By Bernard Josephs
Jewish Chronicle – 18 August 2000
Tory MP Dr Julian Lewis is succeeding in his efforts to get the government to make representations to Syria over its harbouring of one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals, Aloïs Brunner.
In a letter to the New Forest East MP – who lost a number of relatives in the Holocaust – Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain indicated that the matter would be taken up with the Damascus régime when new President Bashar al-Assad had "settled in". There had been speculation, he added, that with the passing of former President Hafez al-Assad, more information "might become available" about Brunner, allegedly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Austrian, Greek and French Jews.
Dr Lewis welcomed the response which he said demonstrated the impact of his efforts to make the government take up the issue of Syria's reported decision to give asylum to Brunner, private secretary to Adolf Eichmann. He was last seen alive in Syria, in 1985.
Until Mr Hain's letter, he claimed his campaign had been "stonewalled" by Whitehall.
Dr Lewis acknowledged that the war criminal could very well now be dead. If that was the case, he wanted an admission from the Syrians that they had sheltered him:
"I see their openness on this issue as a test of whether Syria is a civilised country,"
he declared. But if Brunner was alive, he should stand trial for his crimes, Dr Lewis said.
In his letter, Mr Hain noted that repeated attempts by France and Germany to secure the extradition of Brunner – who had been identified in Damascus by French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld – had met "a wall of silence" from Syrian officials. Inquiries by British diplomats had "failed to produce evidence of Brunner in Syria," Mr Hain said.
The late President Hafez al-Assad insisted that Brunner had not been in the country.