BERLIN – It was one of the great remaining mysteries surrounding the final days of World War II – what happened to Heinrich Mueller, the head of the Gestapo secret police and the highest-ranking Nazi never to have been captured or located.
But a leading German researcher said Thursday that he has uncovered historical documents indicating Mueller never made it more than a few hundred yards from Hitlers bunker in downtown Berlin and was eventually buried in a common grave in a Jewish cemetery destroyed by the Nazis.
Though Muellers body hasnt been found, Johannes Tuchel, the director of Berlins German Resistance Memorial Center, said the evidence he uncovered is clear-cut.
He said that according to a death certificate he found, Mueller died in the final days of the war in 1945 near the Luftwaffe headquarters.
Tuchel said other evidence shows that about three months after the end of the war, Muellers body was found by a work crew cleaning up corpses and was buried along with about 3,000 others in a communal grave on the site of a Jewish cemetery that the SS had destroyed in 1943.
The documents show with near certainty that Mueller was buried in August 1945 in the garden of the Luftwaffe headquarters, then was brought to the Jewish cemetery on Grosse Hamburger Strasse, said Tuchel, whose story was first reported by Bild newspaper.
Mueller was sought for decades after the war by investigators around the world, including Israels Mossad, the U.S. Office of Special Investigations and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centers top Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, sounded a note of caution, saying only DNA evidence could prove Mueller was buried in Berlin.
The Nazis who wanted to escape very often took measures to create false documents faking their death, he said in a telephone interview from London.
I would be very wary of reports like that without forensic evidence.
And in 1963 – when authorities were looking into a rumor that Mueller had been buried in West Berlins Neukoelln district – a gravedigger told police in testimony Tuchel found that he had buried Mueller in the former Jewish cemetery and that he had matched his identity papers to the face of the body.
Zuroff said that if the information on Mueller is true, it would be a comforting thought that the Gestapo leader – who attended the notorious 1942 Wannsee Conference in which plans were coordinated for the genocide of European Jews – didnt escape.
This is the biggest fish that got away, Zuroff said.
Still, if his final resting place is a Jewish cemetery, Zuroff said it would be absolutely horrifying.
Its the last place on earth where he should be buried, said Zuroff. If this is ever verified, theyd better move very quickly to make sure it doesnt become a shrine for neo-Nazis.