The High-Ranking Nazi Who Schooled Arab Regimes in Torture and Repression

August 5, 2022 | Ziad Khoury
About the author:

Growing up in Damascus in the 1980s, Ziad Khoury would sometimes see a mysterious European coming in and out of a well-guarded, upscale apartment:

We eventually learned that he was “Hitler’s man” and that he was “good, not bad,” having “killed the Jews during World War II.” One of our friends, trying to be funny, raised the Nazi salute at a distance and barked: “Heil Hitler.” The man didn’t see him and neither did the security-service personnel who were standing nearby. This came as a relief to me at the time, not because admiring Hitler in Syria was a crime. It wasn’t. But because we knew the secret identity of a man whom the regime was protecting.

The man’s name was Alois Brunner, and he had worked closely with Adolf Eichmann and served as the director of Drancy, the transit camp where French Jews were imprisoned before being sent to Auschwitz. After the war, Brunner eluded capture by the Allies, and slipped out of Germany in 1954 to embark on the next phase of his bloodstained career:

He first landed in Rome and from there made his way to Egypt, where he found himself the guest of then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser. The details of how he met the Egyptian leader remain unclear, but Nasser was looking for ways to get back at the West in light of an Israeli raid on Gaza in February 1955 that left 38 Egyptian soldiers dead. . . . Brunner ended up being hired by the Egyptian military regime, which had been in power since 1952, as a “consultant” at its security apparatus, working closely with its security chief, Salah Nasser. During the short-lived Syrian-Egyptian union (1958-1961), Brunner was sent to Damascus to train police dogs, a talent he had developed at Hitler’s prisons.

In exchange for protection, Brunner [remained in Syria to] train Syrian troops in interrogation methods, espionage, and torture.

It is impossible to know to what extent Brunner saw the legacy of his brutal tactics bear fruit. But there is little doubt that Syrian and Egyptian interrogators today—all too young to remember Brunner or even know who he was—apply some of the same methods against their own compatriots that the Nazis used against the Jews.

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