Alois Brunner was born on 8 April 1912 in Rohrbrunn, a village situated in the Hungarian part of the then Austrian-Hungarian Empire. At the age of 19, he joined the Austrian Nazi Party NSDAP, and in December 1932 the SA, the Nazi militia. On 19 June 1933, after the NSDAP had been banned in Austria, he joined the “Austrian Legion”, in the ranks of which he met Adolf Eichmann (see “related cases”). One week after Crystal Night which took place between 9-10th of November 1938, Brunner applied to become a member of the SS. He was admitted on 10 April 1939. Being a close associate of Adolf Eichmann, he was at first assigned to the “Central Office for Jewish Emigration” in Vienna, which he later directed. In the years to come he headed several Gestapo special commandos with the aim of deporting Jewish people to concentration camps.
In Vienna in October 1942, Brunner had 20’000 Jews deported. Between February and May 1943 he had twice as many deported from Salonika in Greece. From 18 June 1942 on, he took over the command of the collection and transit camp in Drancy, France, in order to accelerate the deportation of French Jews to concentration camps. He left Paris on 17 August 1944 heading for Slovakia, where he had another 13’500 Jewish people sent to concentration camps. On 13 April 1945 he sent the last deportation convoy from the camp of Sered in Slovakia. It is estimated that a total of 147’000 Jews were deported under the direct instructions of Alois Brunner.
In order to evade capture after the war, Brunner assumed the identity of a Wehrmacht soldier with the name of “Alois Schmaldienst”. Soon after that, certain events turned out to be in Brunner’s favour and helped him escape justice. His namesake Anton Brunner, a Captain of the SS like him, was executed by Soviet troops in Vienna. For a long time thereafter, Alois Brunner was thought to be dead. The press often referred to his namesake by the name of “Anton-Alois Brunner”.
In the post-war confusion, his new identity made it possible for Brunner to find a job as a driver in a US military base, and subsequently to obtain new identity papers, with which he managed to reside undisturbed in the region of Essen, in Germany, until 1953.
In 1953, the German authorities renewed more vigorously the search for Nazi war criminals. As a result, Alois Brunner assumed the name of Georg Fisher and left Europe. After a stay, in Cairo, he went to Damascus, where he was taken in by, and later led, a network of Nazi-supporters.
In 1960, a former spy in the office of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) revealed the presence of Brunner in Syria to a French agent.
On 3 September 1961 Brunner went to the central post office in Damascus in order to pick up a parcel. Two post officials were killed by what turned out to be a parcel bomb. Brunner lost an eye and several fingers of his left hand, but survived. He was however declared dead by the Syrian police.
Alois Brunner was last seen in October 1992 in Damascus, leaving his apartment in an ambulance.
Several sources claim that Brunner is dead and buried in a Christian cemetery in Damascus.
In the years 1953 and 1954, Brunner was already condemned in absentia for his involvement in the deportation of Jews by French military tribunals (Tribunaux Permanents des Forces Armées [TPFA]). In both cases, the death penalty was pronounced, but could not be applied since Brunner was not to be found.
In 1968, Israel and Austria requested Brunner’s extradition from Syria. Germany filed the same request in 1984.
In 1987, Serge Klarsfeld and his association filed a complaint in France concerning a raid conducted between 20 and 25 July 1944. During this operation, 250 minors who had found refuge in the homes of the Union Générale des Israélites de France (UGIF) were abducted. They were interned in the transit camp of Drancy and deported, on 17 August 1944, with the last of the 67 convoys which left Drancy for the concentration camps. The ones who survived this “journey” were gassed within 20 minutes of their arrival at the concentration camp in Birkenau.
In August 1987, Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for Brunner. In 1995, the German Federal Prosecutor offered an award of 330’000 USD for any information leading to Brunner’s arrest.
In France, an investigation led to the conclusion that Brunner was indeed hiding in Damascus. In 1991, 1995 and 1996, three letters rogatory were addressed to Syria, all of which remained unanswered. To diplomats who inquired about the whereabouts of Brunner, the then President Hafiz al Assad replied that he had no information concerning him. Investigations were wound up in 1999 and the case was transferred to the Assize Court in Paris for trial.
On 2 March 2001, Brunner was sentenced, in absentia, to life imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity.