A German “technician,” whose forged papers identified him as Ricardo Klement, arrived in Argentina in July, 1950.
Argentine authorities were well aware that “Mr Klemen” was in fact Adolf Eichmann, responsible for the deportations of millions of European Jews to extermination camps during the Second World War. As it turned out, Eichmann was far from the only senior Nazi official who managed to escape prosecution by fleeing to South America.
Other notable Nazis to escape there include:
• Josef Mengele, the doctor nicknamed the “Angel of Death” because of the grotesque experiments he conducted on prisoners at the Auschwitz death camp.
• Franz Stangl, nicknamed the “White Death” because he routinely dressed in a white uniform. An estimated 150,000 Jews were murdered during his command at Sobibor. After he moved to Treblinka, he was directly responsible for the deaths of another 900,000.
• SS officer Gerhard Bohne was responsible for the logistics of Hitler’s euthanasia program. The program killed some 200,000 Germans with incurable diseases, mental illnesses, and physical handicaps.
So, how were so many Nazis able to escape punishment? You might be surprised to learn that three well-known institutions were involved — the CIA, the Red Cross and the Catholic Church.
The CIA’s approach towards ex-Nazis was essentially a pragmatic one. When relations with the USSR began to deteriorate after the war, the CIA was willing to give new identity papers to Nazis in exchange for valuable intelligence information on the new Soviet enemy. “Honest and idealistic …enjoys good food and wine … an unprejudiced mind” was how the CIA described one such Nazi. Estimates of the number of Nazis who came to America number in the thousands.
The International Red Cross issued about 25,000 new identity documents to men whose pasts were dubious at best. This assistance came primarily through individual Nazi sympathizers within the organization. However, new evidence now implicates senior members of the Red Cross who knew about the improper use of identity documents. In particular, two post-war presidents of the Red Cross, due to their anti-Semitism or anti-communist beliefs, purposefully looked the other way regarding the abuse of the Red Cross’s identity documents.
It has long been established that individual Nazi sympathizers within the Catholic Church actively supported the flight of Nazi war criminals. The church, for its part, has claimed that these individuals were just misguided black sheep. However, it turns out that support for ex-Nazis was more widespread than previously admitted by the church. Members feared an emerging godless, pagan Europe. Consequently, these individuals were willing to help Nazi war criminals, and all the Nazis had to do was convert to Catholicism. An estimated 90 percent of the Nazis that escaped used church-based routes known as ratlines.
At least 350 high-ranking Nazis escaped to Argentina. The Argentinean dictator Juan Perón had hoped to welcome as many as a 500,000 Germans after the war, especially those with military expertise.
Besides fleeing to South America, Nazis also found safe havens in Central America, Africa and the Middle East. Nazi refugees found new homes in Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia, where being part of the Holocaust was not viewed as necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Nazis were often welcomed in Middle Eastern countries because of their anti-Jewish expertise.
So, how many Nazis escaped justice? Estimates range in the tens of thousands, possibly even including Hitler himself.
By the way, Eichmann was captured by the Israeli Mossad in 1960, flown to Israel and hanged in 1962.