How Nazi murderers escaped justice after WWII

By Gideon

The most famous news story, about a Nazi who fled Europe after the war, is the capture of the Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann, who was kidnapped by the Israeli Mossad in 1960 in Argentina, and was brought to trial in Israel, where he was found guilty of war crimes and hanged in 1962.

Adolf Eichmann was not the only Nazi mass murderer who escaped Europe after the war and lived under a false identity in Argentina. Large number Nazis found shelter in South America after World War II.

While the US and Great Britain were watching from the sideline and not interfering, many in the catholic church, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy actively helped Nazis murderers escape justice after the war. No country did more to help the Nazis than Argentina, a strong supporter of Nazi Germany during the war.

In the 1940s, most Argentines were of Spanish, Italian or German descent. Nazi Germany nurtured this sympathy, promising important trade concessions after the war. Argentina was full of Nazi spies and Argentine officers and diplomats held important positions in Axis Europe. Perón’s government was a big fan of the fascist trappings of Nazi Germany: spiffy uniforms, parades, rallie, and vicious anti-Semitism. Many influential Argentines, including wealthy businessmen and members of the government, were openly supportive of the Axis cause.

Even after Germany was defeated, there were many powerful men in Europe who had favored the Nazi cause and continued to do so. Spain was still ruled by the fascist ​Francisco Franco and had been a de facto member of the Axis alliance; many Nazis would find safe, if temporary, haven there. Switzerland had remained neutral during the war, but many important leaders had been outspoken in their support of Germany: these man retained their positions after the war and were in a position to help out. Swiss bankers, out of greed or sympathy, helped the former Nazis move and launder funds. The Catholic Church was extremely helpful: several high-ranking church officials (including Pope Pius XII) actively helped the Nazis escape.

After World War Two, thousands of Nazis and wartime collaborators from France, Croatia, Belgium and other parts of Europe were looking for a new home: preferably as far away from the Nuremberg Trials as possible. Argentina welcomed hundreds if not thousands of them: the Juan Domingo Perón regime went to great lengths to get them there, sending agents to Europe to ease their passage, providing travel documents and in many cases covering expenses. Even those accused of the most heinous crimes, such as Ante Pavelic (whose Croatian regime murdered hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies), Dr. Josef Mengele (who was responsible for performing deadly human experiments on prisoners.) and Adolf Eichmann (Adolf Hitler’s architect of the Holocaust) were welcomed with open arms.

There was a financial incentive for Argentina to accept these men. Wealthy Germans and Argentine businessmen of German descent were willing to pay the way for escaping Nazis. Nazi leaders plundered untold millions from the Jews they murdered and some of that money accompanied them to Argentina. Some of the smarter Nazi officers and collaborators saw the writing on the wall as early as 1943 and began squirreling away gold, money, valuables, paintings and more, often in Switzerland. Ante Pavelic and his cabal of close advisors were in possession of several chests full of gold, jewelry and art they had stolen from their Jewish and Serbian victims: this eased their passage to Argentina considerably. They even paid off British officers to let them through Allied lines.

After the war, communist regimes were created in Poland, Yugoslavia and other parts of Eastern Europe. These new nations requested the extradition of many war criminals in allied prisons. A handful of them, such as the Ustashi General Vladimir Kren, were eventually sent back, tried and executed. Many more were allowed to go to Argentina instead, because the Allies were reluctant to hand them over to their new communist rivals, where the outcome of their war trials would inevitably result in their executions. The Catholic Church also lobbied heavily in favor of these individuals not being repatriated. The allies did not want to try these men themselves (only 23 men were tried at the famous ​Nuremberg Trials), nor did they want to send them to the communist nations that were requesting them, so they turned a blind eye to the ratlines carrying them by the boatload to Argentina.

Many of the Nazis who escaped to South America were never brought to justice. SS colonel Walter Rauff, who created mobile gas chambers that killed at least 100,000 people, died in Chile in 1984. Eduard Roschmann, the “Butcher of Riga,” died in Paraguay in 1977. Gustav Wagner, an SS officer known as the “Beast,” died in Brazil in 1980 after the country’s supreme federal court refused to extradite him to Germany because of inaccuracies in the paperwork. Perhaps the most notorious of the fugitives was Dr. Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death” who conducted macabre experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He fled to Argentina in 1949 before moving to Paraguay in 1959 and Brazil a year later. Buried under an assumed name after drowning off the Brazilian coast in 1979, Mengele had his identity confirmed only after forensic testing of his remains in 1985.

“According to Uki Goñi, author of “The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron’s Argentina,” the Peron government in 1946 sent word through Argentine Cardinal Antonio Caggiano to a French counterpart that the South American country would be willing to receive Nazi collaborators from France who faced potential war crimes prosecution. That spring, French war criminals carrying passports issued by the International Red Cross stamped with Argentine tourist visas began to cross the Atlantic Ocean.”

In their attempts to aid Catholic refugees amid the post-war rise of communist regimes across Europe, numerous Vatican officials unwittingly aided in the escape of Nazi war criminals, but some clerics such as Bishop Alois Hudal did so with full knowledge of their actions. According to Goñi, Hudal, an Austrian-born admirer of Hitler who ministered to prisoners of war in Rome, admitted to abetting Nazi war criminals by providing them with false identity documents issued by the Vatican that were then used to obtain passports from the International Red Cross.


A wreckage of a German U-boat was discovered on the shores of Argentina. Historians believe that this is the proof that German officials escaped to Argentina after the World War II.



Latin America History