What happened to Nazis and collaborators after the end of the Second World war? The Nuremberg Trials punished some. But what about the rest?
Many Nazis and their collaborators from France, Croatia, Belgium, and other areas of Europe sought refuge in a distant land. They aimed to save themselves from the Nuremberg Trials.
Thousands of miles away, they found a new home in Argentina. The Latin American country was willing to accept thousands of them.
What could possibly be the reason for Argentina’s interest in Nazis? What happened to them after they landed in Argentina? The answers are surprising.
Argentina’s support to Axis powers
During the Second World War, Argentina had a strong inclination towards the Axis powers.
This was due to their close cultural ties with Germany, Spain, and Italy due to large portion of the population of native population from these nations.
During the 1930s, Argentina was under a pro-Nazi military government headed by José Félix Uriburu (referred to as “Von Pepe”). And later Augustín Pedro Justo, who took power in 1932 and remained in office until 1938. His successor, Argentina‘s Perón government, embraced fascistic elements of Nazi Germany. These included flashy uniforms, military parades, demonstrations, and vehement anti–Semitism.
Notable Argentines, particularly Perón, openly showed support for the Axis powers. Perón was a military attaché to Mussolini‘s Italian army in the late 1930s. Juan Peron secretly directed diplomats and intelligence agents to develop pathways for Nazi escape. These pathways later earned the nickname of “ratlines“.
Even though Argentina would eventually join the war against the Axis forces one month before it ended. It was largely a way to get their agents in place to help Nazis flee after the war was over.
Who all flew to Argentina?
Despite the heinous nature of their crimes, Nazis were warmly received. Like Ante Pavelic who led a Croatian regime responsible for the deaths of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Romanis. Another example is Adolf Eichmann who was Hitler’s chief Holocaust organizer.
Josef Mengele managed to flee to Argentina the country. He was infamously known as the “Angel of Death” for his cruel experiments on victims at Auschwitz, . Josef Schwammberger, an SS commander who oversaw three labor camps in Nazi-controlled Poland, also escaped to Argentina. Walther Rauff, the creator of the gas chambers used to slaughter millions, utilized the ratline to go to Quito, Ecuador and eventually Chile.
Why did Argentina want them?
Argentina was offered a financial incentive to take in these criminals. Many wealthy German citizens and those of German descent in Argentina promised to pay for the Nazis’ journeys. Through murder and plunder, Nazi leaders had accrued vast amounts of money. In preparation for their escape, some Nazi officers and collaborators began to stockpile gold, currency, valuable items, and paintings, usually in Switzerland, as early as 1943.
Ante Pavelic and his inner circle had amassed chests brimming with jewellery and art stolen from Jews and Serbs. This financial cushion allowed them to easily travel to Argentina. They also bribed British officials to pass through Allied lines.
Argentina is also blamed to have money belonging to victims of Nazi persecution. The Weisenthal Centre has stated that Argentine banks with links to Germany moved the money taken from victims of the regime to the former Schweizerische Kreditanstalt, which is now called Credit Suisse.
Credit Suisse has responded to AFP’s inquiry by noting that in the late 1990s, an independent panel headed by Paul A. Volcker researched the bank and sixty other Swiss banks in order to try to identify accounts belonging to victims of Nazi persecution.
Not Just Argentina
After Germany was defeated, there were still many individuals in power across Europe who had been sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Spain, for instance, was still under the rule of Francisco Franco and was considered a de facto part of the Axis alliance, providing a haven for some Nazis.
Meanwhile, Switzerland had remained neutral during the war, but many influential figures had expressed their support for Germany, and these people kept their positions afterwards. Swiss bankers, for reasons of greed or sympathy, aided former Nazis in moving and hiding their money.
Role of the Catholic Church
The “holy Catholic Church” also disregarded the atrocities of the Nazi regime, with some saying that it enabled the escape of Nazi war criminals to South America. Pope Pius XII, who was in office during WWII, was given the moniker “Hitler’s Pope” due to his failure to take action while the Nazis carried out the mass killing of Jews.
There was also assistance from the Catholic Church, as numerous high-ranking church officials (including Pope Pius XII) aided in the Nazis’ escape. Evidence of the Church’s complicity can be seen in the case of Erich Priebke, an SS commander who was given Vatican-issued documents which enabled him to flee to Argentina.
What happened to Nazis in Argentina?
Following the fall of Peron’s government in 1955, numerous Nazis and collaborators fled to other parts of South America like are Brazil, Chile, and Paraguay. They feared that the incoming administration would send them back to Europe.
Many Nazis who fled to Argentina were extremely cautious in their behaviour. Particularly after the 1960 capture of Adolf Eichmann by Mossad agents in Buenos Aires. Mengele, who was wanted for his role in the Jewish genocide, managed to evade capture until his death by drowning in Brazil in 1979. As a consequence of the fear of repercussions, most of the Nazis in Argentina stayed quiet and out of sight.
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Over the decades, Argentina’s acceptance of so many World War II criminals had become a source of shame. By the 1990s, a large portion of these older men were living without any disguises. A select few were eventually identified and extradited to Europe to face charges, like Josef Schwammberger and Franz Stangl. Others, such as Dinko Sakic and Erich Priebke, drew attention to themselves after giving interviews on TV. It led to their extradition; both were put on trial and convicted.
In 1963, West Germany sought extradition of a Nazi officer, Walter Rauff. However, the request expired due to Chile’s statute of limitations. Rauff eventually became a wealthy food producer and passed away due to a heart attack in 1984.
Some reports say that at least 12,000 Nazis flew to Argentina. The majority of the Nazi members who had emigrated to Argentina managed to blend into the large German population without mentioning their past. Many of them prospered financially. Like Herbert Kuhlmann, a former head of the Hitler youth, who was successful in business.
Bariloche, one of Argentina’s most prominent cities, is steeped in Nazi history. Much of which is accurate, and some of which is exaggerated. The most shocking and exaggerated claim is that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun fled to the Inalco estate near the city centre. However, it is widely accepted that Hitler and Braun both died by suicide in a bunker in Berlin in 1945.
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