BERLIN (Reuters) - Gestapo chief Heinrich Mueller, the most senior Nazi whose fate has until now remained unknown, died in Berlin in 1945 and, in a chilling twist for an organiser of the Holocaust, lies in a Jewish cemetery, a German historian says.
Mueller, who ran the Gestapo secret police before and during World War Two, was last spotted in Adolf Hitler's bunker in Berlin the day after the Nazi leader committed suicide in 1945.
He was heard to say he would never let himself be captured by the Russians. But U.S. and British investigators hunting fugitive Nazis after the war found no conclusive evidence that Mueller had died in the fall of Berlin or had escaped to South America - as several other top Nazis did.
Now Professor Johannes Tuchel says he has found proof that Mueller did indeed die in Berlin in 1945, was first buried in a provisional grave in a garden in Luftwaffe headquarters and then consigned to a mass grave in a Jewish cemetery in the city.
"From my point of view, all the mysteries around Heinrich Mueller are solved," he told Reuters at the German Resistance Memorial Centre in the defence ministry in Berlin, where German officers who tried to overthrow Hitler in 1944 were executed.
As hands-on operational head of the Gestapo, Mueller reported first to Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust, until his assassination in Prague in 1942, and then to Heinrich Himmler, head of the paramilitary SS.
Born in 1900 and decorated in the First World War, Mueller became a policeman before Heydrich recruited him to the SS and Gestapo. He attended the 1942 Wannsee Conference which laid out the "final solution" - the plan to exterminate the Jews.
Tuchel described Mueller as a "bureaucrat" who, from behind his desk, "was responsible, with Himmler, Hitler and Heydrich for a lot of mass crimes, was deeply involved in the Holocaust, attended the Wannsee conference and was also responsible for the mass killings of Soviet prisoners of war".
The historian was investigating one massacre ordered by Mueller when he came across documents about Mueller's demise.
He reexamined evidence from a grave-digger after the war, in then communist East Germany, who remembered burying a man in a general's uniform in Berlin-Mitte Jewish Cemetery in 1945.
The East German police were not interested at the time but Tuchel traced the documents and military decorations found on the body to archives in Berlin and crossed that with data from German intelligence and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
He concluded that Mueller was dead and traced the corpse to the historic Jewish cemetery dating from the 17th century, where the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn was also buried.
The cemetery was desecrated by the Nazis and became the site of 16 mass graves for more than 2,700 people who died in Allied air raids and the fall of Berlin. It is now a Jewish memorial.
Dieter Graumann, chairman of the Central Council of Jews, said in a statement it was "in outrageously bad taste that a brutal Nazi sadist should be buried in a Jewish Cemetery".
"It's an insult to the memory of the victims," he said.
But since Jewish religious law forbids exhumations and it would be difficult to identify one body among the thousands buried there, an air of mystery may linger over Mueller.
"Legends don't die and if someone says tomorrow he has seen Mueller in the Arctic, I won't contradict it," Tuchel said. "But historical study and speculation are very different things."
(Additional reporting by Anna McIntosh)