WINNIPEG — An ill-fated plan some 30 years ago to capture Dr. Josef Mengele, known in Auschwitz as the Angel of Death, might have cost Ethan Rubinstein his life if the mission hadn’t been aborted at the last minute.
Rubinstein is a Winnipeg doctor who spends most of his life tracking down viruses. But the head of the infectious diseases unit at the University of Manitoba’s Department of Internal Medicine has in the past had a semi-secret side to him. And one of those secrets was brought to light by Israeli writer Yossi Melman in a recent edition of the Jerusalem Report.
Mengele was the doctor who determined who would live and who would die at Auschwitz. He also led a team of doctors who conducted medical experiments on many of the prisoners. After the war, Mengele disappeared. It was long rumoured that he had escaped to South America and was living under a series of aliases. He drowned while swimming off the Brazilian coast in 1979 and was buried under a false name, but his remains were disinterred and positively identified by forensic examination in 1985.
However, Rubinstein and a team of former Mossad agents did not know that Mengele was already dead when they were recruited in 1983 to capture him and bring him back to Israel for trial.
In a recent interview with Rubinstein in his office, the former Israeli paratrooper acknowledged that he was employed by the Mossad in various activities in his younger days.
“I still enjoy adventure,” he said.
During his time working with the Mossad, Rubinstein met Mossad operative Peter Zvi Malkin, a member of the team that captured Adolf Eichmann, smuggled him out of Argentina and brought him to Israel to stand trial for his crimes against the Jewish People and humanity
In 1983, Yossi Melman wrote, a lawyer in Paraguay named Carlos told a visiting Dutch journalist that he knew where Mengele was being hidden and he would be prepared to reveal the location for a hefty price. While the Mossad wasn’t interested in following up, Malkin, by then retired and living in New York, was.
Malkin met with Carlos. The former Mossad agent put together an off-the-book team of former Mossad people, former Israeli air force pilots, a former special forces soldier and Rubinstein, who was assigned the task of drugging Mengele – once the group nabbed him – interrogating him and watching over him during the flight to Israel. A Jewish businessman in Panama agreed to underwrite the operation financially and provide the plane.
“Peter [Malkin] and I were longtime friends and saw each other frequently,” said Rubinstein who, at the time, was a researcher in infectious diseases at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. “I went along for the adventure and for revenge.”
The team was making its final preparations for the trip, Rubinstein said, when Malkin received an anonymous tip that Carlos was lying and they were heading into a trap. In true spy-story style, Malkin broke into Carlos’ hotel room and found evidence to confirm the tip.
“It’s a good thing that we aborted the mission,” Rubinstein said.
As for Carlos, Melman notes that Malkin invited Carlos to a meeting in Paris a couple of months after the aborted operation. The Paraguayan was never seen again.
“I don’t know for sure,” Rubinstein said. “But I would like to think that our guys took care of him.”
Rubinstein came to Winnipeg in 2005 to head a new HIV/AIDS treatment program for Manitobans suffering from the disease. He noted that in western countries, HIV/AIDS is now a chronic condition. In Africa and elsewhere, it is often still a fatal disease.
He is also doing research treatments for anthrax and MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body and is tougher to treat than most strains of staph because it’s resistant to some commonly used antibiotics.