Shock at report Gestapo chief Mueller buried in Jewish cemetery
Evidence that Heinrich Mueller, an architect of the Holocaust, was interred in a Jewish mass grave in Berlin stuns the city and Nazi hunters
Berliners and Nazi hunters have reacted with sorrow, outrage and shock to evidence Heinrich Mueller, the chief of Adolf Hitler’s dreaded Gestapo, or secret police, is buried in a Jewish cemetery in the heart of the German capital – even if, for now, the claim lacks forensic verification.
The news “makes my stomach turn”, said Dieter Graumann, the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “It is devastating for everybody, but especially for a Jew.”
He expressed complete bafflement that the apparent fate of Mueller, “a technocrat of terror”, senior even to Adolf Eichmann, the war criminal tried and executed in Israel in 1962, could have gone unreported for so long.
Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, was incredulous when told. “I can’t think of a worse desecration of a Jewish cemetery than to bury Heinrich Mueller there,” he said.
The fate of Mueller, one of the prime architects of the Holocaust, has long eluded authorities and historians.
He was one of the most senior Nazis to escape capture or certified death at the end of the second world war.
Holocaust historians say that Western investigators looked for him intensively for years after 1945, and there were reports placing him everywhere from Czechoslovakia to the Soviet Union or even Brazil.
Now, the question of Mueller’s fate has taken a disturbing twist.
Professor Johannes Tuchel, head of an association that watches over memorials to German resistance fighters, claims to have uncovered a document indicating that he was killed, probably on May 1, 1945, hastily buried in a provisional grave near the Nazi air force ministry, and later reburied in a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery in the heart of Berlin.
The news was first reported on Thursday by Germany’s best-selling newspaper, Bild.
Tuchel said that he stumbled on the discovery after investigating Mueller’s role in the suppression of a rebellion in the Moabit district of central Berlin on April 22-23, 1945.
He scoured archives and found out that Mueller was killed in the dying days of the war in May 1945, then buried and re-buried.
An estimated 70,000 civilians and soldiers are said to have been killed in the final three weeks of the war in Berlin. In the months after fighting ended, each city district organised non-professional teams of gravediggers to collect corpses and bury them in mass graves, Tuchel said, adding that there were 16 such graves containing an estimated 2,700 bodies in the Jewish cemetery.
Mueller was among the Nazi commanders who planned the holocaust at the infamous conference on Berlin’s Wannsee lake in January 1942. Zuroff, who has a doctorate in holocaust history, called him “one of the leading lights of the Third Reich”.
Tuchel said he had found a document stating that a gravedigger, Walter Lueders, had approached police in West Germany in 1963, saying he had buried Mueller, and was then interrogated once by more senior investigators after Bild reported Lueders’ appearance.
Upon being shown a picture of Mueller by the senior investigators, Lueders, according to a document found by Tuchel, stated, “I have compared this photo with the face of the corpse” that he had reburied in August 1945.
“I can say that the person pictured on the photo was in appearance identical with the corpse.”
Asked why nothing more was done, Tuchel speculated that it was because the Jewish cemetery was in then Communist-ruled East Berlin.
He said he had found no evidence that the West Germans ever asked the East Germans, or that the Western allies inquired of the Soviets what had happened.
The cemetery, which was handed over to the Jewish community in 1948, is now a leafy site of remembrance in the heart of one of Berlin’s trendiest districts.
Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee in Germany, said the “perverse” story that unfolded showed “how little respect there was for human lives”.
“It is not possible even in death to disentangle the victims from the perpetrators,” she said.