Some of the creative methods used by Israel’s Mossad, described in a long-buried secret file documenting the intelligence service’s ultimately unsuccessful attempts to capture the notorious Nazi doctor and “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele, are now coming to light, 50 years on.
In the run-up to a fuller exposé on Friday, daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman published excerpts in Hebrew from the so-called Meltzer File about break-ins, attempts to wiretap, and even a bid to plant a lover to seduce Mengele’s son.
The newspaper said the file, bursting with reports, maps, and photographs, has lain deep in the bowels of the Mossad’s archives since the 1950s, hidden even from many Mossad operatives.
Mengele was appointed chief medical officer of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1943.
Not only was he responsible for dividing new arrivals at the camp into those capable of work and those to be sent immediately to the gas chambers; he also carried out horrific medical experiments on prisoners, focusing on twins.
Auschwitz’s Block 10, where Dr. Josef Mengele conducted medical experiments on the camp’s inmates. (CC-BY-SA, VbCrLf, Wikimedia Commons)
Mengele left Auschwitz on January 17, 1945, just before the Red Army liberated the camp.
After the war, he fled to South America.
Following the Mossad’s dramatic capture of Adolf Eichmann — one of the main organizers of the Nazi Holocaust, in Buenos Aires in May 1960 — the intelligence organization was ordered to catch Mengele or, failing that, to assassinate him, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
It quoted documentation in the Meltzer File about one occasion in 1962 when Mossad agents apparently came within a hair’s breadth of catching their prey.
It has long been public knowledge that agent Zvi Aharoni and his men, acting on a tip, traveled to an isolated area near São Paulo, Brazil, where they encountered a man who fit Mengele’s description.
In their book, “Mengele: The Complete Story,” published in 1986, Gerald Posner and John Ware wrote that Aharoni reported the sighting to his boss Isser Harel, but that the logistics of capture, budgetary limitations, and a deteriorating relationship with Egypt persuaded Harel to scotch an operation.
Yedioth Ahronoth quoted from a telegram sent to Mossad HQ which reported the sighting of “a man answering to the description of Mengele in his shape, height, age and dress.”
It also described another mission documented in the file — this time in 1983 — to use Joseph’s only son, Rolf, who was then living in West Berlin, to get to their target.
The agency knew that the father and son shared the same birthday, March 16, and hoped the two would congratulate one another by telephone.
The Mossad’s communication department wiretapped Rolf’s phone, while a Mossad aide, code named “The Fairy” snatched his mail from the mailbox and photographed it before putting it back, the newspaper said.
Agents even broke into Rolf’s home several times and photographed documents.
The plan was to have an agent pose as a “close associate” of the senior Mengele, who would phone Rolf sometime after the birthday call to say, in worried tones, that Joseph had taken seriously ill, that his doctors were concerned, and that he had asked for Rolf to come immediately.
The hope was that Rolf — code-named “The Lame One” — would either telephone somebody, order a flight ticket, or leave his home, upon which he could be followed.
The birthday telephone call did not materialize because, it later emerged, Joseph Mengele had already been dead for four years.
At some point later on, still unaware that Josef Mengele was dead, the Mossad tried to get Rolf interested in a female agent who was “attractive, intelligent and able to fill the role of a private secretary.” That, too, failed to yield results.
Mengele drowned in 1979 while swimming off the Brazilian coast.
He was buried under a false name in Sao Paulo.
The grave was discovered in 1985, and the bones were later identified by DNA testing and Rolf Mengele’s testimony.
The remains have been stored stored in a Sao Paulo forensic institute for nearly 30 years. His family never came forward to claim them.
In March, Dr. Daniel Romero Muniz, a professor of medicine at the University of Sao Paulo who was behind the identification of Mengele, announced that the remains would be donated to medical research.
Muniz won a lawsuit permitting him to hand over the bones for scientific research, the Daily Mail reported at the time, citing Brazilian media.