently after spending his twilight years as a trusted terrorism adviser to then-Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, according to a New York Times report.
Brunner—who was the main assistant to Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann—is believed to have been personally responsible for the deportation and extermination of hundreds of thousands of Jews in World War II, according to the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center, which released details about Brunner's life in Syria after a recent media inquiry.
A. M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of The New York Times, wrote in 1991 that foreigners had "spoken with him and occasionally photographed him" at his home at 7, rue Haddad. A French newsletter reported his death in 1992, but it was never confirmed.
[Wiesenthal Center Israel director Efraim] Zuroff said Mr. Brunner had advised former President Hafez al-Assad of Syria on security and terrorism, and "the mistreatment of the Syrian Jewish community." Over the years, he added, Brunner lost an eye and three fingers opening two letter bombs, "but unfortunately, they didn't kill him."
Called "the world's most-wanted war criminal" by the Jerusalem Post in 1996, Brunner's presence in Syria was long hinted-at, even by the Syrian regime itself. But the pursuit went nowhere, especially after German intelligence officials in the mid-90s reportedly destroyed hundreds of pages of documents they'd collected on Brunner over the years.
Zuroff wasn't completely clear on when Brunner had died, but it appeared to be before 2010, and the complete crumbling of Syria under the civil war that's short on good guys and long on actors like current dictator Bashar al-Assad and the fighters of the so-called Islamic State.
Brunner had been sentenced to death in absentia by the French in the 1950s. He was known to have surfaced publicly only once after the war, Zuroff told the Times:
"The only known interview we have with him was to a German newsmagazine in 1985, in which he was asked if he had any regrets, and he said, 'My only regret is I didn't murder more Jews.' "