A history hunter and military expert in San Diego recently uncovered what he believes to be a passport used by Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, also known as the “Angel of Death,” to flee to Argentina in 1949.
"This is it, this is as good as it gets. An object like this has an ability to speak to you,” said Craig Gottlieb, the 42-year-old former Marine who bought the passport.
Gottlieb is a collector of military antiques and firearms. He lives in San Diego’s North County area and has also been a regular on TV’s “Pawn Stars.”
Gottlieb told NBC San Diego he purchased the passport in October from an Argentinean researcher who got it from a woman who worked as Mengele’s secretary up until his death in 1979.
Mengele was a German doctor whose horrific experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp on Jewish and Gypsy children, including many twins, garnered him the moniker of the “Angel of Death.”
In 1949, Mengele fled Germany and headed to Argentina.
Gottlieb said the passport he purchased proves Mengele made that journey using forged documents from Genoa, Italy under the name "Gregor Hellmuth,” one of the many aliases Mengele is believed to have used after leaving Germany.
"This guy lived under the nose of multiple governments for 30 or so years, never caught, never brought to justice, and something like this you could never get away with today,” Gottlieb said.
Even given the passport’s significance, some have questioned whether an artifact of its nature should be given any attention, let alone sold to collectors for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Gottlieb said he looks past that.
For him it’s much more about a larger effort to preserve history, especially in the face of those who deny the Holocaust ever happened.
"To me [it’s] something that's connected to an individual, person, place or event in history that's epic, that's what you know, that's what I'm all about,” Gottlieb said. "Look in this guy's eyes and you see something deeply disturbing but it's something we need to be consciously aware about as human beings."
In addition to the passport, Gottlieb (pictured right) purchased three police documents, which purport to show that the Argentinian government not only knew who Mengele was when he entered the country, but that he was also trying to get his real identity back. Historians say Gottlieb did this in an attempt to do business with his relatives back in Germany.
As is the case with any discovery of this magnitude, two questions have been raised: Is the passport real and how much will it sell for?
Gottlieb said he intends to have the passport examined by experts to ensure it’s not a well-designed fake. If it is indeed authentic, an expert has said it could go for as much as $250,000.
However, selling it for a profit isn’t necessarily what Gottlieb hopes to do, he said.
Instead, Gottlieb plans on donating the find to an institution like the Museum of Tolerance or the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In this way, Gottlieb said, it can continue to remind everyone of the horrors Mengele and other Nazis committed years ago.
"When you look at something like this you are forced to face an evil that we don't really look at anymore," he said.