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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones