JERUSALEM — A leading Nazi hunter said on Monday that Adolf Eichmann’s top lieutenant, long one of the world’s most wanted fugitives, died at least four years ago in Syria, where he had escaped justice and may have advised the government.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israeloffice, said the lieutenant, Alois Brunner, was responsible for the deportation of 128,500 Jews to death camps, and described him as Eichmann’s “right-hand man.” Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust, was apprehended, tried and executed by Israel in 1962.
Mr. Brunner was tried in absentia and sentenced to death by France in 1954, and he had been the subject of at least two assassination attempts attributed to the Mossad, the Israeli secret service.
“He was a notorious anti-Semite, sadist, fanatic Nazi,” Mr. Zuroff said in a telephone interview on Monday, after the British newspaper The Sunday Express reported his confirmation of Mr. Brunner’s death. “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.’ ”
Mr. Zuroff said a German intelligence official with extensive experience in the Middle East — “a reliable source in our eyes” — had informed the Wiesenthal Center about four years ago that Mr. Brunner had died of natural causes, but that because of the Syrian civil war “we were never able to confirm it forensically.” Given that Mr. Brunner would be 102 today, Mr. Zuroff added, “I took his name off the list” of wanted Nazis.
The Wiesenthal Center did not announce Mr. Brunner’s death when the German operative reported it in 2010, or this year, when it published its annual list of fugitives without him on it. Mr. Zuroff said it came up now only because of an inquiry by The Sunday Express.
Born in Austria, Mr. Brunner joined the Nazi Party in 1931 and the SS in 1938, and he led the Vienna-based Central Office for Jewish Emigration from 1939 to 1943, according to the research center at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem.
When he took control of the Drancy detention camp near Paris in 1943, Yad Vashem said, “the inmates’ conditions deteriorated rapidly, and deportations to Auschwitz were stepped up.”
Mr. Zuroff said Mr. Brunner was involved in the deportation of 47,000 Jews from Austria, 44,000 from Greece, 23,500 from France and 14,000 from Slovakia.
Mr. Brunner was believed to have lived in Damascus, the Syrian capital, from the 1950s under the name Georg Fisher. 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.
Mr. 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, Mr. Brunner lost an eye and three fingers opening two letter bombs, “but unfortunately, they didn’t kill him.”
“The significance is only that one very prime target can no longer be brought to justice,” Mr. Zuroff said, “and that’s very sad, because it just underlines the failure of the world community to see to it that the primary movers and shakers of the Final Solution were forced to pay for their crimes.”