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U.S. had Mengele in custody after war, let him go by mistake

The notorious Nazi death camp doctor Josef Mengele was taken into U.S. custody in two prisoner-of-war camps in Germany in 1945 but was released by mistake, a report said Thursday.

The 197-page report by the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations said Mengele in one instance used an alias, masquerading as a member of the German army, and the U.S. military never learned his true identity.

"It is possible, though unconfirmed, that he was later registered and discharged under his own name," the report said.

Mengele, known as the "Angel of Death" at the Auschwitz death camp for his role in choosing who would live and who would die, has been accused of performing hideous medical experiments on concentration camp inmates and of taking part in the murder of 400,000 people, mainly Jews, during World War II.

"It is likely that he passed as a regular soldier and was released in routine fashion in the chaotic conditions" in the summer of 1945, the report said.

It said Mengele, captured by U.S. forces while wearing a German army uniform, did not have the tattoo common to Nazi SS officers and used by U.S. authorities in screening prisoners.

"In addition, the wanted lists on which Mengele's name appeared probably did not reach the unit responsible for his discharge in time," it said.

The report said Mengele escaped arrest and prosecution because the several U.S. efforts to apprehend him "were sporadic and were insufficiently sustained."

Mengele lived under an alias on a farm in U.S.-occupied Germany for most of the period before his flight from Italy to Argentina in 1949, the report said.

It said that he fled Europe without U.S. aid and that there is "no evidence" Mengele had a relationship with U.S. intelligence or any other U.S. government agency.

In 1959, Mengele moved to Paraguay and a year later went to Brazil, where he died while swimming in 1979 at age 67. In 1985, a team of experts concluded that a body exhumed in Brazil was Mengele's.

The Justice Department report was largely completed in the mid-1980s but released now after Germany and Israel officially accepted the findings that Mengele was dead.

In Los Angeles, the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center applauded the release of the report.

"But Mengele's surviving victims can find little solace in this report which confirms this mass murderer could and should have been put on trial for his crimes as early as 1946," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's associate dean.