Rüdiger Heim and His Nazi Father

Rüdiger Heim had not seen his father in several years, when was six years of age. Having traveled extensively since then, Heim landed in Egypt to meet his father, Aribert. The two met in a high-end hotel, but their reunion was not the stuff of dreams. They did not hug or even say very much, aside from Aribert asking his son several questions. Rüdiger was struggling not to ask the one question that he wanted to ask: whether or not his father was a Nazi.

Heim had difficulty asking his father the grand question. He had wondered why Aribert lived in Egypt to begin with. Aribert had fled Germany in 1962 without giving good cause for the decision. Heim was reduced to simply watching his father behave and wondering to himself whether this was the way a Nazi acted. Heim had never really seen a Nazi outside of cinema, so he had no way of knowing if his suspicions were due or not.

After the visit, Rüdiger began corresponding with his father through letters. They turned out to be more similar people than Rüdiger had thought. While Rüdiger had often felt out of touch with those around him, Aribert felt abandoned by his very family, trying his best to make it in Egypt without those he loved around him. Rüdiger briefly forgot about his suspicions that Aribert was a Nazi, suspicions which would have returned if he’d known that the police were currently searching for the man.

In 1979, four years after Rüdiger’s trip to Egypt, a news story was published which bore the picture of Rüdiger’sfather. The story was about a Nazi doctor who had gone into hiding. The doctor in question—named by the article as Aribert Heim—had murdered WWII internees by lethal injection as well as unusual and unnecessary surgeries.

Rüdiger soon discovered that his family already knew of Aribert’s crimes. He learned from them how to write in a code that the family had made up, and he sent a letter to his father warning him to pick up a newspaper and contact his lawyer. Rüdiger soon paid a visit to Egypt, upon which his Aribert claimed profusely that he had never been a Nazi, but had been required to work at a concentration camp as part of his university studies. He defended the allegations regarding his crimes, claiming never to have performed one unnecessary surgery, The Atlantic reports.

Rüdiger stayed true to his beliefs that his father was not, in fact, a Nazi. He did not believe that Aribert deserved to be completely free of guilt, but he believed that for the most part, he was innocent. When Aribert fell ill to rectal cancer some time later, Rüdiger went to visit him one last time. Rüdiger watched his father lose what little sense of vivacity he had. By the end, Aribert was unable to eat, unable to walk or even lie down by himself, and certainly unable to leave Egypt. Rüdiger was visiting at the time of Aribert’s death in 1992.

Heim followed through on one last promise following his father’s death. Having promised not to let this Nazi business affect the rest of his family, Rüdiger gave the authorities false information as to where Aribert’s body was buried. Whether or not Heim’s father was really a Nazi or not might technically remain unknown, but Aribert Heim regained his son’s trust, which is arguably the greatest amnesty he could ever have received.



Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE