Nazi Alois Brunner’s confirmed death in Damascus reveals an uncomfortable truth: Egypt and Syria have long ties to Nazi Germany and long provided sanctuary to fugitive war criminals.
When most of us think of the premier retirement destination for unrepentant Nazis, our minds immediately turn to South America. We think of Josef Mengele hidden on a lonely estancia in Paraguay, or Adolf Eichmann ensconced in a two-bit suburb of Buenos Aires.
This perception was magnified by a slew of sensational books that were published in the early 1970s, many of which promoted a very iffy thesis that former Nazis were using the continent as a launchpad for a “Fourth Reich” that would, yes, take over the world.
This culminated in Ira Levin’s 1976 thriller, The Boys from Brazil, in which fiendish Nazis hatch a diabolical plot to unleash several cloned Hitlers onto the world. The book was made into a film in 1978, and starred no less than Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, who were presumably behind on the rent.
But as the recent declaration of the death of the former SS officer and Eichmann henchman Alois Brunner reveals, the boys didn’t just go to Brazil. For Brunner, like so many other Nazis, found the Middle East an equally hospitable location, and far less out-on-a-limb than a chalet in Patagonia, no matter how gemütlich.
Brunner, who sent an estimated 130,000 Jews to their deaths, made his home in Damascus, Syria, where he found the conditions much to his liking. Although there has been much guff peddled about Brunner’s postwar activities over the past few days–some of which may be true–there is no doubt that he worked in cahoots with the Assad regime, or at least certainly enjoyed its protection.