The Nazi Ratlines: The system of escape routes for Nazis fleeing Europe at the end of WWII


World War Two was ending, and Germany was at the end of a severe trashing. During the height of the war, the atrocities committed at the hands of the Axis alliance members were well known, and justice was needed. With the sight of Germany on its knees, Axis members involved were ready to run.

But where, how, and to whom?  As the Allied forces circled around and the net of justice closed in, numerous escape routes popped up. These routes, known as the ratlines”, provided the answer for war criminals who were looking for a new home. This meant that many perpetrators were given a lifeline, and with this came an obstruction of justice. Among the ruins of the fallen Reich there sprung new hope for those looking to escape, many of whom ran off to South America to build a new life.

After the fall of the Axis Alliance (Germany, Italy, and Japan)

Location of Axis Photo Credit


In 1945, the bloodiest war, which claimed over 60 million lives, was winding down to its timely end. With that came the search for justice, to bring to account those who occasioned it. The important figures like Hitler and Mussolini were dead, but many others who needed to stand trial were making plans to evade justice.  But justice for those innocent men, women, and children who needlessly died desperately needed to be addressed.

The truth is that good had conquered evil, and now it was time for retribution. The Nuremberg Trials were just the beginning. There were others who had a hand in the deadly ordeal and had to be held accountable for their roles. But there were other forces at work – sympathizers who assisted in the evasion of justice.

The hunt was on for the likes of Josef Mengele, “The Angel of Death”, and his colleague Adolf Eichmann. But because of countries like Argentina, Spain, Switzerland, and others, justice would be delayed.

Photo from Mengele’s Argentine identification document (1956)

Justice delayed is justice denied as the ratlines sprung up.

By the time the war ended the hunt was on for those who made up the list of the ten most wanted war criminals. Among them were Josef Mengele, Eichmann, Franz Stangl and Ante Pavelic. Others had already been caught and awaited their trials at Nuremberg. But many others had the right connections and made their getaway. By 1950 many of these wanted men had slipped out of the hands of Allied forces.

The routes used to get the rats out of Europe


Spain had turned a blind eye to the atrocities that were being committed. At the end of the war, it continued to play dumb regarding the war criminals within its borders. This did nothing to endear the country to the rest of Europe and threatened to tarnish its name further.

Nonetheless, many wanted criminals lingered within its borders and international pressure was placed on Spain to give them up. But Spain had its own ideas. It allowed fugitive and anti-Semitic writer and Nazi collaborator Charles Lesca to set up camp there. With the aid of his co-conspirator Pierre Daye, they set up networks of routes out of Europe. Lesca was friendly with a Spanish officer who assisted in the escape of numerous wanted criminals. Ramón de la Peña was able to help them remove 150 Nazis to Argentina via Spain from 1946.

A shame, considering that Spain remained relatively neutral throughout the war except for sending brigades to fight on the Eastern front.

This made Spain a de facto supporter of the Axis alliance. Yet amid international pressure, more conspirators set up camp within its borders. Another escape route organizer was a Spanish woman of German decent named Clarita Stauffer. She was, in fact, a German with Spanish citizenship. She helped over 100 war criminals escape via her quasi-judicial office in Spain.

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