The son of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele asserted today that the corpse exhumed from a Brazilian cemetery last week was the remains of his father.
Breaking the long family silence on the fate of the Auschwitz concentration camp doctor, Rolf Mengele released a statement today saying "I have no doubt that the body recovered on June 6, 1985" in the graveyard near Sao Paulo was that of his fugitive father, who eluded a global manhunt for more than three decades.
"I am sure that forensic tests will confirm this shortly," Mengele said. Brazilian authorities are now examining the bones and teeth found in the grave and hope to reach definitive conclusions within two weeks. They have already detected signs of a broken hip, which Josef Mengele reportedly suffered in an accident in 1944.
The younger Mengele, who works as a lawyer in Freiburg, admitted he went to the burial site in 1979 to check the circumstances of his father's death.
"I have kept silent until now out of consideration for the people who were in contact with my father for the last 30 years," Rolf Mengele said.
It was the first time a family member publicly avowed that the man known as the "Angel of Death" was no longer alive. Dr. Mengele is considered directly responsible for the killing of 400,000 Auschwitz camp inmates and countless atrocities committed against twins and children in a demented search to establish racial purity.
The 41-year-old Mengele, who has remained in seclusion since the latest controversy erupted over his father's fate, said today that the declaration was made on behalf of himself and "in the name of my family members."
In an evident reference to those who suffered under his father at Auschwitz, Mengele added: "All victims and their relatives have my and our deepest sympathy."
He said the Mengele family was now prepared "to provide further pertinent information" to show conclusively that his father lived and finally died near Sao Paulo in 1979. Until now, the refusal of the family to step forward and confirm Mengele's death has been cited by Nazi hunters such as Simon Wiesenthal as a compelling reason to believe Mengele was still alive.
In the past three years, Wiesenthal said, different eyewitnesses claim to have spotted Mengele in Chile, Paraguay and Brazil.
The Israeli government refused to accept the word of Rolf Mengele that his father was dead, Reuter reported from Tel Aviv. A Justice Ministry spokesman said, "Israel will continue its efforts to trace where Mengele is in order to bring him to justice in Israel."
[In New York, Abraham H. Foxman, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League, released a statement expressing skepticism over reports of Mengele's death. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said, "The Brazilian corpse is still a mystery despite Rolf Mengele's claim that it is his father."]
The latest lead in the Mengele case came from a West German university professor, who overheard a former employe of the Mengele family firm boasting about providing financial aid to subsidize the Nazi doctor's life on the run.
On May 31, West German police raided the home of Hans Sedlmeier, 72, who once worked for the Mengele family's prosperous farm machinery business in Guenzburg. They found letters and an address book that led investigators to an Austrian couple, Wolfram and Liselotte Bossert, living near Sao Paulo.
Sedlmeier, now under investigation for possible obstruction of justice, allegedly served as a contact for the family and made several visits to Sao Paulo to deliver money to Mengele.
The Bosserts said they provided lodging for a man during the 1970s who later confessed to being Josef Mengele. They said he drowned in a swimming accident in 1979 and was buried at Embu, near Sao Paulo, under the name of Wolfgang Gerhard.
A man named Wolfgang Gerhard had originally introduced Mengele to the Bosserts as a lonely war fugitive called "Pedro." He later gave his identity papers to Mengele when he returned to his native Austria.
A lawyer for the Mengele family delivered a statement today to the Frankfurt prosecutor, Hans Eberhard Klein, who has been in charge of the Mengele case since 1974. Klein, who has repeatedly stressed that West German law could not force the family to testify about Mengele, said his office would comment on the statement Wednesday.
Mengele's declaration was released to news agencies by his stepbrother Jens Hackenjos, a Munich architect whose mother Irene married and later divorced Josef Mengele. In a telephone interview, Hackenjos said the family was still debating how and whether to make public more information about the Nazi doctor's life in exile.
Hackenjos' wife, Sabine, told reporters that the family was willing to provide "very personal information" about Josef Mengele's physical condition in order to clarify the circumstances of his death, but added that they were worried about their safety.
She said that Rolf Mengele, his wife and young child were "afraid" of possible reprisals from Nazi fanatics. Since the news of Mengele's possible death has stirred world-wide interest, the family had received "several murder threats at their home" in Freiburg, Mrs. Hackenjos said.
She said "Rolf will help the prosecutor determine that the body" found in Brazil was definitely that of his father.
"I hope that finally all doubts about the death of Josef Mengele will be removed with the statement by his only son," Mrs. Hackenjos said. She insisted Rolf Mengele wanted to avoid publicity because "he should be kept out of this as much as possible . . . since he is too young to have anything to do with matters before 1945."