How the Nazis escaped justice

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As the world falls silent in memory of the Holocaust, a new book reveals how many of its architects were helped to live out their days in South America

The innocuous-looking vans he helped to develop began arriving at the Third Reich’s mental hospitals in 1940.

Doctors in white coats herded patients, officially dubbed “ useless eaters”, into the hermetically sealed compartments in the back. The revs of engine could not conceal the screams. But within 20 minutes all those locked inside were poisoned to death by exhaust fumes.

Walther Rauff, the notorious SS colonel who was instrumental in creating the Nazis’ infamous “mobile gas chamber” was held personally responsible for murdering at least 100,000 people during the Second World War. His victims included Communists, Jews, Roma and the physically and mentally ill.

Yet Rauff escaped to South America after the war. From there he travelled with impunity to Germany as a company representative until the late 1950s. Germany only issued a warrant for his arrest in 1961 and he was never brought to trial. Rauff died in Chile in 1984 and hundreds of old Nazis flocked to his funeral in the capital, Santiago.

As the world today remembered the horrors of the concentration camps, a new book has laid bare how many of its architects were able to escape justice for decades, and in many cases until death. Rauff, and dozens of other top Nazis who fled to South America after the Second World War, were sheltered by a “coalition of the unwilling” on both sides of the Atlantic.

German historian Daniel Stahl’s book, Nazi Hunt: South America’s Dictatorships and the Avenging of  Nazi Crimes, published just as Germany remembers this week’s 80th anniversary of the Nazis’ accession to power and the world marks Holocaust Day, is based on extensive research in European and South American archives. It comes to the shameful conclusion that key officials on both continents, including the courts, police and governments, were reluctant to track down Nazi war criminals and even spent decades actively preventing their prosecution.

Rauff’s case was typical. His address in Santiago was known to post-war West Germany’s foreign ministry, and Hans Strack, the German ambassador to Chile, was ordered to request his extradition. But Stahl shows how Strack sympathised with war criminals in exile and delayed applying for Rauff’s extradition for 14 months. When he finally did so in 1962, Chile was able to refuse extradition request because his murders had by then occurred too long ago under the country’s statute of limitations.

Official reluctance also prevented the arrest of one of the world’s worst Nazi war criminals, the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele who carried out hundreds of brutal medical experiments on patients at Auschwitz concentration camp. Attempts were made to track Mengele down in 1960 following rumours that he was hiding in Brazil or Chile. Yet he was never found.

Stahl concludes in his book that Mengele was never caught because French police officers employed by Interpol refused to conduct searches for war criminals because they were implicated as Nazi collaborators.

“As henchmen of the Vichy regime, they collaborated with the Nazis until 1944,” he writes.

Interpol’s secretary general in 1962, Marcel Sicot, is unmasked by Stahl as regarding the prosecution of war criminals as “victor’s justice”.

The Brazilian government’s concerns about its own moral legitimacy are singled out by Stahl as the reason why Gustav Wagner, an SS officer accused of complicity in the murder of 152,00 Jews at the Sobibor extermination camp, was never sent to Germany to stand trial. In the late 1970s judges at Brazil’s supreme federal court refused a request from the then West German government for Wagner’s extradition, citing alleged inaccuracies in the application.

According to Stahl, West Germany’s ambassador to Brazil at the time explained the Brazilian authorities were worried Wagner’s extradition would encourage opponents of the government to make demands that could compromise their authority. He said they feared opponents would demand all crimes in Brazil should be prosecuted, “including those committed by the military and the police”.

Stahl writes that the reluctance of German and French authorities to prosecute Nazi war criminals began to wane in the early 1980s when a new generation was entering the government, police and the judiciary. He cites the arrest and trial of  Klaus Barbie, the infamous Gestapo chief in France known as the “Butcher of Lyon”. Germany and France, he points out, jointly pursued Barbie and obtained his extradition from Bolivia. He was finally deported to France in 1983 to stand trial for offences he committed 40 years earlier.

Yet evidence revealing how a “coalition of the unwilling” prevented Hitler’s henchmen from facing justice continues to emerge. Just two years ago, leaked German intelligence files revealed that for a decade before he was caught, the West German government knew that Adolf Eichmann – the Nazi SS officer responsible for organising the Holocaust – was hiding in South America. Mossad eventually tracked down and kidnapped him in Argentina in 1960. He was flown to Israel where he was convicted of crimes against humanity and hanged in 1962.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing