The scars of World War Two have barely healed and many questions still remain unanswered about the fugitives who played a part in the bloodiest war in human history. Much is unknown about those who committed atrocities and then escaped from capture after the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945.
The world’s worst war criminals were provided escape routes from justice, aided by what has become known as the “ratlines”. Most of these war criminals committed crimes against humanity and were sought by world organizations. Due to the influence of the Catholic Church, The Red Cross, and countries like Argentina, some high-ranking officials have lived their lives without being held accountable for their part in these sinister activities. The Axis alliance countries enjoyed good relations with Argentina, and this made it a safe haven. So, who were the war criminals who escaped?
5. Josef Mengele, a.k.a the “Angel of Death”, (Born 16th March 1911- died 07th February 1979).
As his nickname suggests, he was closely associated with death. An educated and intelligent man of science, educated in the fields of philosophy and medicine, he occasioned the death of millions of men, women, and children. His name is intrinsically linked and almost synonymous with that of the evil Nazi plot known as “The Jewish Solution”. The horrific and inhumane manner of these murders committed at Auschwitz death camp was initiated under his leadership. He joined the Nazi party in 1937 and was part of the SS. He became a ghoul of the murderous death camp after an injury in 1942 caused him to be declared unfit for active duty. Not to be deterred by injury, he volunteered to be assigned to concentration camps, and for 21 months he mercilessly saw to the deaths of millions.
His evil deeds have gone unpunished, as after the fall of the Nazi regime he escaped. He was able to deceive his way past the allied forces, dressed as part of the normal infantry. Once in Munich, he was held as a prisoner of war but unknown to the allied forces, he was released. During 1948, he decided it was time to leave Germany for good. He was aided by the Red Cross, which admitted that it had supplied false travel documents to at least ten high-ranking officials. His destination was Argentina, due to that country’s good relations with Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as his father’s business relations in the country, who hoped that his son could assist in solidifying those connections.
True to form, he made no effort to hide his true identity while in Argentina, until it was discovered that another of his colleagues, Adolf Eichmann, had been captured and deported. This spooked the Angel of Death, and he went underground. He remained on the run, using different aliases until his death some 35 years later. He died in Sao Paulo, Brazil, while swimming. It is said that he died of a stroke and drowned. It was only in 1992, after DNA testing on the remains of Wolfgang Gerhard, the name marked on his gravestone, that it was confirmed that Josef Mengele was dead. With him goes the entire detail of the extent of the atrocities carried out in the infamous death camp.
4. Otto Adolf Eichmann “Mastermind of the Holocaust”, (Born 19th March 1906 – Died 31st May 1962).
The early life of Eichmann is not as decorative as that of Josef Mengele. He was born to an average family, and he failed to complete his tertiary education in mechanical engineering. He had problems holding down a regular job, and by 1920 he was constantly between employment. A turning point in his career came when he was influenced to join the Austrian Nationalist Socialist Party (Nazi) in 1932.
Eichmann rose through the ranks as a skilled technician in the forced deportation of Jewish people to death camps. He is credited with providing Hitler’s “Final Solution”. He is directly linked to setting up deportation channels from 1932 to 1944. His plans were so devastating, that over an estimated 1.5 million Jewish people were deported to death camps from all over occupied Europe, in countries like Vienna, Hungary, France, and occupied Soviet Russia.
At the fall of the Nazi regime, Eichmann was captured but managed to escape, in part, due to the Catholic Church. He managed to use fake travel documents and enter Argentina, where he hoped to live out his life under fake aliases. The most famous of his aliases was Ricardo Klement, but Eichmann’s luck ran out in a daring operation, undertaken by Mossad officers in 1960. Eichmann was snatched out of Buenos Aires and taken to stand trial in Israel. His famous trial brought to light the reality of the extent of the Jewish genocide. Eichmann will be forever remembered for his role and his severe attitude. His defense was that “he was simply following orders”. As such, he was found guilty of his crimes and received the first and only death sentence in Israel history. He was hanged at midnight on 31st May 1962 and cremated. His ashes were scattered at an unknown location outside Israel’s borders.
3. Nikolaus Klause Barbie a.k.a “The Butcher of Lyon”, (Born 25th October 1913 – Died 25th September 1991).
As his nickname suggests, Klause Barbie committed acts of extreme violence in Lyon. He was born into a middle-class family, his father was an office worker and then a primary school teacher.
His father, also named Nikolaus, served in the WW1 and was injured in the line of duty, returning from the war feeling bitter and angry. Before the completion of Barbie’s secondary school studies, his father and younger brother died, and he had no money to further his education.
This is when Barbie volunteered to join a Nazi party in 1933, signifying the start of a monstrous career for the villain who became “The Butcher of Lyon”. In 1935, Barbie was assigned to the SS and made his way up the ranks. He learned the skills of being an investigator and interrogator, skills which he used on many innocent people and later in service for the U.S. The height of his atrocities occurred when he condemned 44 orphan children to death in the isolated village of Izieu. At this time, Barbie was the head of the Gestapo in France, his brutality widely known. After his service in France, he was ordered to the front lines but he ran away. It is during this time that Barbie was finally captured by the U.S. However, instead of turning him over to the authorities after the war, the U.S. put him to work for them. He has claimed that he assisted in the capture of Che Guevara.
However, the French authorities were hot on his heels. He was assisted with his escape mission by the U.S. in 1950, his country of choice was Bolivia. In Bolivia, the government used him as well. His skills were highly sought after, he even claimed to have worked for the CIA. But in 1983, the Bolivian government caved under pressure and arrested Barbie. At the time, he was going under the alias of Klaus Altmann. He was extradited to France to stand trial for almost 842 deportations of persons to death camps. He was found guilty of his crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment. He later died of cancer on 25th September 1991.
2. Ante Pavelic, The leader of the Ustaše – Croatian Nazis, (Born 14th July 1889 – Died 28th December 1959).
Ante Pavelic and his army, called the Ustaše (Ustasha), better known as the Croatian Nazi army, were the perfect puppets for Nazi Germany and was supported by fanatical Italy. The extremist leader of what was to be the most brutal movement after Nazi Germany was also the leader of the Independent State of Croatia. He had orders to secure more territory and have a government that would follow the biddings of Nazi Germany. He and his army oversaw countless murders, targeting Serbians, Jews, gypsies, and anti-fascist Croats, becoming one of the most savage perpetrators of crimes against humanity. They were so merciless in their murderess spree that even the Nazi Germans were appalled by their inhumanity.
Pavelic’s departure, at the fall of Germany to the Allies, signified the end of the Independent State of Croatia and the Ustasha in Croatia. He handed himself over to the American occupied parts of Europe but was never detained. He eventually made his way to Italy and was assisted by the Vatican. In 1948, sensing the net was closing in on him, he fled to Argentina with fake documents provided by the Red Cross. He is known to have plundered the wealth of Croatia, which also assisted in his escape. In Argentina, he lived as good a life as he could and re-established his government in exile. He had close relations with the Peron government. He was the target of an attempted assassination by a man named Jovovich in 1957 when he was shot in the neck. He never made a full recovery from the injury and died in 1959. He is buried in San Isidro, one of the oldest cemeteries in Spain.
1. Erich Priebke, (Born 29th July 1913 – Died 11th October 2013).
Erich Priebke was an SS commander in the German Army. Not as high ranking as the other top ten wanted Nazi’s, he lived to the age of 100. He was best known for his role in the Ardeatine caves massacre in Rome, which was a reaction to the deaths of 33 German soldiers killed in a bomb blast in Italy. According to reports, Hitler wanted 10 Italians killed for every soldier who died in the bomb blast. Erich was more than willing to oblige and executed the orders. He went to the jails of Italy and rounded up the undesirables. Among them, were a reported 70 Jews and young boys.
Priebke was responsible for the death of some of those men, shooting them himself. After the war, he escaped capture and lived in Argentina. He didn’t disguise himself and actually lived under his own name. Reportedly, he even traveled with his own German passport. He drew attention to himself when he gave a 1994 interview to an ABC news reporter. This saw him detained and eventually extradited to stand trial in 1998. There were a number of court battles in regard to his case, but eventually, he was given a life sentence. He served his sentence under house arrest until his death. Priebke remained unrepentant until his death and was the last of the high-profile Nazi’s to stand trial.