"The Real ODESSA"
Uki Goñi on the hidden Nazi past of Argentina, "a country that time and time again has failed miserably the test of looking at itself in the mirror".
Ever since the end of World War Two, the existence of a shadowy organization dedicated to the rescue of Nazi war criminals has been the subject of countless media articles, documentaries, novels and movies. Some of these claim that leading members of the Third Reich escaped justice by crossing the Atlantic in submarines. Indeed in Argentina, where I live, there are many eyewitness accounts of nervous men in Nazi uniforms disembarking from rubber dinghies on the coast of Patagonia at the end of the war. Large crates packed with Nazi gold and secret archives of Hitler's Reich were reportedly collected at night from windy beaches and driven across the continent to secluded havens in the Andes mountains. According to these mostly fantastical accounts, Hitler lived out his final days in southern Argentina, where he still lies buried; his deputy Martin Bormann settled nearby as a rich landowner, first in Chile, then in Bolivia and lastly in Argentina.
Yet none of these far-fetched accounts has gripped the collective imagination as strongly as one novel, "The Odessa File", by the best-selling British author Frederick Forsyth. The book portrays a group of former SS men linked in a secret organization named ODESSA [Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen], whose aim is not only to rescue their comrades from postwar justice but also to establish a Fourth Reich capable of fulfilling Hitler's unrealized dreams. Thanks to extensive research and his own experience as a Reuters correspondent in the early 1960s, Forsyth wrote a novel that was not only believable but also contained many elements of truth. Ever since its publication 30 years ago, the existence of a 'real ODESSA’ has been hotly contended by journalists, though frequently denied by serious scholars.
In November 1963, shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Peter Miller, a German freelance crime reporter, follows an ambulance to the apartment of Salomon Tauber, a Jewish Holocaust-survivor who has committed suicide. The next day, Miller is given the dead man's diary by a friend in the police. After reading Tauber's life story and learning that Tauber had been in Riga Ghetto commanded by Eduard Roschmann, "The Butcher of Riga", Miller resolves to search for Roschmann. Miller's attention is especially drawn to one diary passage in which Tauber describes having seen Roschmann shoot a German Army Captain who was wearing an unusual military decoration.
Miller pursues the story and visits the State Attorney General's office and other offices where he learns that no one is prepared to search for or prosecute former Nazis. But his investigations take him to the famed war-criminal investigator Simon Wiesenthal, who tells him about the society "ODESSA".
Miller is approached by a group of Mossad agents who have vowed to search for German war criminals and kill them and have been attempting to infiltrate ODESSA. Miller is asked to infiltrate ODESSA and agrees. A former SS member who is working with the team of Israeli agents trains him to pass for a former SS sergeant. Miller visits a lawyer working for ODESSA and after passing a severe scrutiny is sent to meet a passport forger who supplies those members who wish to escape.
Slowly Miller unravels the entire system. But Miller's identity has been compromised, in part by his ill-advised decision to use his own car; the impoverished SS man he is impersonating would not have been able to afford a sports car, and ODESSA sets its top hit man on Miller's trail. Miller escapes one trap by sheer luck; the hit man then installs a bomb in Miller's car, but because the sports car has a very stiff suspension the bomb is not triggered while Miller is driving it.
Eventually Miller confronts Roschmann at gunpoint and forces him to read from Tauber's diary. Roschmann admits to killing the German Army captain, now revealed to have been Miller's father, and attempts to justify his actions to his "fellow Aryan" but is stunned when Miller bluntly says he would not have tracked down Roschmann for being a mass murderer of Jews. Miller, momentarily off guard to have found his father's killer, is disarmed and knocked unconscious by another ODESSA man who leaves in Miller's car but is killed when he drives over a snow-covered pole and detonates the bomb. Roschmann manages to escape, eventually flying to Argentina. The hit man who has been sent to kill Miller is instead killed by an Israeli agent.
While Miller is recovering in hospital, he is told what happened while he was unconscious. Josef, his contact, warns him not to tell anyone the story. He does disclose that with Roschmann (code-named "Vulkan") in Argentina, West German authorities (at the urging of the Israelis) will shut down his industrial facility that was producing rocket guidance systems for the Egyptian army. ODESSA's plan to obliterate the State of Israel by combining German technological know-how with Egyptian biological weapons has been thwarted. In addition, Miller's information reaches the public and badly embarrasses the West German authorities enough for them to arrest and prosecute a large number of ODESSA members (though the book notes that ODESSA continues to exist and usually succeeds in keeping former SS members from facing justice).
Josef, in reality Uri ben Shaul, an Israeli army officer, returns to Israel to be debriefed, and performs one final duty. He has taken Tauber's diary with him and per the last request in the diary, Uri visits Yad Vashem and says Kaddish for the soul of Salomon Tauber.
ODESSA, from the German 'Organization der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen', meaning 'Organization of Former SS Members', is believed to have been an international Nazi network set up towards the end of World War II by a group of SS officers. The purpose of the ODESSA was to establish and facilitate secret escape routes, later known as ratlines, to allow SS members to avoid their capture and prosecution for war crimes. Most of those fleeing out of Germany and Austria were helped to South America and the Middle East.
Several books by those involved in the War Crimes Commission [including T.H. Tetens and Joseph Wechsberg] have verified the organization's existence and provided details of its operations. Wechsberg studied Simon Wiesenthal's memoirs on the ODESSA and verified them with his own experiences in the book The Murderers Among Us.
In a note, people claiming to represent the ODESSA claimed responsibility for a 9 July 1979 car bombing in France, which was aimed at anti-Nazi activists Serge and Beate Klarsfeld.
In the realm of fiction, the Frederick Forsyth best-selling 1972 thriller "The Odessa File" brought the organization to popular attention. [The novel was turned into a film starring Jon Voight]. In the novel, Forsyth's ODESSA smuggled war criminals to Latin America, but also attempted to protect those SS members who remained behind in Germany, and plotted to influence political decisions in West Germany.
According to Simon Wiesenthal, the ODESSA was set up in 1946 to aid fugitive Nazis. Interviews by the ZDF German TV station with former SS men suggest instead that the ODESSA was never the single world-wide secret organization that Wiesenthal described, but several organizations, both overt and covert, that helped ex-SS men. The truth may have been obscured by antagonism between the Wiesenthal organization and German military intelligence.
Long before the ZDF TV network, historian Gitta Sereny wrote in her 1974 book "Into That Darkness", based on interviews with the former commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp, Franz Stangl, that the ODESSA had never existed. She wrote: "The prosecutors at the Ludwigsburg Central Authority for the Investigation into Nazi Crimes, who know precisely how the postwar lives of certain individuals now living in South America have been financed, have searched all their thousands of documents from beginning to end, but say they are totally unable to authenticate [the] 'Odessa'. Not that this matters greatly: there certainly were various kinds of Nazi aid organizations after the war — it would have been astonishing if there hadn't been".
This view is supported by historian Guy Walters in his book "Hunting Evil", where he also points out that networks were used, but there was not such a thing as a setup network covering Europe and South America, with an alleged war treasure. For Walters, the reports received by the allied intelligence services during the mid-1940s suggest that the appellation "ODESSA" was "little more than a catch-all term use by former Nazis who wished to continue the fight."
However, while Nazi concentration camp supervisors denied the existence of the ODESSA, neither US War Crimes Commission reports nor American OSS officials did. In interviews of outspoken German anti-Nazis by Joseph Wechsberg, former American OSS officer and member of the US War Crimes Commission, it was verified that plans were made for a Fourth Reich before the fall of the Third, and that this was to be implemented by reorganizing in remote Nazi colonies overseas: "The Nazis decided that the time had come to set up a world-wide clandestine escape network.
"They used Germans who had been hired to drive U.S. Army trucks on the Autobahn between Munich and Salzburg for the 'Stars and Stripes,' the American Army newspaper. The couriers had applied for their jobs under false names, and the Americans in Munich had failed to check them carefully... [the] ODESSA was organized as a thorough, efficient network... Anlaufstellen [ports of call] were set up along the entire Austrian-German border... In Lindau, close to both Austria and Switzerland, [the] ODESSA set up an 'export-import' company with representatives in Cairo and Damascus".
In his interviews with Sereny, Stangl denied any knowledge of a group called the ODESSA.
Recent biographies of Adolf Eichmann, who also escaped to South America, and Heinrich Himmler, the alleged founder of the ODESSA, made no reference to such an organization. However, Hannah Arendt, in her book, "Eichmann in Jerusalem", states that "in 1950, [Eichmann] succeeded in establishing contact with ODESSA, a clandestine organization of S.S. Veterans, and in May of that year, he was passed through Austria to Italy, where a Franciscan priest, fully informed of his identity, equipped him with a refugee passport in the name of Richard Klement and sent him on to Buenos Aires." Notorious Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele also escaped to South America.
Sereny attributed the fact that SS members could escape to postwar chaos and the inability of the Roman Catholic Church, the Red Cross, and the American military to verify the claims of people who came to them for help, rather than to the activities of an underground Nazi organisation. She identified a Vatican official, Bishop Aloïs Hudal, not former SS men, as the principal agent in helping Nazis leave Italy for South America.
Argentine writer Uki Goñi, in his 2002 book "The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Perón’s Argentina", suggested that Sereny’s more complex, and less conspiratorial, story was closer to the truth. In 1938, on the verge of World War II, and with Hitler’s policies on Jews in transit, Argentina’s government sanctioned an immigration law restricting access by any individual scorned or forsaken by his country’s government. This law was alleged to have implicitly targeted Jews and other minorities fleeing Germany at the time, and was denounced by Uki Goñi, who admits that his own grandfather had participated in upholding it. Between 1930 and 1949, however, Argentina took in more Jewish refugees per capita than any other nation in the world, with the exception of Israel. Dr. Leonardo Senkman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem says that "the reopening of post-war European emigration to Argentina during the first Peron Presidency in 1946 pushed up the net immigration figure to 463,456 persons between 1947 and 1951..." the highest in thirty years. The legislation, though already in disuse for many years, was repealed on 8 June 2005 as a symbolic act. The Jewish Virtual Library writes that while Juan Perón had sympathized with the Axis powers, "Perón also expressed sympathy for Jewish rights and established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1949. Since then, more than 45,000 Jews have emigrated to Israel from Argentina."
Of particular importance in examining the postwar activities of high-ranking Nazis was Paul Manning's book "Martin Bormann: Nazi in Exile", which detailed Bormann's rise to power through the Nazi Party and as Hitler's Chief of Staff. During the war, Manning himself was a correspondent for the fledgling CBS News, along with Edward R. Murrow in London, and his reporting and subsequent researches presented Bormann's cunning and skill in the organization and planning for the flight of Nazi-controlled capital from Europe during the last years of the war--notwithstanding the strong possibility of Bormann's death in Berlin on 1 May 1945, especially in light of DNA identification of skeletal remains unearthed near the Lehrter Bahnhof as Bormann's.
According to Manning, "eventually, over 10,000 former German military made it to South America along escape routes set up by [the] ODESSA and the Deutsche Hilfsverein...". The ODESSA itself was incidental, says Manning, with the continuing existence of the Bormann Organization a much larger and more menacing fact. None of this had yet been convincingly proven.
Hannah Arendt . "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil". New York: Viking.
David Cesarini, "Eichmann: His Life and Crimes" [Vintage 2004]
Peter Padfield: "Himmler: Reichsführer SS" [Macmillan 1990]
Gitta Sereny, "Into That Darkness" [Pimlico 1974]
Guy Walters, "Hunting Evil", Bantam Books, Transworld Publishers, London 2010
Joseph Wechsberg, "The Murderers Among Us", New York, 1967
ODESSA and the Gehlen Org
ODESSA was founded in 1946 according to Simon Wiesenthal, which included SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny and Sturmbannführer Alfred Naujocks and in Argentina, Rodolfo Freude. Alois Brunner, former commandant of Drancy internment camp near Paris, escaped to Rome, then Syria, by ODESSA. (Brunner is thought to be the highest-ranking Nazi war criminal still alive as of 2007). According to Paul Manning, "eventually, over 10,000 former German military made it to South America along escape routes ODESSA and Deutscher Hilfsverein ..."
Simon Wiesenthal, who advised Frederick Forsyth on the novel/filmscript "The Odessa File" which brought the name to public attention, also names other Nazi escape organisations such as Spinne ["Spider"] and Sechsgestirn ["Constellation of Six"]. Wiesenthal describes these immediately after the war as Nazi cells based in areas of Austria where many Nazis had retreated and gone to ground. Wiesenthal claimed that the ODESSA network shepherded escapees to the Catholic Ratlines in Rome(although he mentions only Bishop Alois Hudal, not Father Krunoslav Draganović); or through a second route through France and into Francoist Spain.
ODESSA was supported by the Gehlen Org, which employed many former Nazi party members, and was headed by Reinhard Gehlen, a former German Army intelligence officer employed post-war by the CIA. The Gehlen Org became the nucleus of the BND German Intelligence Agency, directed by Reinhard Gehlen from its 1956 creation until 1968.
Guy Walters is the author of nine books, which include four wartime thrillers and the critically acclaimed histories "Hunting Evil" and "Berlin Games". Frustrated at the enormous amount of junk history around, Guy sees it as his personal mission to wage war on ignorance and misconceptions about the past. Guy is currently working on a new history of the Great Escape, and is also studying for his PhD at Newcastle University.
The truth behind The Odessa File and Nazis on the run
1 December 2010
I see that today's papers are full of accounts of Gudrun Burwitz, the daughter of Heinrich Himmler, and her organisation Stille Hilfe (Silent Help), that is reputed to help Nazis on the run. Predictably, the reports mention how Stille Hilfe co-operates with the 'Odessa', the clandestine Nazi escape network. I'm not qualified to discuss the activities of Stille Hilfe, but I do know a thing or two about the 'Odessa', and I believe the organisation is more the product of fantasy than reality. I apologise that this is a longish post, but it's a subject close to my professional heart, and nothing gets my goat more than when people talk knowledgeably about 'Odessa'.
The most obvious problem with Odessa is the name. If you were organising a super secret escape network for SS men, would you really label yourself with an acronym that stood for 'Organisation der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen' – the Organisation of Former SS Members? No, I thought not.
The truth about the Nazi escape organizations, beneath the mushroom clouds of smoke, is that they were similar to an old-boy network, or perhaps even the loose web of terrorist cells and groups that are today placed under the name of al-Qaeda. After the war, there were countless organizations that assisted escaping Nazis, and some of these groups had names – such as ‘Konsul’, ‘Scharnhorst’, ‘Sechsgestirn’, ‘Leibwache’, ‘Lustige Brüder’ – and some did not. Instead of one big fire under the smoke, there were instead many small ones, the combination of their multiple and toxic emissions suggestive of a single large inferno. Assistance would also be provided on an ad hoc basis, sometimes by an individual or a handful of individuals rather than by a coordinated group.
However, the records do show that there was something called ‘Odessa’. Far from being the globalized tentacled monster of popular imagination, it appeared to start as little more than a watchword, and would become a term loosely ascribed to the group that took fugitives from Germany and Austria down to Rome and Genoa, and from there to Spain and Argentina. One of the earliest recorded mentions of ‘Odessa’ is in a US Counterintelligence Corps [CIC] memo dated 3 July 1946, in which an underground organization at an SS internment camp in Auerbach was identified. It was not called ‘Odessa’, but the word was employed as a codeword in order to gain "special food privileges and special food consideration" from the Red Cross in Augsburg.
The term also had currency further afield, in towns such as Kempten, Rosenheim, Mannheim and Berchtesgaden, where it was applied to small cells of unrepentant SS members in order to provide them with a feeling of solidarity. As these groups lacked any form of organization and leadership, the CIC was not overly troubled.
However, in November, the Czechs informed the Americans that they had caught wind of an organisation called ‘ODESSA’ that was operating in the British Zone of Occupation, and that it had held its first meeting in Hamburg in September. The following January, the CIC sent an agent into the internment camp at Dachau, who reported that there was an escape organization operating there under the name of ‘ODESSA’ and organised by SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, who was himself a prisoner.
‘This is being done with the help of the Polish guards,’ the agent reported, ‘[who] are helping the men that receive orders from Skorzeny to escape.’ The informant disclosed that the organization was ‘worldwide’ and that it provided Portuguese papers for those who wished to travel to Argentina. For those who decided to stay in Germany, the group would provide employment and documentation. However, neither the Americans nor the British were able to verify any of the informant’s claims. ‘Key personalities have been closely watched,’ the CIC reported, ‘but none of their activities have extended beyond the establishment of contact with former SS personnel in their locale.’ The CIC also felt that Skorzeny’s name was simply being used for ‘backing and prestige’.
The idea that Otto Skorzeny masterminded some secret society is fanciful, not least because nearly every move he made was monitored by the Americans, and in all likelihood, several other nations. Skorzeny was also, to be frank, neither intelligent nor discreet enough to manage a clandestine escape network.
Throughout the mid-1940s, the Allied intelligence services would receive a few more reports about ‘Odessa’, but they suggested that the organization was little more than a catch-all term used by former Nazis who wished to continue the fight. Furthermore, the nature of the Odessa seemed to change depending on who was being interrogated. In December 1947, the CIC in Donauwörth questioned a former SS officer called Robert Markworth who had been arrested for attempted bribery. Markworth claimed that he was on a secret mission for the Odessa, the role of which was to infiltrate the Russian military government and had nothing to do with escaping.
Earlier that year, the Americans had been told by an informant that the way to contact the organization was simply to mingle with the crowds around a selection of mainline railway stations until "one was accosted by someone with the word ODESSA". The informant, whom the Americans did not know and who had simply volunteered his information, tried his luck in Hanover, where he met a "Herbert Ringel", who claimed that the aim of the Odessa was ‘the planning of an eventual revolution’. Information throughout the group was spread by a network of contacts, none of whom knew the name of the next person in the chain. The method of identification was the presence of "three small spots in the shape of a triangle at the base of the thumb and forefinger of the right hand". ‘Ringel’ also showed the informant his Odessa Ausweis, which featured the supposed Odessa symbol on its cover: two crossed arrows laid over the letters ‘ODSSA’. The Americans graded the informant as "F3", which indicated that his unreliability could not be judged, and that his information was possibly true.
In fact, what he had reported was highly likely to have been disinformation, and an amateur attempt at that. The notion that the Odessa would issue its members with identity documents was absurd, and the presence of the three spots equally so. It also seems implausible that a member of the Odessa would offer such secrets to a stranger at Hanover railway station.
The same year, yet another organization calling itself ‘ODESSA’ was discovered in Rosenheim by the CIC, although it seemed to consist of little more than a dozen men, some of whom had previously been imprisoned for theft and possession of arms. The CIC reported that it had penetrated the group, and it noted how the word ‘Odessa’ was used as a kind of code. The leader of the group, Hans Schuchert, was described as a "fanatical SS soldier who always greets his friends with 'Heil Odessa'. At a dance at the Gasthaus Plestkeller in Ziegelberg just outside Rosenheim, Schuchert requested a number for SS members. "Now comes a dance for Odessa,’"he said. "That means for the SS". Although some of the guests were shocked, nobody – including some policemen present – registered any complaint.
One person who became interested in 'Odessa' was Simon Wiesenthal. On 3 April 1952, Wiesenthal wrote a long letter to the German journalist Ottmar Katz concerning Nazi gold and how such treasure was supposedly used to finance Nazi escape routes. In the letter, a poor copy of which is housed at the National Archives in Washington, DC, Wiesenthal tells Katz about various secret Nazi societies, such as Scharnhorst, Sechsgestirn, Edelweiss, Spinne and PAX. Wiesenthal also writes about ‘Odessa’, which, he informs Katz, is an escape organization that transported fugitives to Bishop Hudal in Rome, and from where they headed to Madrid and South America.
Wiesenthal’s source for his intelligence on the Odessa was one Wilhelm Höttl, a former SD man who had been running highly dubious networks for the Americans until they had sacked him in September 1949. The intelligence he gathered had been evaluated as poor, and the CIC regarded Höttl as dishonest. There was also an ongoing suspicion that he would peddle intelligence to the highest bidder, no matter on what side of the Iron Curtain the money came from.
There can also be little doubt that much of what Wiesenthal told Katz in his letter was yet more bunkum fed to him by Höttl. It is instructive that the letter to Katz should end up in Höttl’s file at the US National Archives. As a result, it is extremely difficult to trust anything that the gullible Wiesenthal would later present to the world concerning ‘Odessa’ and how the Nazis escaped.
Even Nazis such as Reinhold Kops, who wrote a set of candid memoirs in 1987, denied the existence of the "so-called Odessa organization". Alfred Jarschel, whose fanciful "Fleeing Nuremberg" is full of the most outrageous stories about Nazi escapes – including the "flight" of Martin Bormann – was withering about the ‘Odessa’ story, and saw it as little more than a line Wiesenthal would peddle to journalists.
Furthermore, Erich Priebke, the former Gestapo captain imprisoned in Rome, told me that Odessa is a myth. "I always say that Odessa is the invention of an Englishman," he said, referring to Frederick Forsyth. "I would have been lucky if somebody had helped me, but there was no Odessa". Priebke cited the lack of financial assistance he received as evidence that the group did not exist.
Frederick Forsyth first heard of the story from an article in the "Sunday Times" written by Antony Terry in July 1967, in which the function of Odessa was described, and how its greatest coup had been the rescue of – who else? – Martin Bormann. Terry's source for the story was none other than Simon Wiesenthal. Had Terry's editor known that the ultimate source of much of the piece was a duplicitous former SD man called Wilhelm Höttl, then he might have put the article on the spike.
Or probably not. After all, Odessa, as Frederick Forsyth knows, is a great story.
So ingrained has the Six Million figure become in the popular consciousness that while the average American may be quite sure that six million Jews were slaughtered by the Germans in the Second World War -- that is, in what is now called "the Holocaust" -- he has no idea of how many British, Poles, Russians, or even Americans died during that global conflict, or, for that matter, of how many of his fellow countrymen lost their lives in the American Civil War.
This is hardly surprising, considering how relentlessly the Six Million figure is hammered into the public consciousness, not only in newspapers, magazines, motion pictures, and television, but also routinely in our schools, and even by a special taxpayer-funded U.S. federal government agency, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which runs the imposing U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
Just what is the basis for this familiar figure?
Even before the end of the Second World War in Europe, that is, before any careful or detailed investigation was possible, the Six Million figure was already in wide circulation. For example, in essays published in late 1944 and early 1945, the prominent Soviet-Jewish writer Ilya Ehrenburg repeatedly told his many readers that "the Germans" had killed six million Jews. In an article published in March 1945, for instance, in the English-language London weekly, "Soviet War News", he wrote: "The world now knows that Germany has killed six million Jews".
In June 1945, just a few weeks after the end of the war in Europe, three Jewish lawyers who represented major Jewish organizations, met in New York with Robert Jackson, who would soon be serving as the chief U.S. prosecutor at the so-called 'International Military Tribunal' in Nuremberg. Jackson asked how many Jews had lost their lives in all Nazi-occupied lands. The number, he was told, was six million.
By remarkable coincidence, some twenty-five years earlier the American Jewish community had been warning of a "holocaust" of six million Jews in Europe. In an address published in 1919 in a leading Jewish American paper, the "American Hebrew of New York City", under the headline "The Crucifixion of Jews Must Stop!," the former governor of New York state, Martin Glynn, spoke repeatedly of "six million" European Jews who were "dying" and "being whirled toward the grave" in a "threatened holocaust of human life."Given all this, it is hardly surprising that someone was found to provide "proof" for the Six Million figure at the most extravagant judicial undertaking in history, the 1945-46 trial in Nuremberg of Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, and other high-ranking Third Reich personalities. The legendary figure was fixed in history at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, where it was cited by chief British prosecutor Sir Hartley Shawcross in his closing address, and by the Allied judges in their final judgment.
This figure was not the result of any careful investigation, research, or calculation. The only specific evidence presented for it to the Nuremberg Tribunal was the hearsay testimony of former SS officer Wilhelm Höttl [sometimes spelled Hoettl], who said that he recalled it from a remark by Adolf Eichmann, the wartime head of the Jewish affairs section of Himmler's Reich Security Main Office [RSHA]. Höttl, who also served with the RSHA during the war, stated in an affidavit dated 26 November 1945, and provided to the U.S. prosecution at Nuremberg, that Eichmann confided to him in August 1944 that some four million Jews had been killed in the "various extermination camps," and another two million had been killed in other ways, mostly in shootings by Einsatzgruppen forces in the course of the military campaign in Russia.
Eichmann himself, it should be noted, later called the Höttl story "nonsense," vigorously denied ever having made the alleged remark, and speculated that Höttl may have picked up the figure from a radio or newspaper report.
If it were not for Wilhelm Höttl's role in branding into the world's consciousness the trademark Six Million figure, his place in history would likely be little more than a footnote.
Indeed, and as already noted, Höttl "successfully convinced" the American and British prosecutors, and the judges, of the inter-Allied tribunal in Nuremberg, and many others around the world ever since, that German authorities killed six million Jews during the Second World War. And
Even though U.S. intelligence services and U.S. government researchers have, finally, as it were, discredited him, Höttl's most historically important claim remains widely, and even officially accepted.
Wilhelm Höttl was born in Vienna in March 1915. In 1938, at the remarkably young age of 23, he received a doctorate in history from the University of Vienna. While still a student there, he joined the National Socialist party and the SS. From 1939 until the end of the war in Europe, Höttl was employed almost without interruption by Germany's central intelligence agency, the RSHA. He was first stationed in Vienna with the "foreign bureau" (Amt Ausland, later Amt VI), and then, from early 1943, in Berlin in the "Southeastern Europe" branch E of Amt VI, with the SS rank of major [Sturmbannführer].
In March 1944 was assigned to Budapest, where he served as second in command to Himmler's SS representative in Hungary, and as political advisor to Hitler's ambassador there, Edmund Veesenmayer, who reported to Berlin, for example, on the large-scale deportations in 1944 of Jews from Hungary. On 8 May 1945, as German forces were unconditionally surrendering to the Allies, American troops arrested Höttl in Austria, and for several years after that he worked as an intelligence agent for the United States. He died in 1999, not long after the publication of his self-serving memoirs.
In April 2001 the US Central Intelligence Agency made public thousands of pages of long-suppressed documents from its files of major German wartime figures, including the bulging Höttl file. Along with the release of these documents, two US government employees wrote and issued a detailed report about Höttl based on those recently declassified CIA files, which sheds revealing light on his wartime and postwar career. This report, entitled "Analysis of the Name File of Wilhelm Höttl," was written by two "historical researchers" of the US government's "Interagency Working Group" [IWG], Miriam Kleiman and Robert Skwirot.
These documents establish that Höttl was a completely unreliable informant who routinely fabricated "information" to please those who were willing to pay him. In their report, the two US government researchers write:
Höttl's name file is approximately 600 pages, one of the largest of those released to the public so far. The size of the file owes to Höttl's postwar career as a peddler of intelligence, good and bad, to anyone who would pay him. Reports link Höttl to twelve different intelligence services, including the U.S., Yugoslav, Austrian, Israeli, Romanian, Vatican, Swiss, French, West German, Russian, Hungarian and British.
Soon after his arrest by the Americans in May 1945, Höttl began working for the US Office of Strategic Services [OSS], the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, and then for the US Army's Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC). As the two US government researchers put it: "Upon his arrest, Höttl played to the interests of his captors . . ." It was during this period, while he was secretly working for American intelligence, that Höttl provided his historic and damning "six million" affidavit for submission by the American prosecution at the Allied-run Tribunal at Nuremberg.
Höttl benefited from his readiness to tell those who paid him what they wanted to hear, but this eventually proved his undoing. All the same, it took several years for US intelligence to firmly conclude that it was being had.
In June 1949 one US intelligence official cautioned against using Höttl for any reason, calling him "a man of such low character and poor political record that his use for intelligence activities, regardless of how profitable they may be, is a short-sighted policy by the US" In August 1950, CIA messages referred to Höttl as a "notorious fabricator [of] intelligence." A US Army CIC report in early 1952 deemed his information useless, noting that Höttl "is involved in extensive intelligence activities for almost anyone who is willing to purchase his findings." In April 1952 his reports were called "worthless and possibly inflated or fabricated."
Interestingly, numerous US intelligence reports identify connections between Höttl and Simon Wiesenthal, the well-known "Nazi hunter". One US Army CIC document described Wiesenthal as the "Chief Austrian Agent of the Israeli Intelligence Bureau". A US Army CIC report in January 1950 noted that for the last three or four months Wiesenthal had "recruited the services of Wilhelm Höttl," and had hired him to gather information for reports by the "Nazi hunter".
In July 1952, when US Army intelligence finally broke completely with Höttl, a letter on US Army stationary warned:
"Dr. Höttl has long been known to this headquarters and other allied military organizations in Austria as a fabricator of intelligence information. His reports normally consist of a fine cobweb of fact, heavily padded with lies, deceit, conjecture and other false types of information. This organization will have absolutely nothing to do with Dr. Höttl or any members of his present entourage. He is persona non grata to the American, French and British elements in Austria".
In their report on his postwar career, US government historical researchers Kleiman and Skwirot conclude:
"The voluminous materials in Wilhelm Höttl's personality file. . . trace the activities of a notorious intelligence peddler and fabricator, who successfully convinced one intelligence service after another of his value, and then proceeded to lose such support".
In the last ten years, however, the steady declassification of secret documents in the United States and Europe has made it possible to test those fictionalized tales of Hitler's survival, and Forsyth's more plausible novel, against the hard stone of historical fact. The picture that emerges is not necessarily one of an ageing Führer doddering peacefully in the Andean foothills attended by faithful Nazi servants. It does not even include an organization actually named Odessa, but it is sinister nonetheless, and weighted in favour of an actual organized escape network. The documents reveal that the "real" ODESSA was much more than a tight organization with only nostalgic Nazis for members. It consisted instead of layered rings of non-Nazi factions: Vatican institutions, Allied intelligence agencies and secret Argentine organizations. It also overlapped at strategic points with French-speaking war criminals, with Croatian Fascists and even with the SS men of the fictional ODESSA, all in order to smuggle Hitler's evil minions to safety.
But in Argentina the ODESSA trail was growing faint, and was in danger of being erased altogether. This trail led back to the presidential office of General Juan Perón; it could therefore conceivably tar the figure of his beloved wife Evita, who remains an icon of almost saintly devotion to her compatriots even today. In the wake of the tardy revelations regarding Switzerland's role as a haven for Nazi gold, it came as no surprise when Argentina attempted to blur the facts. In a blaze of publicity in 1992, the Perónist government of then-president Carlos Menem announced the opening of Argentina's Nazi files' to researchers. The international press descended upon Buenos Aires, anxious to discover the truth behind the old rumours of Perón's secret dalliance with Hitler. But no such revelation was at hand.
Instead, reporters and researchers found a batch of dog-eared 'intelligence' dossiers containing mostly faded press clippings but precious little new information. The file on Bormann, who never really survived the fall of Berlin, included a press article claiming that he had been transported to Argentina via submarine. Conspicuously absent was the file on Adolf Eichmann, the architect of Hitler's 'Final Solution' and the most notorious Nazi criminal to have actually arrived in Argentina (under the auspices of both the Catholic Church and Perón's Nazi-smuggling team). The dossiers proved hugely disappointing to journalists, while the scholars inwardly cheered: the lack of evidence seemed to corroborate the growing consensus in academia that no ODESSA had ever existed, and that the Nazis had arranged their escapes individually, finding their separate ways to Argentina without any organized assistance.
It was against this backdrop, unconvinced by the all-too-convenient lack of evidence, that in 1996 I began to dig for clues to Argentina's Nazi past. I guessed, correctly as it later turned out, that there was a wealth of material out there just waiting to be uncovered. If a 'real ODESSA' had ever existed, I was determined to find traces of it
For dubious 'lack of space' Argentina incinerated all the files
about the influx of Nazis into the country
Argentina, a Haven for Nazis, Balks at Opening Its Files
New York Times
9 March 2003
Under fire because of a new book that documents for the first time how Juan Peron clandestinely maneuvered to bring Nazi and other war criminals to Argentina after World War II, the Peronist government here is resisting calls to release long-secret official records about the collaboration. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center here, both the Foreign Relations Ministry and the Interior Ministries have failed to respond to letters, sent to them shortly after the book was published here late last year, asking that the records be made public. In addition, seven members of Congress have now called for an investigation into how crucial immigration records were apparently destroyed six years ago in defiance of existing laws
In Buenos Aires, much of the vital documentation had reportedly been destroyed back in 1955, during the last days of Perón's government, and again in 1996, when the burning of confidential immigration dossiers containing the landing papers of Nazi criminals seems to have been ordered. But tantalizing leads in other Argentine files that had miraculously survived these purges led me first to Belgium, where vital information on what I discovered to be Perón's long-denied ODESSA-like organization had happily remained out of the reach of Argentina's document cleansers. Hundreds of pages of government documents were sent to me from Switzerland, detailing the co-operation of anti-Semitic Swiss officials in Perón's Nazi escape operation. In London, patient digging in British postwar papers finally paid off when these documents revealed direct Papal complicity in the protection of war criminals. Documents I requested from the United States under the Freedom of Information Act proved how Perón's top Nazi smuggler had actually been a secret agent of the SS, sent out of Berlin in l945 on a mission slated to start after the end of the war. Declassified CIA documents also explained how gold looted from the Serb and Jewish victims of Croatia’s Nazi puppet regime had found its way to Argentina in the early 1950s.
Incredibly, it sometimes proved easier to gain access to faraway archives in the US and Europe than to those at home. The progress I made in Argentina was maddeningly slow, hampered by the unresponsiveness of government officials and by the refusal of surviving participants in the Nazi rescue operation to be interviewed. One thing was clear, however: the cover-up had been so complete that only separate parts of the jigsaw puzzle survived in each country. I was forced to assemble and compare the varying information available in Brussels, Berne, London, Maryland and Buenos Aires. This was a gargantuan task that involved obtaining copies of thousands of pages of documents and indexing them all, while working simultaneously in four languages (French, German, English and Spanish) before the whole could be understood. And even that proved insufficient, for the assembled documentation left glaring gaps in the investigation which had to be filled in with some 200 personal interviews. It took six years of dedicated work. But finally, for the first time, the disparate pieces of the Nazi rescue puzzle slid into place, revealing the whole gruesome tableau.
I didn't know it when I started, but parts of that puzzle had been almost literally on my front doorstep all along. Looking out of my apartment window, for years I had unknowingly been seeing the grandson of Fritz Thyssen, the German industrial magnate who bankrolled Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s, take a stroll along the sidewalk. Four doors down, by the Swiss ambassador's residence, is the chalet once inhabited by SS Captain Carlos Fuldner, the Himmler agent who coordinated the main Nazi escape route and shielded Eichmann, among others. It sounds like Berlin, Munich or Vienna, but no, it is the sleepy Embassy Row of Buenos Aires. The street remains oblivious to its sinister past. I myself had been unaware of its notorious inhabitant when I cycled past Fuldner's house as a kid in the 1960s. What a missed chance for an interview!
The luxurious town houses and elegant curved streets of the Palermo Chico neighbourhood disprove the assumption that Hitler's helpers were somehow condemned to a life of squalor during their long postwar Argentine 'exile'. Most of them boasted select addresses in a city that rightly prided itself on being the Paris of South America'. Some, like Fritz Thyssen, who died in Buenos Aires in 1951, regretted aiding Nazism. The magnate had a falling out with the Führer and spent much of the latter part of the war in German concentration camps. Others, such as Fuldner, remained loyal to the cause long after Hitler's demise.
From my window, across the avenue, I can almost see the attractive red-brick townhouse where Thilo Martens lived not so long ago. He was a German millionaire who smuggled into Argentina the state-ofthe-art radio sets used by Hitler's agents to communicate with Berlin. After the war Martens reportedly arranged money transfers for some of the more notorious Nazis who escaped to Buenos Aires with Fuldner's help. But his Nazi past did not spare the ageing collaborator from abduction by the generals of Argentina's genocidal 1976/83 dictatorship, who pocketed a substantial part of his fortune.
A few blocks further along, in a comfortable modern apartment building, lived another SS captain circa 1943, Siegfried Becker. He was arguably Himmler's most cunning and successful agent in the western hemisphere. During the war he plotted the overthrow of the Allied-leaning government of neighbouring Bolivia with Perón. Afterwards he apparently helped channel Nazi funds to Argentina.
Finally, slightly up the hill from Becker lived the man who breathed life into the Nazi escape route, Colonel Perón himself. The Argentine strongman shared his bed there with a 14-year-old girl now remembered only by the pet name Perón gave her, 'Piranha'. In 1944, Evita arrived on the scene and threw the teenager out.
None of this was on my mind in mid-1996 when the "Sunday Times of London" called for a story. It had been a slow week in the rest of the world and the paper's editors needed some colourful copy for their international section. I offered up the usual Argentine fare political scandals, new twists in the Falklands dispute, ageing generals from the 1970s and 1980s trudging through the courts on renewed charges of old human rights violations. The British voice coming down the line was not impressed. 'Well, and then there's the Bormann passport in Patagonia,' I offered, hoping the editor would decide there was nothing worth taking from my neck of the woods.
How wrong I was. That weekend the "Sunday Times" ran a big piece entitled 'Bormann File Reopened by Passport Find'. In it I reported that a Uruguayan passport had turned up in southern Chile made out in the name of Ricardo Bauer, one of the aliases allegedly used by Hitler's deputy during his flight to South America. It proved a shaky start for the investigation that resulted in this book, for two years later a DNA test conducted on a skull found in Berlin established that Bormann had died fleeing Hitler's Bunker during the last days of the war. Nonetheless, tackling the Bormann mystery made one thing obvious to me no well-documented research was available on the Argentine side of the postwar Nazi escape route.
I had reasons of my own to start digging. For too long I had been aware of silence as a noisy presence in Argentina, a country that time and again has failed miserably the test of looking at itself in the mirror. Each Argentine carries around a fabricated version of the country's history, tailored to their own personal comfort. There is one version for the die-hard Perónist, another for the Catholic nationalist; one for the victim of the 1976/83 massacres, another for those who walked blindly through the horror. As I write this, in mid-2002, the country is going through another of its perennial crises, this time an economic collapse of unprecedented proportions. The current storm has plunged over half the population of an until recently fairly affluent middle-class country below the poverty line. Silence played its hand here as well, the collapse driven by tens of billions of dollars in ill-gotten assets funneled out of the country by a hopelessly corrupt political class and its attendant financiers, with barely a single person ever convicted for corruption by Argentina's easily bought judges. But of all these silences, there is none so deafening as that surrounding Perón, the Catholic Church and the Nazis they helped to escape from justice. If this particular section of the wall could be cracked, I thought, then Argentines might feel encouraged to chip away at other parts of the edifice
When I was born in 1953 in Washington, DC, where my father served at the Argentine embassy, the wife of Perón's vice-president suggested that since I had come into the world on 17 October the anniversary of the popular uprising in 1945 that catapulted Perón to the presidency I should be named Juan Domingo, in homage to El Líder. I was spared that particular ignominy, even though suggestions from Perón's presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, carried not a little weight back then. The awareness of that small jolt at the start switched me on to permanent alert mode during the strange years that followed.
In 1955, Perón was ousted by a group of fanatically Catholic rightwing generals who gave cabinet posts to former collaborators of Himmler's espionage service. These generals were succeeded in turn by a series of oppressive military regimes that, apart from brief interludes, kept a firm boot against the Argentine throat until Perón’s triumphal return to power in 1973. No better than Perón himself, these regimes forbade even the mention of Perón's or Evita's name in the press. Shockingly, Argentina's journalists obeyed the ban.
I grew up in the US, far from the centre of events that make up this tale, spending part of my childhood years in an old mansion called Downcrest that my parents had rented at the end of wooded Crest Lane in McLean, Virginia. The house, built in castle style with mock battlements, still overlooks the Potomac river today. Back in the late 1950s, one of its frequent visitors was Senator Eugene McCarthy, who, together with his wife and children, had become close friends of our family. The McCarthys and my parents, hailing from extreme ends of the same continent, had some life points in common: both couples had married in 1945 and both had four children. Although I was small, I can remember eavesdropping intently on the long conversations that my father the South American diplomat and McCarthy the Democrat Congressman had on the open veranda of Downcrest above the Potomac. I like to think that some wisdom filtered through despite my scant years. Afterwards, the lives of our two families took different directions, as my father proceeded to new diplomatic postings and McCarthy embarked on his failed but heroic bid for the US presidency in 1968, running a campaign against the Vietnam War that raised fundamental military, political and moral questions concerning America’s role in the world.
That same eventful 1968, after spending brief years in Argentina and Mexico, I was transplanted to Dublin, where my father headed the Argentine embassy. That was the year Ché Guevara was murdered in Bolivia. Each morning as I left the embassy residence in chauffeur-driven comfort for classes at St Conleth's College, I would see the scrawl of graffiti on our sidewalk: 'Guevara Lives', in white letters, painted during the night by Irish revolutionary sympathizers. Just as inexorably, each day the embassy staff would scrub the offending letters away. Driving over the reiterated scrawl, I shrank every time a little deeper into the red leather upholstery of our old Jaguar.
Erasing the evidence was a method that I grievously mistrusted even then. During the research for this book, some Argentine diplomats argued off the record that the country could best shake off its Nazi stigma by 'proving' once and for all that there had been no wartime collaboration by Perón and no organized assistance for fleeing Nazis; I disagreed. There was no shame in admitting old Nazi connections. It would be shameful only to be caught tampering with the evidence. Let the scrawl remain.
Between 1972 and 1975, I moved back and forth between Ireland and Argentina, unable to decide where I wanted to stay. While making the slow transition to Argentina, where: I finally settled, I spent a lot of time walking around Buenos Aires, trying to adapt to a society that I barely knew. My arrival coincided with Perón's return after l8 years of exile in Spain. The country was spiralling into mindless violence, driven by armed confrontation between youthful Perónist terrorists who wanted to ride piggyback on Perón's return to power and the right-wing death squads that he used to shake the pesky youths off his ancient back.
During these long walks I came across a disturbing sign of the times that I should perhaps have heeded better. On the broad Nueve de Julia Avenue that divides Buenos Aires in half—'the widest avenue in the world',—according to some Argentines stands a giant white obelisk that is the city’s most conspicuous landmark. In 1974, the landmark lost its virginity in the strangest of ways. A revolving billboard was suspended around the Obelisco, snugly encircling the huge white phallus. Round and round the ring turned, inscribed with an Orwellian message in bold blue letters on a plain white background" 'Silence Is Health'.
I was stunned. With every turn, the ring reaffirmed its doctrine, schooling Argentines in the total silence they would practise in the years to follow. Anywhere else, people would have mocked loudly, but in Argentina nobody laughed at all. My attempts to discuss the ring with friends invariably foundered met with blank stares. The ring's message, I soon learned, was self-fulfilling. A line had been drawn. Today, over a quarter of a century later, I still receive blank stares when I bring it up in conversation.
After Perón's death and following the overthrow of his vice-president wife 'Isabelita' in 1976, a new military dictatorship set up Nazi-style death camps across Argentina. The generals were intent on defending what they considered to be the country's 'Western and electric torture prods and Christian' lifestyle. Their instruments were mass killings. Instead of gassing their victims, the generals slit their stomachs open and threw them alive from planes into the freezing South Atlantic. That way they sank faster.
Under the military the silence became asphyxiating and present everywhere, all the time. Only the "Buenos Aires Herald", a small English-language newspaper read by Argentina's mostly conservative British community, dared report on the bloodbath. I gravitated to its offices in the port of Buenos Aires, first as a cub reporter, then as editor of national news.
Daily the mothers of the victims would come in to report their tragedies. Men in green uniforms had broken into their homes in the middle of the night and taken their children from their beds to an unknown destination. They were never to be seen again. The abductors returned to steal their TV sets and refrigerators; sometimes they even unbolted the doors and loaded those on their trucks too.
I asked the mothers why they didn't report their stories to the big Spanish-language dailies. Why bother coming to a tiny newspaper published in a foreign language? 'Don't be naive,' the mothers almost laughed. 'We went and they wouldn't even let us in the door.' Just as Argentina's journalists had erased Perón's name from their vocabulary, now they erased part of a generation.
Attempts to repeat outside the "Herald" what I had heard from these mothers came up against a brick wall, much in the way my previous attempts to discuss the ring around the obelisk had. Even friends, members of my generation who picked up guitars and sang Blowin' in the Wind' at the parties I went to, gave me the empty stare.
If I forgot the 'disappearances', life could hardly have been more glorious. The military obtained huge international loans and opened up imports, and for the upper layer of the population the economy boomed. Colour television finally arrived; the streets were suddenly full of new BMWs; flights to Europe and Miami were packed with Argentines, their pockets bulging with dollars. Rod Stewart came to Buenos Aires for the 1978 World Cup. After the matches he is said to have joined the dancers in the basement of Experiment, a trendy disco where I began spending much of my time outside the "Herald" in a haze of gin and tonics while the killing was at its bloodiest.
Hell managed to intrude even through the deafening disco beat pounding out of Experiment's loudspeakers. My then-girlfriend confided in a whisper that her aunt had been kidnapped by the dictatorship. She was placing great trust in me for she had been warned by her family not to tell anyone. I begged her to impress upon them that the only hope of saving her aunt's life lay in going to the international press immediately, before the military concluded their dirty work. The family stuck to their policy of silence until it was too late. Multiply that by thousands.
My scariest memories of those years are not of the middle-aged generals who ordered the killings but of the deep abyss that separated even the more enlightened members of my own generation from the rest of humanity. Some generals became obsessed with the Jewish question' during 1976/83, particularly the powerful chief of the Buenos Aires police, General Ramón Camps, who hoped to stage a trial against the country's most prominent Jews in order to prove the existence of what he imagined was a Zionist plot against 'Western and Christian' Argentina. To this end, he abducted Jacobo Timerman, editor and owner of the influential daily "La Opinión". After confiscating his newspaper and torturing him for months, the 'doves' among the military finally caved in to international pressure, stripped Timerman of his Argentine citizenship and threw him out of the country.
Enraged at being deprived of his prey, Camps called a press conference at the exclusive Alvear Hotel during which he played the tapes of Timerman's interrogation.
The purpose of the exercise was to prove that Timerman was 'a Zionist' who sought Argentina's destruction.
"Do you admit you are a Jew?" Camps could be heard snarling on the first tape.
"Well . . . yes," came back Timerman's frightened whisper.
"Then you are a Zionist," hollered Camps.
"Well ... I don't know, maybe," said Timerman.
Camps ordered the tape stopped and beamed triumphantly at the gathered reporters: "See, he admits he is a Zionist'.
The general's raving in the luxurious hotel in front of a gathering of foreign correspondents wasn't half as frightening as the composure of his civilian assistant, a finely educated young man who was the 'best friend' in Argentina of British writer Bruce Chatwin, someone Chatwin considered possessed of 'a culture and sensibility that has died out in Europe'. The assistant also happened to be a close friend of mine. He gave me Chatwin's address when I travelled to London in 1980.
This young writer had a hard time making ends meet and had been set up with Camps by his father. The scene was unreal: here was an otherwise enlightened intellectual (together we used to pore over scholarly editions of T. S. Eliot's poetry) pressing the play button for the forced interrogation of Argentina's main Jewish journalist by a wildly anti-Semitic general.
I hung around after the press conference and nodded to my friend, inviting him for a cup of coffee at the hotel. He was smiling, thrilled that so many correspondents had turned up, completely oblivious to the dark significance of the role he had just played.
"You have to give up this job," I said bluntly.
"Look, one day there's going to be a Nuremberg here and your name is going to be associated with this crazy general."
"No! He's a friend of my father's. Do you think so I really don't," he said, stirring his coffee with a silver spoon. It proved impossible to press the point any further. Our friendship faded years later when I tried to bring up the memory of that bizarre press conference, the wall of silence intact even after all those years.
Argentines still lack a definitive understanding of the general moral blindness that allowed the 1976/83 dictatorship to carry out its gruesome exterminations. Almost equally, the country remains at a loss to comprehend how, even in 2002, the most egalitarian society in Latin America has lurched suddenly into a chaos of apocalyptic proportions, undone by widespread corruption and with the spectre of mass hunger haunting a land historically known as the 'breadbasket' and Beef capital' of the world. It could take many more years before such an understanding is possible. Meanwhile, clues as to how chats of past horror of mass extermination and this present one of rampant corruption were generated may be found in Argentina's (still-denied) closure of its borders to the Jews at the beginning of the Holocaust and the warm welcome it extended to the Nazis afterwards.
the Swiss & the Nazis
By Georg Hodel
This story is based, in part, on a Swiss German-language documentary directed by Frank Garbely and entitled "Evitas Geheimnis - Die Schweizer Reise"
On 6 June 1947, Argentina's first lady Eva Peron left for a glittering tour of Europe.
The glamorous ex-actress was feted in Spain, kissed the ring of Pope Pius XII at the Vatican and hobnobbed with the rich-and-famous in the mountains of Switzerland.
Eva Peron, known as "Evita" by her adoring followers, was superficially on a trip to strengthen diplomatic, business and cultural ties between Argentina and important leaders of Europe.
But there was a parallel mission behind the high-profile trip, one that has contributed to a half century of violent extremism in Latin America.
According to records now emerging from Swiss archives and the investigations of Nazi hunters, an unpublicized side of Evita's world tour was coordinating the network for helping Nazis relocate in Argentina.
This new evidence of Evita's cozy ties with prominent Nazis corroborates the long-held suspicion that she and her husband, Gen. Juan Peron, laid the groundwork for a bloody resurgence of fascism across Latin America in the 1970s and '80s.
Besides blemishing the Evita legend, the evidence threatens to inflict more damage on Switzerland's image for plucky neutrality. The international banking center is still staggering from disclosures about its wartime collaboration with Adolf Hitler and Swiss profiteering off his Jewish victims.
The archival records indicate that Switzerland's assistance to Hitler's henchmen didn't stop with the collapse of the Third Reich.
And the old Swiss-Argentine-Nazi connection reaches to the present in another way. Spanish "superjudge" Baltasar Garzon is seeking to open other Swiss records on bank accounts controlled by Argentine military officers who led the so-called "Dirty War" that killed and "disappeared" tens of thousands of Argentines between 1976-83.
During World War II, Gen. Peron - a populist military leader - made no secret of his sympathies for Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany.
Even as the Third Reich crumbled in the spring of 1945, Peron remained a pro-fascist stalwart, making available more than 1,000 blank passports for Nazi collaborators fleeing Europe.
With Europe in chaos and the Allies near victory, tens of thousands of ranking Nazis dropped out of sight, tried to mix in with common refugees and began plotting escapes from Europe to Argentina across clandestine "Ratlines."
At the Argentine end of that voyage was Rodolfo Freude. He also was Juan Peron's private secretary, one of Evita's principal benefactors and the chief of Argentine internal security.
Freude’s father, Ludwig, played another key role. As managing director of the Banco Aleman Transatlantico in Buenos Aires, he led the pro-Nazi German community in Argentina and acted as trustee for hundreds of millions of German Reichsmarks that the Führer's top aides sent to Argentina near the war’s end.
By 1946, the first wave of defeated fascists was settling into new Argentine homes. The country also was rife with rumors that the thankful Nazis had begun to repay Peron by bankrolling his campaign for the presidency, which he won with his stunning wife at his side.
In 1947, Peron was living in Argentina's presidential palace and was hearing pleas from thousands of other Nazis desperate to flee Europe. The stage was set for one of the most troubling boatlifts in human history.
The archival records reveal that Eva Peron stepped forward to serve as Gen. Peron's personal emissary to this Nazi underground. Already, Evita was an Argentine legend.
Born in 1919 as an illegitimate child, she became a prostitute to survive and to get acting roles. As she climbed the social ladder lover by lover, she built up deep resentments toward the traditional elites.
As a mistress to other army officers, she caught the eye of handsome military strongman Juan Peron. After a public love affair, they married in 1945.
As Peron’s second wife, Evita fashioned herself as the "queen of the poor,” the protector of those she called "mis descamisados" -- "my shirtless ones." She created a foundation to help the poor buy items from toys to houses.
But her charity extended, too, to her husband's Nazi allies. In June 1947, Evita left for post-war Europe. A secret purpose of her first major overseas trip apparently was pulling together the many loose ends of the Nazi relocation.
Evita's first stop on her European tour was Spain, where Generalissimo Francisco Franco - her husband's model and mentor - greeted her with all the dignified folderol of a head of state.
A fascist who favored the Axis powers but maintained official neutrality in the war, Franco had survived to provide a haven for the Third Reich's dispossessed. Franco’s Spain was an important early hide-out for Nazis who slipped through the grasp of the Allies and needed a place to stay before continuing on to more permanent homes in Latin America or the Middle East.
While in Spain, Evita reportedly met secretly with Nazis who were part of the entourage of Otto Skorzeny, the dashing Austrian commando leader known as Scarface because of a dueling scar across his left cheek.
Though under Allied detention in 1947, Skorzeny already was the purported leader of the clandestine organization, Die Spinne or The Spider, which used millions of dollars looted from the Reichsbank to smuggle Nazis from Europe to Argentina.
After escaping in 1948, Skorzeny set up the legendary ODESSA organization which tapped into other hidden Nazi funds to help ex-SS men rebuild their lives -- and the fascist movement --- in South America.
Evita’s next stop was equally fitting. The charismatic beauty traveled to Rome for an audience with Pope Pius XII, a Vatican meeting that lasted longer than the usual kiss on the ring.
At the time, the Vatican was acting as a crucial way station doling out forged documents for fascist fugitives. Pope Pius himself was considered sympathetic to the tough anti-communism of the fascists although he had kept a discreet public distance from Hitler.
A top-secret State Department report from May 1947 -- a month before Evita's trip -- had termed the Vatican "the largest single organization involved in the illegal movement of emigrants," including many Nazis. Leading ex-Nazis later publicly thanked the Vatican for its vital assistance. [For details, see Martin A. Lee's "The Beast Reawakens"]
As for the Evita-Pius audience, former Justice Department Nazi-hunter John Loftus has charged that the First Lady of the Pampas and His Holiness discussed the care and feeding of the Nazi faithful in Argentina.
After her Roman holiday, Evita hoped to meet Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth. But the British government balked out of fear that the presence of Peron's wife might provoke an embarrassing debate over Argentina's pro-Nazi leanings and the royal family's own pre-war cuddling up to Hitler.
Instead, Evita diverted to Rapallo, a town near Genoa on the Italian Rivera. There, she was the guest of Alberto Dodero, owner of an Argentine shipping fleet known for transporting some of the world's most unsavory cargo.
On 19 June 1947, in the midst of Evita's trip, the first of Dodero's ships, the “Santa Fe,” arrived in Buenos Aires and disgorged hundreds of Nazis onto the docks of their new country.
Over the next few years, Dodero's boats would carry thousands of Nazis to South America, including some of Hitler's vilest war criminals, the likes of Mengele and Eichmann, according to Argentine historian Jorge Camarasa.
On 4 August 1947, Evita and her entourage headed north to the stately city of Geneva, a center for international finance. There, she participated in more meetings with key figures from the Nazi escape apparatus.
A Swiss diplomat named Jacques-Albert Cuttat welcomed the onetime torch singer. The meeting was a reunion of sorts, since Evita had known Cuttat when he worked at the Swiss Legation in Argentina from 1938 to 1946.
Newly released documents from Argentina’s Central Bank showed that during the war, the Swiss Central Bank and a dozen Swiss private banks maintained suspicious gold accounts in Argentina. Among the account holders was Jacques-Albert Cuttat.
The Swiss files accused Cuttat of conducting unauthorized private business and maintaining questionable wartime contacts with known Nazis. In spite of those allegations, the Swiss government promoted Cuttat to chief of protocol of the Swiss Foreign Service, after his return from Argentina to Switzerland.
In that capacity, Cuttat escorted Eva Peron to meetings with senior Swiss officials. The pair went to see Foreign Minister Max Petitpierre and Philipp Etter, the Swiss president.
Etter extended a warm welcome to Evita, even accompanying her the next day on a visit to the city of Lucerne, “the doorway to the Swiss Alps.”
First lady Eva Peron 'allowed Nazis to hide out in Argentina in exchange for treasures looted from rich Jewish families'
By David Gardner
2 September 2011
The former first lady of Argentina has been accused of accepting Nazi treasures stolen from wealthy families during the Holocaust in return for using her country as a safe haven.
According to a new book, Eva Peron and her husband, former president Juan Peron, kept quiet about the number of Nazis who were hiding out in Argentina after the Second World War. Among those who fled to the South American country was Adolf Eichmann, a key orchestrator of the concentration camps.
Josef Mengele, the Nazi 'Angel of Death' responsible for human experiments on Holocaust victims, also found refuge in Argentina and lived in South America until his death in 1979 at the age of 67.
In 'The Politically Incorrect Guide to Latin America,' authors Leandro Narloch and Duda Teixeira wrote: 'It is still suspected that among her [Eva Peron's] possessions, there were pieces of Nazi treasure that came from rich Jewish families killed in concentration camps.
'Peron himself even spoke of goods of ''German and Japanese origin'' that the Argentine government had appropriated,' they added.
Switzerland is said to have launched an investigation into whether Argentina deposited stolen Nazi loot in Swiss banks after the war.
In 1947, then First Lady Eva Peron included a brief trip to Switzerland during a publicity tour of Europe to try and boost the image of her husband's regime abroad.
According to historians, she may have opened at least one secret Geneva account to stash funds and valuables she allegedly received from Nazis in exchange for Argentine passports and visas.
The second wife of Juan Peron, Evita was given the official title of 'Spiritual Leader of the Nation' by the Argentine Congress before her death from cancer in 1952 at the age of 33 and is still regarded as a national heroine.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the country's first female president, said women of her generation owed a huge debt to Peron for her 'example of passion and combativeness'.
After her "official" duties had ended, Evita dropped out of public view. Supposedly, she joined some friends for rest and recreation in the mountains of St. Moritz.
But the documents recounting her Swiss tour revealed that she continued making business contacts that would advance both Argentine commerce and the relocation of Hitler's henchmen. She was a guest of the "Instituto Suizo-Argentino" at a private reception at the Hotel "Baur au Lac" in Zürich, the banking capital of Switzerland's German-speaking sector.
There, Professor William Dunkel, the president of the Institute, addressed an audience of more than 200 Swiss bankers and businessmen - plus Eva Peron - on the wonderful opportunities about to blossom in Argentina.
Recently released Swiss archival documents explained what was behind the enthusiasm. Peron's ambassador to Switzerland, Benito Llambi, had undertaken a secret mission to create a sort of emigration service to coordinate the escape of the Nazis, particularly those with scientific skills.
Already, Llambi had conducted secret talks with Henry Guisan Jr., a Swiss agent whose clients included a German engineer who had worked for Wernher von Braun's missile team. Guisan offered Llambi the blueprints of German "V2" and "V3" rockets.
Guisan himself emigrated to Argentina, where he established several firms that specialized in the procurement of war materiel.
His ex-wife later told investigators: "I had to attend business associates of my former husband I'd rather not shake hands with. When they started to talk business I had to leave the room. I only remember that millions were at stake".
Intelligence files of the Bern Police Department show that the secret Nazi emigration office was located at Marktgasse 49 in downtown Bern, the Swiss capital. The operation was directed by three Argentines -- Carlos Fuldner, Herbert Helfferich and Dr. Georg Weiss. A police report described them as "110 percent Nazis."
The leader of the team, Carlos Fuldner, was the son of German immigrants to Argentina who had returned to Germany to study. In 1931, Fuldner joined the SS and later was recruited into German foreign intelligence.
At war’s end, Fuldner fled to Madrid with a planeload of stolen art, according to a U.S. State Department report. He then moved to Bern where he posed as a representative of the Argentinean Civil Air Transport Authority. Fuldner was in place to assist the first wave of Nazi emigres.
Biography of Carlos Fuldner
The Spy Who Managed Peron's Nazi Ratlines
Carlos Fuldner was an Argentine of German descent who spent much of his youth in Germany. He joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Nazi party before World War Two. After the war, he was employed by Argentine intelligence to facilitate the travel from postwar Europe to Argentina of hundreds of Nazis and collaborators, including major war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengle. Back in Argentina in the early 1950’s, he started a business which employed many of these former Nazis.
Early Life of Carlos Fuldner
Horst Carlos Fuldner was born in Buenos Aires on 16 December 1910. His parents were German immigrants. The family returned to Germany when Carlos was twelve years old. He managed to keep both of his citizenships, which would serve him well in the future. He began law school, but dropped out. His Nazi leanings began early in his life: he joined the Stahlhelm organization as a youth. He joined the SS in 1932 and initially rose swiftly in rank, but he was eventually kicked out of the SS for embezzlement. Still, his fluent Spanish and German [and passable English and French] and ties to Argentina made him a valuable asset for both countries as World War Two loomed on the horizon.
Fuldner was a charmer. Never much of a military man, he was much better suited for work as a spy. Everywhere he went, he made friends and contacts that could help him with whatever endeavor he was plotting. He was also a crook, scoundrel and womanizer. Before the war, he was known as a con man and swindler. He left his pregnant wife behind when he made a dash for Argentina in 1935, although he was caught by the Gestapo and brought back to Europe.
During World War Two
Fuldner’s exact movements during the Second World War are unclear. Although he had been kicked out of the SS, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the army and served for a while as translator for the “Blue Division,” a unit comprised of Spanish volunteers fighting for Germany on the Soviet front. Fuldner traveled to Berlin frequently and worked with Sofindus, a Nazi corporation that co-ordinated business interests and spies, mostly in Spain. (He would be fired from Sofindus as well, again for embezzlement). As the war wound down, Fuldner made his way to Madrid, where he would begin his last assignment for the Third Reich: getting Nazis safely to Argentina.
Nazi Ratlines: Spain
Fuldner had money, connections with high-ranking Spanish officers, and even a number of stolen artworks which would be sold to help finance his activities. Although the allies were looking for him, his Spanish friends from his days in the Blue Division protected him, even hiding him in the El Escorial palace for a brief time. As the war ended, Spain became a haven for many former Nazis and collaborators, particularly those from France and Belgium. Before long, a network mostly set up and organized by Charles Lesca and Pierre Daye was in operation, sending wanted war criminals to Argentina as early as January 1946. Fuldner aided some fugitives before making his own way to Argentina in 1947.
Back in Buenos Aires, Fuldner was put in contact with President Juan Domingo Perón, who was looking for agents to help smuggle wanted Nazis out of Europe. Fuldner had the contacts and language skills to be perfect for the job. Perón had been an admirer of the European fascist regimes and Argentina – with its large population descended mostly from Spaniards, Italians and Germans – was a natural friend of the Axis powers. Perón thought the Nuremberg Trials were a disgrace and also believed that former Nazis could come in handy in what he saw as the inevitable upcoming conflict between the USA and the USSR. Fuldner was quickly put on the payroll, and assigned as an immigration official of Argentina in Genoa. He was also secretly working for Argentina’s Information Bureau and the Argentine Air Force.
Fuldner in Switzerland and Italy
The Nazis still had many friends in neutral Switzerland, and many wanted war criminals made their way there. Fuldner’s job was to smuggle as many of them out as possible. He worked closely with Swiss chief of police Heinrich Rothmund, himself a dedicated anti-Semite. Fuldner remained in Italy, with occasional visits to Switzerland, for about a year, during which time he facilitated the exile to Argentina of some 300 former Nazis and wanted criminals, including Adolf Eichmann. He returned to Argentina in September of 1948, leaving a handful of unpaid bills behind him. He traveled to Argentina in the company of Hubert von Blucher, who had been connected to the removal of a fortune from Germany’s banks at the end of the war.
Back in Argentina, Fuldner needed to find a way to keep the flow of Nazi refugees coming. He chose Vianord, a travel agency operated by a fellow Hans-Kaspar Krüger. Vianord was operated by a small office of dedicated Nazis whose main purpose was to smuggle out those wanted by the Allied powers. The agency provided transport, papers and landing papers. Josef Schwammberger, an SS officer put in charge of liquidating Jewish ghettoes in Poland, was one war criminal whose arrival in Argentina was orchestrated by Vianord.
Legacy of Carlos Fuldner
By the early 1950’s, all of the Nazis and collaborators who wanted to get out of Europe had done so, and Fuldner didn’t need to arrange for their transportation any longer. He helped those who had settled in Argentina and remained a friend to the Nazis there until his death 1992. He established a company called CAPRI which employed many former Nazis: the company supposedly worked on hydroelectric projects. When Adolf Eichmann was captured in Buenos Aires in 1960 by a team of Israeli agents, his sons immediately visited Fuldner to ask for his help. Fuldner died in 1992 in Spain.
Horst Carlos Fuldner was good at what he did: he was a spy and a smuggler of fugitives. He left behind a very negative legacy, spiriting war criminals out of Europe who should have been charged and tried for their actions.
Goñi, Uki. "The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron’s Argentina". London: Granta, 2002.
Walters, Guy. "Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justice". Random House, 2010.
One of the first Nazis to reach Buenos Aires via the “ratlines” was Erich Priebke, an SS officer accused of a mass execution of Italian civilians. Another was Croat Ustashi leader Ante Pavelic. They were followed by concentration camp commander Josef Schwamberger and the sadistic Auschwitz doctor, Josef Mengele.
False passport of Nazi Eichmann found in Buenos Aires court
Wednesday, 30 May 1997
The false passport used by high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann in 1950 to escape to Argentina was accidentally discovered in an old court record in Buenos Aires.
Eichmann’s passport was issued by the Italian Red Cross
The supervisor of the mass deportation of Jews to extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during the war, Eichmann fled to Argentina under the alias of Ricardo Klement.
The well-preserved passport, issued in 1948 by an Italian delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was presented on Tuesday at the Buenos Aires Holocaust Museum. It also bears the stamp and the signature of the Argentine vice-counsel in Genova, Italy at that time, Pedro Solari Capurro.
Eichmann was sentenced to death by an Israeli court.
Federal Judge Maria Servini de Cubria recently opened the Eichmann file and found the well-preserved passport, revealed Graciela Jinich, the director of the Buenos Aires Holocaust Museum.
Eichmann’s wife had presented the passport to authorities in 1960 after he had been abducted by Israeli secret service agents from the Buenos Aires suburb where he lived a normal life working at the Mercedes Benz factory.
He was taken to Israel, tried for crimes against humanity and hanged in 1962.
“This document leaves no room for doubts on how easy it was for not only Eichmann, but also other war criminals, to attain fake identification documents, change their names and enter our country,“ Jinich said.
Eichmann was one of the leaders of the mass deportation of Jews to extermination camps.
The United States released documents last year which showed that the CIA learned about Eichmann’s location and alias two years before Israel captured him but kept the information secret as part of its efforts to combat communism in post-war West Germany.
They also showed that the United States used a large network of spies recruited among former Nazis and that the CIA had virtually no interest in arresting war criminals, focusing instead on Cold War issues.
“The American policy of the time was not to pursue Nazi war criminals,“ said historian Timothy Naftali, who reviewed thousands of documents on CIA ties to Nazis from the US National Archives. “They thought that was the responsibility of the Germans.“
According to the CIA papers, West Germany knew from 1952 that Eichmann was hiding in Argentina under an assumed identity, but kept quiet about it fearing the fugitive might talk about Hans Globke, a former Nazi who was a top national security advisor to Konrad Adenauer, the chancellor at the time.
But other Nazi scientists who reached the protected shores of Argentina were simply sadists. One physician, Dr. Carl Värnet, had conducted surgical experiments on homosexuals at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Värnet castrated the men and then inserted metal sex glands that inflicted agonizing deaths on some of his patients. [See Lee's "The Beast Reawakens"].
For the Swiss, the motives for their cozy Nazi-Argentine relationships were political and financial, both during and after the war.
Ignacio Klich, spokesman for a new independent commission investigating Nazi-Argentine collaboration, said he believes the wartime business between Nazi Germany and Argentina was handled routinely by Swiss fiduciares.
That suspicion was confirmed by Swiss files released to the U.S. Senate as well as papers from the Swiss Office of Compensation and correspondence between the Swiss Foreign Ministry and the Swiss legation in Buenos Aires.
One target of the commission's investigation is Johann Wehrli, a private banker from Zürich. During World War II, one of Wehrli's sons opened a branch office in Buenos Aires which, investigators suspect, was used to funnel Nazi assets into Argentina.
Later, on 14 June 1951, the emigrant ship, 'Giovanna C', carried Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann to Argentina where he posed as a technician under a false name. Fuldner found Eichmann a job at Mercedes-Benz.. [Israel intelligence agents captured Eichmann in May 1960 and spirited him to Israel to stand trial for mass murder. He was convicted, sentenced to death and hanged in 1962].
Though Evita's precise role in organizing the Nazi "ratlines" remains a bit fuzzy, her European tour connected the dots of the key figures in the escape network. She also helped clear the way for more formal arrangements in the Swiss-Argentine-Nazi collaboration.
Additional evidence is contained in postwar diplomatic correspondence between Switzerland and Argentina. The
The first combat jet introduced into South America - the 'Pulqui II' - was built in Argentina by the German aircraft designer Kurt Tank of the firm, Focke-Wulf. His engineers and test pilots arrived via the illegal emigration service in Bern.
The money allegedly included loot from Jews and other Nazi victims. [Later, the giant Union Bank of Switzerland absorbed the Wehrli bank].
Swiss defenders argue that tiny Switzerland had little choice but to work with the powerful fascist governments on its borders during the war.
But the post-war assistance appears harder to justify, when the most obvious motive was money.
According to a secret report written by a U.S. Army major in 1948, the Swiss government made a hefty profit by providing Germans with the phony documents needed to flee to Argentina.
The one-page memo quoted a confidential informant with contacts in the Swiss and Dutch governments as saying: "The Swiss government was not only anxious to get rid of German nationals, legally or illegally within their borders, but further that they made a considerable profit in getting rid of them".
The informant said German nationals paid Swiss officials as much as 200,000 Swiss francs for temporary residence documents necessary to board flights out of Switzerland. (The sum was worth about $50,000 at the time.)
Moreover, that memo and other documents suggest that KLM Royal Dutch Airlines may have illegally flown suspected Nazis to safety in Argentina, while Swissair acted as a booking agent.
Dutch airline faces Nazi passage claims
David Charter, Brussels
9 May 2007
The Dutch national airline is facing calls for an inquiry into its role in helping Nazis to flee to South America, after the discovery of documents suggesting it played an active role in smuggling suspected war criminals out of Germany.
KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines, has always denied it had a policy of assisting the Nazis to escape justice at the hands of the Allies after World War II, when hundreds escaped to Argentina.
But papers revealing the activities of a mysterious Herr Frick in trying to help Germans to cross into Switzerland and then fly to Buenos Aires have raised fresh questions about the behaviour of one of Europe's best-known airlines in the mid-1940s.
"The documents give the distinct impression KLM was intensively involved in transporting Nazis," said Marc Dierikx, an aviation historian at the 'Institute for Netherlands History' in The Hague. Argentina provided sanctuary for many Germans fleeing Europe after the war.
It was the refuge of leading Nazis such as Josef Mengele, the doctor at the Auschwitz concentration camp nicknamed the "Angel of Death", and Adolf Eichmann, who oversaw the death camps where millions died.
The existence of a shadowy network of Nazi sympathizers helping to organize the escape route was depicted in Frederick Forsyth's novel "The Odessa File".
Suspected war criminals could not obtain official papers to leave Germany. But some adopted false identities, and KLM acknowledges some of its passengers were probably fleeing Nazis.
However, the airline says its role was not to police its passengers but to carry those who turned up with valid papers showing they had completed security checks by the Allies.
In papers unearthed in Swiss archives by Dutch documentary-makers, Herr Frick, said to be a KLM representative, is documented in October 1948 asking the Swiss authorities to allow potential passengers from Germany to cross the border without the proper papers.
Sander Rietveld, a journalist on the "Netwerk" program, said: "It is a memo from the Swiss border police about a visit of the local KLM representative, Herr Frick. He asked the Swiss police to allow Germans without an Ersatzpasse – permission of the Allies – to enter Switzerland so they could board planes to Argentina. On this occasion the Swiss police refused, although we know that in reality they did allow Germans to pass without permission. The point is that it shows KLM actively approached the Swiss police".
KLM said it did not know of a former employee called Frick but passenger lists unearthed in the Argentine capital show long lists of German names, including at least two former Nazis.
Opposition MPs are demanding an independent inquiry, and Bart Koster, a spokesman for KLM, said he would advise the company's board to commission one. He told Radio Netherlands: "If we really want to be sure what happened, we have to have a thorough investigation."
An inquiry could reopen controversy about the role of the Dutch royal family, as the late Prince Bernhard, father of Queen Beatrix, was on KLM's board in the post-war years.
But Mr Koster said there was nothing in the board minutes or in KLM's archives to indicate the airline had been involved in the transportation of Nazi war criminals from Germany.
Source: "The Times"
The Netherlands, Argentina and the Nazis
Máxima Zorreguieta was born in Argentina on 17 May 1971. She grew up in Buenos Aires as the daughter of Jorge Zorreguieta and Maria del Carmen Cerrutti. Since her wedding with Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, her official title is Máxima Princess of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau, Mrs van Amsberg. On 30 April 2013, when her husband Prince Willem-Alexander accedes to the throne, Princess Máxima’s official title will be Queen Máxima. Unlike Prince Claus and Prince Bernhard, the spouses of Queen Beatrix and Juliana, [did not acquire the title ‘King’. However, Queen Máxima’s rights and responsibilities will not differ from those of her successors.
The families zur Lippe Biesterfeld and von Amsberg were always heavily involved in the Nazi's. The same goes for the Zorreguieta's in Argentina where Hitler stayed until his death in 1962.
The American Allen Dulles met Himmler's adjutant, Karl Wolff in Switzerland and worked out 3 projects to smuggle Nazis to North and South America, including Project Paperclip, which meant that thousands of Nazi scientists were not to be tried during the Nuremberg Tribunal, but to employed in the U.S. and later NATO war industry. In September 1945, the first group of seven rocket scientists arrived from Germany at Fort Strong in the US: Wernher von Braun, Erich W. Neubert, Theodor A. Poppel, August Schultze, Eberhard F. M. Rees, Wilhelm Jungert, Walter Schwidetzky.
The Dutch B.Ph. Baron Harinxma thoe Slooten who became the first Ambassador in Brussels, worked from March 1943 until September 1945 closely together with the Belgian Minister Paul-Henri Spaak and helped leading Nazis flee in association with the 'London Committee of the Netherland Red Cross Society' founded on 16 September 1940 by Princess Juliana and the Dutch Minister of War Otto Cornelis Adriaan van Lidth de Jeude, who after the liberation got profound powers, to continue the Nazi government along the territory of the Netherlands, and used by her husband Nazi Prince Bernhard zur Lippe-Biesterfeld. This happened along with the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. C.G.W.H. Baron Boetzelaer Oosterhout [party less] in the cabinet Beel [CSF].
An established foundation like 'The London Committee' can be effective in enemy occupied territory because of the German occupation of the Netherlands and therefore the powers are wider than normal activities of the Red Cross, including evacuation of refugees residing in Great Britain, France, Spain and Portugal to more permanent, residences in other countries. In 1943 the Dutch Office Military Government is established by the same Minister of War OCA of Lidth de Jeude with the aim to take preparatory measures for the execution of military authority in the Netherlands after the capitulation of Germany.
From 1 August 1945 Frans Houben secretary of the 'Dutch Red Cross Department Hague' was on the Supervisory Board of the royal air company KLM (source: "Europe Now"). With his knowledge, Frans Houben (KVP Catholics) in close coordination with Jan Donner (ARP Reformed) possible used passports of the 'International Red Cross Geneva' to help Nazi leaders flee to Argentina from Zürich with Dutch KLM aircrafts, or with ships from the Italian port cities of Genoa and Rome.
These passports were recognized by Argentina as official documents. Adolf Eichmann obtained his passport on 1 June 1950 under the assumed name of Riccardo Klement, born in Bolzano. On 17 June 1950 he was already on board the 'SS Giovanni' towards to Argentina with men of the "Organization of Ehemaligen SS Angehörigen" - ODESSA.
The trip was mostly by boat from the Italian port cities of Genoa and Rome, but also by plane from Zurich. With the Dutch KLM!
Back in Argentina, the rave reviews for Evita's European trip cemented her reputation as a superstar.
It also brought her immense wealth lavished on her by grateful Nazis. Her husband was re-elected president in 1951, by which time large numbers of Nazis were firmly ensconced in Argentina's military-industrial apparatus.
Evita Peron died of cancer in 1953, touching off despair among her followers. The fearful military buried her secretly in an unannounced location to prevent her grave from becoming a national shrine.
Meanwhile, a feverish hunt began for her personal fortune. Evita's brother and guardian of her image, Juan Duarte, traveled to Switzerland in search of her hidden assets.
After his return to Argentina, Duarte was found dead in his apartment. Despite her husband's control of the police -- or maybe because of it -- the authorities never established whether Duarte was murdered or had committed suicide.
In 1955, Juan Peron was overthrown and fled to exile in Spain where he lived as a guest of Franco. Peron apparently accessed some of Evita’s secret Swiss accounts because he sustained a luxurious lifestyle.
The money also may have greased Peron's brief return to power in 1973. Peron died in 1974, leaving behind the mystery of Evita's Nazi fortune. In 1976, the army overthrew Peron's vice president, his last wife, Isabel.
Paradoxically, the cult of Evita flourished still. The idolatry blinded her followers to the consequences of her flirtation with the Nazis.
Those aging fascists accomplished much of what the ODESSA strategists had hoped. The Nazis in Argentina kept Hitler's torch burning, won new converts in the region's militaries and passed on the advanced science of torture and “death squad” operations.
Hundreds of left-wing Peronist students and unionists were among the victims of the neo-fascist Argentine junta that launched the Dirty War in 1976.
When the junta started its "war without borders" against the left elsewhere in Latin America, it used Nazis as stormtroopers. Among them was Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo’s Butcher of Lyon who had settled in Bolivia with the help of the "Ratline" network.
In 1980, Barbie helped organize a brutal putsch against the democratically elected government in Bolivia. Drug lords and an international coalition of neo-fascists bankrolled the putsch.
A key supporting role was played by the World Anti-Communist League, led by World War II fascist war criminal Ryoichi Sasakawa of Japan and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
Barbie sought assistance from Argentine intelligence. One of the first Argentine officers to arrive, Lt. Alfred Mario Mingolla, later described Barbie’s role to German journalist Kai Hermann.
“Before our departure, we received a dossier on [Barbie],” Mingolla said. “There it stated that he was of great use to Argentina because he played an important role in all of Latin America in the fight against communism.”
Just like in the good old days, the Butcher of Lyon worked with a younger generation of Italian neo-fascists. Barbie started a secret lodge called “Thule,” where he lectured his followers underneath swastikas by candlelight.
On 17 July 1980, Barbie, his neo-fascists and rightist officers from the Bolivian army ousted the center-left government. Barbie’s team hunted down and slaughtered government officials and labor leaders, while Argentine specialists flew in to demonstrate the latest torture techniques.
Because the putsch gave Bolivian drug lords free reign of the country, the operation became known as the Cocaine Coup. With the assistance of Barbie and his neo-fascists, Bolivia became a protected source of cocaine for the emerging Medellin cartel.
Two years later, Barbie was captured and extradited to France where he died in prison. [For details, see " Action Information Bulleti"n, Winter 1986 or "IF Magazine", Nov.-Dec. 1997]
Most of the other old Nazis are dead, too. But the violent extremism that the Perons transplanted into South America in the 1940s still haunts the region.
In the 1980s, the Argentine military extended its operations to Central America where it collaborated with Ronald Reagan's CIA in organizing paramilitary forces, such as the Nicaraguan contras and Honduran "death squads."
Even today, as right-wing dictators in Latin America are called to account for past atrocities, fledgling democracies must move cautiously and keep a wary eye on rightists in the region’s potent militaries.
The ghosts of Evita's Nazis are never far away.
Ratlines were a system of escape routes for Nazis and other fascists fleeing Europe at the end of World War II. These escape routes mainly led toward havens in South America, particularly Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and Bolivia. Other destinations included the United States, Great Britain, Canada and the Middle East. There were two primary routes: the first went from Germany to Spain, then Argentina; the second from Germany to Rome to Genoa, then South America; the two routes "developed independently" but eventually came together to collaborate.
The Italian and Argentine Ratlines have only been confirmed relatively recently, mainly due to research in recently declassified archives. Until the work of Aarons and Loftus, and of Uki Goñi (2002), a common view was that ex-Nazis themselves, organised in secret networks, ran the escape routes alone. The most famous such network is ODESSA (Organisation der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen; "Organization of Former SS-Members") network organized by Otto Skorzeny, made famous by the Frederick Forsyth thriller "The Odessa File", was run by the ODESSA
Early Spanish Ratlines
The origins of the first ratlines are connected to various developments in Vatican-Argentine relations before and during World War II. As early as 1942, Monsignor Luigi Maglione contacted Ambassador Llobet, inquiring as to the "willingness of the government of the Argentine Republic to apply its immigration law generously, in order to encourage at the opportune moment European Catholic immigrants to seek the necessary land and capital in our country". Afterwards, a German priest, Anton Weber, the head of the Rome-based Society of Saint Raphael, traveled to Portugal, continuing to Argentina, to lay the groundwork for future Catholic immigration, this was to be a route which fascist exiles would exploit - without the knowledge of the Catholic Church. According to historian Michael Phayer, "this was the innocent origin of what would become the Vatican ratline".
Spain, not Rome, was the "first center of ratline activity that facilitated the escape of Nazi fascists", although the exodus itself was planned within the Vatican. Charles Lescat, a French member of Action Française (an organization suppressed by Pius XI and rehabilitated by Pius XII), and Pierre Daye, a Belgian with contacts in the Spanish government, were among the primary organizers. Lescat and Daye were the first able to flee Europe, with the help of Argentine cardinal Antonio Caggiano.
By 1946, there were probably hundreds of war criminals in Spain, and thousands of former Nazis and fascists.
According to US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, Vatican cooperation in turning over asylum-seekers was "negligible". According to Phayer, Pius XII "preferred to see fascist war criminals on board ships sailing to the New World rather than seeing them rotting in POW camps in zonal Germany". Unlike the Vatican emigration operation in Italy, centered on Vatican City, the Ratlines of Spain, although "fostered by the Vatican" were relatively independent of the hierarchy of the Vatican Emigration Bureau.
The Roman Ratlines
Early efforts—Bishop Huda
Red Cross and Vatican helped thousands of Nazis to escape
Research shows how travel documents ended up in hands of the likes of Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele and Klaus Barbie in the postwar chaos
The Guardian, 25 May 2011
The Red Cross and the Vatican both helped thousands of Nazi war criminals and collaborators to escape after the second world war, according to a book that pulls together evidence from unpublished documents.
The Red Cross has previously acknowledged that its efforts to help refugees were used by Nazis because administrators were overwhelmed, but the research suggests the numbers were much higher than thought.
Gerald Steinacher, a research fellow at Harvard University, was given access to thousands of internal documents in the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The documents include Red Cross travel documents issued mistakenly to Nazis in the postwar chaos.
They throw light on how and why mass murderers such as Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele and Klaus Barbie and thousands of others evaded capture by the allies.
By comparing lists of wanted war criminals to travel documents, Steinacher says Britain and Canada alone inadvertently took in around 8,000 former Waffen-SS members in 1947, many on the basis of valid documents issued mistakenly.
The documents – which are discussed in Steinacher's book "Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fled Justice" – offer a significant insight into Vatican thinking, particularly, because its own archives beyond 1939 are still closed. The Vatican has consistently refused to comment.
Steinacher believes the Vatican's help was based on a hoped-for revival of European Christianity and dread of the Soviet Union. But through the Vatican Refugee Commission, war criminals were knowingly provided with false identities.
The Red Cross, overwhelmed by millions of refugees, relied substantially on Vatican references and the often cursory Allied military checks in issuing travel papers, known as 10.100s.
It believed it was primarily helping innocent refugees although correspondence between Red Cross delegations in Genoa, Rome and Geneva shows it was aware Nazis were getting through.
"Although the ICRC has publicly apologised, its action went well beyond helping a few people," said Steinacher.
Steinacher says the documents indicate that the Red Cross, mostly in Rome or Genoa, issued at least 120,000 of the 10.100s, and that 90% of ex-Nazis fled via Italy, mostly to Spain, and North and South America – notably Argentina.
Former SS members often mixed with genuine refugees and presented themselves as stateless ethnic Germans to gain transit papers. Jews trying to get to Palestine via Italy were sometimes smuggled over the border with escaping Nazis.
Steinacher says that individual Red Cross delegations issued war criminals with 10.100s "out of sympathy for individuals … political attitude, or simply because they were overburdened". Stolen documents were also used to whisk Nazis to safety. He said: "They were really in a dilemma. It was difficult. It wanted to get rid of the job. Nobody wanted to do it."
The Red Cross refused to comment directly on Steinacher's findings but the organisation says on its website: "The ICRC has previously deplored the fact that Eichmann and other Nazi criminals misused its travel documents to cover their tracks".
Bishop Alois Hudal was rector of the Pontificio Istituto Teutonico Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome, a seminary for Austrian and German priests, and "Spiritual Director of the German People resident in Italy". After the end of the war in Italy, Hudal became active in ministering to German-speaking prisoners of war and internees then held in camps throughout Italy. In December 1944 the Vatican Secretariat of State received permission to appoint a representative to "visit the German-speaking civil internees in Italy", a job assigned to Hudal.
Hudal used this position to aid the escape of wanted Nazi war criminals, including Franz Stangl, commanding officer of Treblinka, Gustav Wagner, commanding officer of Sobibor, Alois Brunner, responsible for the Drancy internment camp near Paris and in charge of deportations in Slovakia to German concentration camps, and Adolf Eichmann— a fact about which he was later unashamedly open. Some of these wanted men were being held in internment camps: generally without identity papers, they would be enrolled in camp registers under false names. Other Nazis were in hiding in Italy, and sought Hudal out as his role in assisting escapes became known on the Nazi grapevine.
In his memoirs Hudal said of his actions "I thank God that He [allowed me] to visit and comfort many victims in their prisons and concentration camps and to help them escape with false identity papers." He explained that in his eyes: "The Allies' War against Germany was not a crusade, but the rivalry of economic complexes for whose victory they had been fighting. This so-called business ... used catchwords like democracy, race, religious liberty and Christianity as a bait for the masses. All these experiences were the reason why I felt duty bound after 1945 to devote my whole charitable work mainly to former National Socialists and Fascists, especially to so-called 'war criminals'."
According to Mark Aarons and John Loftus in their book "Unholy Trinity", Hudal was the first Catholic priest to dedicate himself to establishing escape routes. Aarons and Loftus claim that Hudal provided the objects of his charity with money to help them escape, and more importantly with false papers including identity documents issued by the Vatican Refugee Organisation (Commissione Pontificia d'Assistenza).
These Vatican papers were not full passports, and not in themselves enough to gain passage overseas. They were, rather, the first stop in a paper trail—they could be used to obtain a displaced person passport from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which in turn could be used to apply for visas. In theory the ICRC would perform background checks on passport applicants, but in practice the word of a Priest or particularly a Bishop would be good enough.
According to statements collected by Gitta Sereny from a senior official of the Rome branch of the ICRC, Hudal could also use his position as a Bishop to request papers from the ICRC "made out according to his specifications". Sereny's sources also revealed an active illicit trade in stolen and forged ICRC papers in Rome at this time.
According to declassified US intelligence reports, Hudal was not the only Priest helping Nazi escapees at this time. In the "La Vista report" declassified in 1984, Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) operative Vincent La Vista told how he had easily arranged for two bogus Hungarian refugees to get false ICRC documents with the help of a letter from a Father Joseph Gallov. Gallov, who ran a Vatican-sponsored charity for Hungarian refugees, asked no questions and wrote a letter to his "personal contact in the International Red Cross, who then issued the passports".
The San Girolamo Ratline
According to Aarons and Loftus, Hudal's private operation was small scale compared to what came later. The major Roman ratline was operated by a small, but influential network of Croatian priests, members of the Franciscan order, led by Father Krunoslav Draganović. Draganović organized a highly sophisticated chain with headquarters at the San Girolamo degli Illirici Seminary College in Rome, but with links from Austria to the final embarcation point in the port of Genoa. The ratline initially focused on aiding members of the Croatian Ustashe movement, most notably the Croat wartime dictator Ante Pavelić.
Priests active in the chain included: Fr. Vilim Cecelja, former Deputy Military Vicar to the Ustashe, based in Austria where many Ustashe and Nazi refugees remained in hiding; Fr. Dragutin Kamber, based at San Girolamo; Fr. Dominik Mandić, an official Vatican representative at San Girolamo and also "General Economist" or treasurer of the Franciscan order - who used this position to put the Franciscan press at the Ratline's disposal; and Monsignor Karlo Petranović, based in Genoa. Vilim would make contact with those hiding in Austria and help them across the border to Italy; Kamber, Mandić and Draganović would find them lodgings, often in the monastery itself, while they arranged documentation; finally Draganović would phone Petranović in Genoa with the number of required berths on ships leaving for South America.
The operation of the Draganović Ratline was an open secret among the intelligence and diplomatic communities in Rome. As early as August 1945, Allied commanders in Rome were asking questions about the use of San Girolamo as a "haven" for Ustashe.
A year later, a US State Department report of 12 July 1946 lists nine war criminals, including Albanians and Montenegrins as well as Croats, plus others "not actually sheltered in the COLLEGIUM ILLIRICUM [i.e., San Girolamo degli Illirici] but who otherwise enjoy Church support and protection." The British envoy to the Holy See, Francis Osborne, asked Domenico Tardini, a high-ranking Vatican official, for a permission that would have allowed British military police to raid ex-territorial Vatican Institutions in Rome. Tardini declined and denied that the church sheltered war criminals.
In February 1947 CIC Special Agent Robert Clayton Mudd reported ten members of Pavelić's Ustasha cabinet living either in San Girolamo or in the Vatican itself. Mudd had infiltrated an agent into the monastery and confirmed that it was "honeycombed with cells of Ustashe operatives" guarded by "armed youths". Mudd also reported: "It was further established that these Croats travel back and forth from the Vatican several times a week in a car with a chauffeur whose license plate bears the two initials CD, 'Corpo Diplomatico'. It issues forth from the Vatican and discharges its passengers inside the Monastery of San Geronimo. Subject to diplomatic immunity it is impossible to stop the car and discover who are its passengers".
Mudd's conclusion was the following:
"Draganovic's sponsorship of these Croat Ustashes definitely links him up with the plan of the Vatican to shield these ex-Ustasha nationalists until such time as they are able to procure for them the proper documents to enable them to go to South America. The Vatican, undoubtedly banking on the strong anti-Communist feelings of these men, is endeavoring to infiltrate them into South America in any way possible to counteract the spread of Red doctrine. It has been reliably reported, for example that Dr. Vrancic has already gone to South America and that Ante Pavelic and General Kren are scheduled for an early departure to South America through Spain. All these operations are said to have been negotiated by Draganović because of his influence in the Vatican".
The existence of Draganović's Ratline has been confirmed by a Vatican historian, Fr. Robert Graham: "I've no doubt that Draganović was extremely active in syphoning off his Croatian Ustashe friends." However, Graham insisted that Draganović was not officially sanctioned in this by his superiors: "Just because he's a priest doesn't mean he represents the Vatican. It was his own operation".
On four occasions the Vatican intervened on behalf of interned Ustasha prisoners. The Secretariat of State asked the U.K. and U.S. government to release Croatian POWs from British internment camps in Italy. The presence of some pro-Utashe clergy at this time is not surprising, but the Vatican itself condemned war crimes committed by the Utashe, as well as the Communists.
US Intelligence Involvement
If at first US intelligence officers had been mere observers of the Draganović Ratline, this changed in the summer of 1947. A now declassified US Army intelligence report from 1950 sets out in detail the history of the people smuggling operation in the three years to follow. According to the report, from this point on US forces themselves had begun to use Draganović's established network to evacuate its own "visitors". As the report put it, these were "visitors who had been in the custody of the 430th CIC and completely processed in accordance with current directives and requirements, and whose continued residence in Austria constituted a security threat as well as a source of possible embarrassment to the Commanding General of USFA, since the Soviet Command had become aware that their presence in US Zone of Austria and in some instances had requested the return of these persons to Soviet custody".
These were suspected war criminals from areas occupied by the Red Army which the US was obliged to hand over for trial to the Soviets. The US reputedly was reluctant to do so, partly due to a belief that fair trial could hardly be expected in the USSR, and at the same time, their desire to make use of Nazi scientists and other resources. The deal with Draganović involved getting the visitors to Rome: "Dragonovich [sic] handled all phases of the operation after the defectees arrived in Rome, such as the procurement of IRO Italian and South American documents, visas, stamps, arrangements for disposition, land or sea, and notification of resettlement committees in foreign lands". United States intelligence used these methods in order to get important Nazi scientists and military strategists, to the extent they had not already been claimed by the Soviet Union, to their own centres of military science in the US. Many Nazi scientists were employed by the US, retrieved in Operation Paperclip.
The Argentine Connection
"In Nuremberg at that time something was taking place that I personally considered a disgrace and an unfortunate lesson for the future of humanity. I became certain that the Argentine people also considered the Nuremberg process a disgrace, unworthy of the victors, who behaved as if they hadn't been victorious. Now we realize that they [the Allies] deserved to lose the war".
-- Argentine president Juan Perón on the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals.
In his 2002 book "The Real Odessa" Argentine researcher Uki Goñi used new access to the country's archives to show that Argentine diplomats and intelligence officers had, on Perón's instructions, vigorously encouraged Nazi and Fascist war criminals to make their home in Argentina. According to Goñi, the Argentines not only collaborated with Draganović's ratline, they set up further ratlines of their own running through Scandinavia, Switzerland and Belgium.
According to Goñi, Argentina's first move into Nazi smuggling was in January 1946, when Argentine Bishop Antonio Caggiano, Bishop of Rosario and leader of the Argentine chapter of Catholic Action flew with Bishop Agustín Barrére to Rome where Caggiano was due to be anointed Cardinal. While in Rome the Argentine Bishops met with French Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, where they passed on a message (recorded in Argentina's diplomatic archives) that "the Government of the Argentine Republic was willing to receive French persons, whose political attitude during the recent war would expose them, should they return to France, to harsh measures and private revenge". Over the spring of 1946 a number of French war criminals, fascists and Vichy officials made it from Italy to Argentina in the same way: they were issued passports by the Rome ICRC office; these were then stamped with Argentine tourist visas (the need for health certificates and return tickets was waived on Caggiano's recommendation). The first documented case of a French war criminal arriving in Buenos Aires was Emile Dewoitine — later sentenced in absentia to 20 years hard labour. He sailed first class on the same ship back with Cardinal Caggiano.
Shortly after this Argentinian Nazi smuggling became institutionalised, according to Goñi, when Perón's new government of February 1946 appointed anthropologist Santiago Peralta as Immigration Commissioner and former Ribbentrop agent Ludwig Freude as his intelligence chief. Goñi argues that these two then set up a "rescue team" of secret service agents and immigration "advisors", many of whom were themselves European war-criminals, with Argentine citizenship and employment.
Die Spinne, translated as The Spider, is believed by some to be a secret organization established and led in part by Otto Skorzeny, Hitler's commando chief, as well as Nazi intelligence officer Reinhard Gehlen which helped as many as 600 former SS men escape from Germany to Spain, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia and other countries.
Die Spinne was established by Skorzeny using the cover names of Robert Steinbacher and Otto Steinbauer, and supported by either Nazi funds or, according to some sources, Austrian Intelligence. Later, Skorzeny, Gehlen and their network of collaborators had gained significant influence in parts of Europe and Latin America. Skorzeny travelled between Francoist Spain and Argentina, where he acted as an advisor to President Juan Perón and bodyguard of Eva Perón, while fostering an ambition for the "Fourth Reich" centred in Latin America.
According to Glenn Infield, "The Secrets of the SS". Stein and Day, New York, , the idea for the Die Spinne network began in 1944 as Hitler's chief intelligence officer Reinhard Gehlen foresaw a possible downfall of the Third Reich due to Nazi military failures in Russia. T.H. Tetens, expert on German geopolitics and member of the US War Crimes Commission in 1946-1947, referred to a group overlapping with die Spinne as the Führungsring "a kind of political Mafia, with headquarters in Madrid... serving various purposes." The Madrid office built up what was referred to as a sort of Fascist International, per Tetens. According to Tetens the German leadership also included Dr. Hans Globke, who had written the official commentary on the Nuremberg Laws. Globke held the important position of Director of the German Chancellery from 1953 until 1963, serving as adviser for Konrad Adenauer,
During the period from 1945 to 1950, Die Spinne leader Skorzeny facilitated the escape of Nazi war criminals from war-criminal prisons to Memmingen, Bavaria, through Austria and Switzerland into Italy. Certain US military authorities supposedly knew of the escape, but took no action.
The Central European headquarters of Die Spinne as of 1948 was in Gmunden, Austria.
A coordinating office for international Die Spinne operations in Madrid, Spain, by Otto Skorzeny, under the control of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, whose victory in the Spanish Civil War was guaranteed by economic and military support from Hitler and Mussolini. When a Die Spinne Nazi delegation visited Madrid in 1959, Franco stated, "Please regard Spain as your second Fatherland."
Skorzeny used the resources of Die Spinne to allow Nazi concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele to escape to Argentina in 1949.
Die Spinne leader Skorzeny requested the assistance of ultra-wealthy German industrialist Alfried Krupp, whose company controlled 138 private concentration camps under the Third Reich, and this was granted in 1951. Skorzeny became Krupp's representative in industrial business ventures in Argentina, a country which harboured a strong pro-Nazi political element throughout World War II and afterwards, regardless of a nominal declaration of loyalty to the Allies as World War II ended.
With the help of Die Spinne leaders in Spain, by the early 1980s Die Spinne had become influential in Argentina, Chile and Paraguay, including ties involving Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner.
War Crimes investigator Simon Wiesenthal claimed that Josef Mengele had stayed at the notorious Colonia Dignidad Nazi colony in Chile in 1979, and ultimately was harboured in Paraguay until his death.
As of the early 1980s, Die Spinne's Mengele was reported by Infield to have been advising Stroessner's ethnic German Paraguayan police on how to reduce native Paraguayan Indians in the Chaco Region to slave labour.
A wealthy and powerful post-World-War-II underground Nazi political contingent held sway in Argentina as of the late 1960s, which included many ethnic German Nazi immigrants and their descendants.
Die Stille Hilfe für Kriegsgefangene und Internierte [German for Silent assistance for prisoners of war and interned persons] abbreviated Stille Hilfe is a relief organization for arrested, condemned and fugitive SS members, similar to the veterans' association, set up by Helene Elizabeth Princess von Isenburg (1900–1974) in 1951. The organization has garnered a reputation for being shrouded in secrecy and thus remains a source of speculation.
Operating covertly from 1946, the organization that later became publicly active as "Stille Hilfe", aided the escape of hunted Nazi fugitives, particularly to South America. Thus Adolf Eichmann, Johann von Leers, Walter Rauff and Josef Mengele could escape to Argentina. In 1949 Catholic Bishop Johannes Neuhäusler [who himself had suffered from the Nazi regime in Dachau concentration camp] and Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Theophil Worm founded "the Christian prisoner assistance". Neuhäusler said he wanted to break the cycle of hatred and revenge by reconciling even with those who sided with his persecutors.
After the main exponents of the later association had already long formed an active network, it was decided a non-profit association should be formed primarily to facilitate a donations campaign. On 7 October 1951 the founders' meeting was held in Munich and on 15 November 1951 the organization was entered in the register of associations in the Upper Bavarian city Wolfratshausen. The first president, Helene Elizabeth, Princess von Isenburg was chosen because of her good contacts in the aristocracy and conservative upper middle-class circles as well as the Catholic Church. Founding members of the committee included church representatives Theophil Worm and Johannes Neuhäusler, as well as high-ranking former functionaries of the Nazi state such as the former SS-Standartenführer and head of department in the Central Reich Security Office [RSHA], Wilhelm Spengler, and SS-Obersturmbannführer Heinrich Malz, who was the personal adviser of Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
Helene Elizabeth, Princess von Isenburg explained its objectives in such a way: "From the start of its efforts‚ the Stille Hilfe sought to take care of, above all, the serious needs of the prisoners of war and those interned completely without rights. Later their welfare service was active for those accused and arrested as a result of the war trials, whether in the prisons of the victors or in German penal institutions".
From the beginning of the Nuremberg Trials, the group sought to influence public opinion to prevent the execution of the death penalty. In press campaigns, personal and open letters and petitions, the war criminals were usually represented as innocent victims – pure command-receivers, irreproachable and often also having a blind faith in the Führer–who would have to suffer bitter injustice by victor's justice.
Because Princess von Isenburg was particularly devoted to the war criminals condemned to death in Landsberg prison, she was affectionately known as "Mother of the Landsbergers" in order to let "Stille Hilfe" be seen primarily as a charitable organization.
The legal assistance for arrested war criminals was first organized by the attorney Rudolf Aschenauer, who also formulated and submitted requests for grace and revisions. The organization paid vacation, dismissal and Christmas benefit to the prisoners and also supported their families. They were not only limited to humanitarian activities but also pursued a past-ideological and revisionist objective.
Princess Isenburg, a strict Catholic, tirelessly pleaded the criminals' cause in conservative circles and with high-ranking church representatives [even up to the Pope]. Johannes Neuhäusler in particular, who not only had suffered detention/imprisonment by the Gestapo, but also had been held by the Nazis in the Dachau concentration camp as a special prisoner, was most effective in public opinion, even among western Allied officials. The motives of the Bishops lay probably less in a conscious ideological identification with the war criminals, but rather in the effort regarding reconciliation with the German past and the start of the new post-war society in West Germany. Neuhäusler explained the he wanted to repay "the bad with good". The further connections of Princess Isenburg and Aschenauer led particularly to former SS organizations such as Gauleiterkreis under Werner Naumann, which was already partly formed in Allied prisoner-of-war camps. Princess Isenburg initiated a whole series of organizations as "The working group for the rescue of the Landsberger prisoners", who were essentially financed by the churches.
The churches to a large extent withdrew support with the end of the main Nuremberg Trials and the release of the time-serving Nazi war criminals from Landsberg prison in 1958.
In the following decades Stille Hilfe worked somewhat in secret with revisionist organizations and prominent protagonists of the "Auschwitzlüge" [Auschwitz Lie] like Thies Christophersen and Manfred Röder and co-operated with relevant foreign organizations and personalities e.g. [Florentine Rost van Tonningen, Leon Degrelle]. By a not insignificant number of inheritances and by regular donations, the organization controls considerable funds. Since Stille Hilfe does not publish end-of-year figures, one can only estimate the influx of capital; however, perhaps donations (not including inheritances) were annually circa €60000 to 80000, at least to the end of the 1990s.
In a memoir first published in Germany in 1973, Thies Christophersen related his wartime experiences as a German army officer in the Auschwitz camp complex. "During the time I was in Auschwitz, I did not notice the slightest evidence of mass gassings," he wrote in "Die Auschwitz-Lüge" [The Auschwitz Lie]. As one of the first important works squarely to confront the Auschwitz extermination legend, Christophersen's first-hand account was a major factor in the growth and development of Holocaust revisionism.
"The Auschwitz Lie" caused an immediate sensation in Germany, where it was soon banned. This did not stop publication of German-language editions in Switzerland and Denmark, however, and before long editions appeared in all the major European languages, including several in English. Christophersen predictably came under hostile and mendacious media attack. Numerous newspaper reports, for example, inaccurately referred to him as a former "SS officer."
Born in 1918, he worked as a farmer in Schleswig, northern Germany, until the outbreak of war in Europe. Called to military service, he was badly wounded in 1940 while serving in the western campaign. After recuperating and undergoing some specialized agricultural training, he was assigned to a research center in German-occupied Ukraine which experimentally cultivated a variety of dandelion (kok saghyz) as an alternative source of natural rubber, to be produced from the plant's latex.
In the face of Soviet military advances, and the withdrawal of German forces from Ukraine, the center was transferred to the labor camp of Raisko, a satellite of Auschwitz. During the period he lived and worked there - January to December 1944 - Christophersen was responsible for the daily work of inmate laborers. The young second lieutenant supervised about 300 workers, many of them Jewish, of whom 200 were women from the Raisko camp, and 100 were men from the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. On a number of occasions he visited Birkenau where, it is alleged, hundreds of thousands of Jews were systematically gassed to death in May-July 1944. Although he knew of Birkenau's crematories, it wasn't until after the war that he first heard anything of "gas chamber" killings or mass exterminations.
Wilhelm Stäglich was a World War II army officer and later a financial Judge in Hamburg.
In 1979 the Tübingen-based Grabert published Stäglich's book "Der Auschwitz-Mythos - Legende oder Wirklichkeit" (The Auschwitz Myth - Legend or Reality), in which he denied the existence of gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camps and death camps. As early as 1980 this book was seized nationwide on the order of the state court of Stuttgart, and in 1982 it was placed on a list of materials that may not be distributed to young readers, following a decision by Germany's Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons. The decision to confiscate the book was upheld by the Federal Court of Justice in 1983. Following this, the University of Göttingen enacted proceedings against Stäglich in order to formally disaccredit the doctoral degree he had earned there in 1951.
Eckhard Jesse, a German political scientist and authority on radical politics, has defended the publication of the book "The Auschwitz Myth". Stäglich, he says, was stripped of his doctoral title because it was deemed to be undeserved, following a law dating from 1939:
"Even those who see his work as anti-Semitic – and here comes the warning – must question these decisions for two reasons. Firstly it is patronising to the public, who are assumed to lack judgement, hardly evidence of liberality; second, the far-right sees the decision as an affirmation, and outsiders might also believe, that there 'must be something' to Stäglich's arguments. You get the impression an example is being made [of Stäglich]".
Stäglich appeared together with Jürgen Rieger as a speaker at a far-right event commemorating Thies Christophersen, who died in 1997.
Stille Hilfe supported the condemned in the Düsseldorfer Majdanek trials, the former concentration camp guard Hildegard Lächert ("bloody Brygida") and later Klaus Barbie, Erich Priebke and Josef Schwammberger, who from 1942 to 1944 was commander of German labour camps in occupied Poland, involved in the massacres of Przemyśl and Rozwadów. Whether they were involved in the release of Herbert Kappler from a prison in Rome in 1977 is not clarified. Chairmen after Princess Isenburg [until 1959] were to 1992 the former Bund Deutscher Mädel leaders Gertrude Herr and Adelheid Klug.
They have been led since 1992 by Horst Janzen. The organisation today has approximately 40 members with decreasing numbers. At the same time however contacts were reinforced with "Hilfsorganisation für Nationale politische Gefangene und deren Angehörige" [relief organization for national political prisoners - HNG], so continuity may be secured.
Based until 1976 in Bremen Osterholz, since 1989 in Rotenburg (Wümme), since 1992 in Wuppertal. In 1993/1994 it caused a political debate in the Bundestag over its non-profit status as a revisionistic right-wing extremist association and was submitted to an examination by the fiscal authorities. In the Bundesfinanzhof [Federal Finance Court] it was decided in November 1999 to deny Stille Hilfe non-profit, i.e. charitable, status.
For years they have had a prominent symbol: Gudrun Burwitz, the daughter of Heinrich Himmler. Known to her father as "Püppi", she is an idol to Stille Hilfe and their affiliates. At meetings such as Ulrichsbergtreffen in Austria she appeared at the same time as a star and an authority. Burwitz has campaigned intensively in the last few years for accused Nazis. This particularly showed up in the case of Anton Malloth, who had lived undisturbed for about 40 years in Meran. He was proven guilty for his acts as a supervisor in the Gestapo-prison "Kleine Festung Theresienstadt", which was part of the larger Theresienstadt concentration camp. In 2001 Malloth was convicted by the district court of Munich for murder and attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment after the public prosecutor's office in Munich had taken over the procedure of the public prosecutor's office in Dortmund, which for many years had hijacked the procedure. From 1988 to 2000, Malloth lived in Pullach near Munich. Gudrun Burwitz was instructed by Stille Hilfe to rent a comfortable room for him in a home for the aged, which was built on a lot formerly owned by Rudolf Hess. In common with the secretive nature of the organisation, Burwitz does not give press interviews.
At the end of the 1990s it became public that the social welfare assistance administration [and thus the German taxpayers] had in large part taken over the considerable running costs of the home where Malloth was staying. This, along with the participation of Gudrun Burwitz, resulted in substantial public criticism.
Among the organizations aiding the escape and support of Nazi war criminals is Stille Hilfe [“Silent Help”]. Headed by Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter–Gudrun Burwitz–the organization continues to function. Among the supporters of the organization were Cardinal Frings, a Catholic prelate who had much to do with the rise of Josef Ratzinger to be Pope.
The late Austrian fascist leader Jorg Haider also fraternized with associates of the group.
In the story that follows, note that the Waffen SS veterans at the function described appeared to be afraid of Ms. Gurwitz! That apparent fear is indicative of the influence of the Underground Reich.
Note also, that the group still has funds available to it. An astute observer might ask where that money comes from.
Revealed: How Himmler’s ‘Nazi Princess’ Daughter Is Still the Heroine of Shadowy Nazi Group Fighting War Criminal’s Extradition
Excerpt: The death of a former SS guard and an arrest warrant for another have pulled into sharp focus the workings of the world’s only support group for mass murderers
by Allan Hall
with her father
She was known as Puppi — or Doll — to him. She worshipped him and he her. She remembers him looking "magnificent" in his
with boots polished
until she could see her reflection in them
Stille Hilfe — or Silent Aid — is quietly working behind the scenes to stop the extradition to The Hague of Klaas Carel Faber, 88, wanted by Dutch authorities to resume a life sentence for the wartime murders of 22 Jews and resistance fighters.
And until his death a fortnight ago, Stille Hilfe was also bankrolling the legal bill for Samuel Kunz, 89, who was accused of taking part in the murders of 433,000 Jews in the Nazi extermination camp of Belzec in occupied Poland in World War II.
The group met at the weekend in a secret location in Munich — the birthplace of Nazism — to plot strategies for helping other surviving war criminal suspects still living in Germany, a source told "MailOnline". . . .
. . . In Germany it is illegal to publicly praise Adolf Hitler or the Nazi party. But it is known that Stille Hilfe members are fanatically devoted to him and have made it their life’s work to provide a safe haven for his surviving followers.
Although just 25 to 40 people form the nucleus of the group, it has hundreds of anonymous supporters, many from within Germany’s neo-Nazi scene, and consequently remains on the radar of the country’s intelligence services.
A key member is the woman they refer to as the Nazi Princess, Himmler's daughter Gudrun Burwitz. . . .
. . . German journalists who write about Stille Hilfe and its clandestine activities remark on the extraordinary power Ms Burwitz wields in the organisation.
Often quoted is the rally of neo-Nazis she attended in Ulrichsberg, northern Austria, several years ago where she made a rare appearance to be idolized by former SS veterans also in attendance.
"They were terrified of her," said Andrea Ropke, a respected authority on neo-Nazism who attended the rally.
"All these high-ranking former officers lined up and she asked, 'Where did you serve?' showing off her vast knowledge of military logistics".
Although firmly rooted in the neo-Nazi fringe, it developed amicable relations with conservative West German politicians, such as CDU Bundestag Parliamentary leader Alfred Dregger, who praised the efforts of Stille Hilfe in 1989.
In 1991, a Stille Hilfe representative attended the graveside ceremony in Kassel of Michael Kühnen, the prominent Neo-Nazi leader who died of HIV-related complications. Stille Hilfe laid a wreath that bore the SS motto "Michael Kühnen - his Honor is Loyalty."
The organisation has come under criticism for its encouragement and support of neo-Nazis. This has included legal aid for those facing prosecution. It also supports a Protestant old people's home in Pullach, near Munich.
Hilfsgemeinschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit der Angehörigen der ehemaligen Waffen-SS [HIAG - English: Mutual Help Association of Former Waffen-SS Members] was an organization founded in 1951 by former members of the Waffen-SS.
The main aims of the organisation were to provide assistance to veterans, and campaign for the rehabilitation of their legal status with respect to veterans' pensions. Unlike soldiers of the regular Wehrmacht, pensions had been denied to members of the Waffen-SS as a result of that organisation having been declared criminal in the aftermath of the Second World War.
At its height in the 1960s around 8% of the approximately 250,000 former Waffen-SS members living in West Germany were members of HIAG. During the 1980s, political antagonism towards the organisation grew and it was finally disbanded in 1992.
"Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fled Justice"
Oxford University Press
The title of Gerald Steinacher's inquiry into how Nazi war criminals escaped from Europe at the end of the Second World War may echo the title of the comedy film "Nuns on the Run", but that's as far as the laughs go. This is a scholarly, sober and troubling study, based on interviews with some of the surviving players and exhaustive research in a wide range of archives.
Steinacher demolishes the myth of the Odessa organisation. The idea of a well-heeled groups of ex-SS men devoted to saving their hunted comrades came into existence when the Americans became worried that the Nazis would ship plundered loot abroad to fund a Fourth Reich. This turned out to be fantasy, but the "Nazi hunter" Simon Wiesenthal picked it up and used the notion to explain why so many Nazi criminals had got away. Wiesenthal in turn inspired Frederick Forsyth to write "The Odessa File". It was all nonsense. The truth was more prosaic, and all the more shocking.
Even before the war was over, SS men were preparing their escape. They used existing networks and agents to plan the exit routes. Bonds forged in battle or in Allied POW camps provided the basis for mutual aid, but where could they go? The Allies had occupied Germany and were in control of its borders. Yet there was one extraordinary corner of Europe that could have been designed for fleeing Nazis.
South Tyrol was a short step from southern Germany. To reach it entailed crossing two frontiers, but the Austrians did not look too closely at who was passing through, and there were long-established smuggling routes leading into Italy. Jews in flight from the Third Reich had previously used the same safe houses, passes and guides. When Adolf Eichmann set out from Germany in 1950, dressed in South Tyrolean costume, the system "worked like clockwork". He later recalled, "Once it was the Jews - now it was Eichmann".
After crossing the border, Nazi functionaries and SS men could relax. The people of South Tyrol were ethnically German and identified fiercely with German nationalism. In December 1945, the Allies had turned the peninsula over to Italian control, but the Italian security services were grossly inadequate. The government in Rome believed that the best solution to the presence of thousands of refugees and displaced persons was to let them go where they would.
The towns of Merano [Meran, in German] and Bolzano [Bozen] became hubs for the escapees and those aiding them. The Fascist mayor of Termeno [Tramin] was happy to hand out residence certificates that enabled fugitives such as Josef Mengele to get ID cards. The region had been a base for wartime forgers, who kept up the business, now supplying papers to men who needed a new identity. It was hardly a secret; even the local newspaper noted that South Tyrol was an "Eldorado" for former Nazis.
Northern Italy was special for another reason. In the final weeks of the war, Alan Dulles, the representative of the Office of Strategic Services [forerunner of the CIA] in Switzerland, had negotiated the surrender of German forces in that theatre with the SS general Karl Wolff. Dulles thereby ended the fighting earlier than in northern Europe and developed channels of communication with high-ranking SS officers. As Dulles was already looking to rehabilitate Germany as an ally against the rampant Soviet Union, these initial connections would prove doubly useful - to both sides.
The SS began to disintegrate in 1945. Individual SS officers hoped to exploit tensions between the western Allies and the Soviet Union to open negotiations for a separate peace with the western Allies that would permit the Nazi state to survive and fight on against the USSR. These officers included SS General Karl Wolff—the Highest SS and Police Leader for German-occupied Italy; SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Heydrich's successor as chief of the RSHA; SS General Walter Schellenberg, the chief of the RSHA Department VI [SD Foreign Intelligence Agency]; and even Himmler himself. Facing unyielding demands for unconditional surrender, the SS men who sent out feelers, lacked the authority—or the conception of themselves in a post-Nazi state—to offer unconditional surrender even to the western Allies.
Wolff succeeded in persuading German military authorities in Northern Italy to surrender to the Anglo-Americans on 2 May 1945, five days before the end of the war.
Eventually American Intelligence organisations would help wanted Nazi war criminals to escape. At first, though, the Germans had to make their own way. They took advantage of the chaos when the fighting stopped and the presence of millions of people, sloshing around the continent without any official papers. Although the United Nations Relief and Rescue Administration and its successor, the International Refugee Organisation, would assist only "genuine refugees", citizens of the defunct Third Reich and ethnic Germans could get emergency travel passes from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
For sound humanitarian reasons, the headquarters of the ICRC in Geneva sent thousands of blank passes to the Red Cross offices in Rome and Genoa. Local officials hugely abused the system. The identity checks on applicants were superficial at best. Nazis were able to get affidavits from church organisations that were supposed to be assisting refugees from Catholic countries. However, the Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza (PCA), based in the Vatican under the supervision of the papal secretary of state Giovanni Montini, was interested mainly in helping anti-communists flee the Soviets.
Steinacher provides damning evidence of Vatican complicity. Montini - who in 1963 became Pope Paul VI - permitted Bishop Alois Hudal of Austria, Monsignor Krunoslav Draganovic of Croatia and Father Eduard Demöter, a Hungarian, to run aid committees that were used blatantly by fleeing Nazis and Nazi collaborators. In the Diocese of Bressanone [Brixen], Bishop Johannes Baptist Geisler threw open church properties and monasteries to shelter them. In return, many SS men allowed themselves to be rebaptised. Steinacher argues convincingly that this procedure was part of a Vatican strategy to re-Christianise Europe.
American Intelligence agents soon joined the clients of the PCA. By mid-1946, they were uncovering "Ratlines" and their operatives, in order not to shut them down, but to evacuate men whom they perceived as potential assets. These were former German officers who once ran agents behind Soviet lines or knew Russia well. The beneficiaries included Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyon", and Walter Rauff, who had pioneered the use of gas vans.
Most of the fugitives aimed for Argentina, which was recruiting technicians and scientists among Germans who wanted to leave Europe. Here, Steinacher draws heavily on the work of Uki Goñi and the Argentinian commission, established in 1997, which researched Nazi activity in the country. He criticises the "one-sided focus on Argentina as a Nazi refuge", but gives little information about other choice destinations such as Syria and Egypt. Nor does he add much about those who reached the US.
Hitler’s Henchmen in Arabia
The Daily Beast
When most of us think of the premier retirement destination for unrepentant Nazis, our minds immediately turn to South America. We think of Josef Mengele hidden on a lonely estancia in Paraguay, or Adolf Eichmann ensconced in a two-bit suburb of Buenos Aires.
This perception was magnified by a slew of sensational books that were published in the early 1970s, many of which promoted a very iffy thesis that former Nazis were using the continent as a "Launchpad" for a "Fourth Reich" that would, yes, take over the world.
This culminated in Ira Levin’s 1976 thriller, "The Boys from Brazil", in which fiendish Nazis hatch a diabolical plot to unleash several cloned Hitlers onto the world. The book was made into a film in 1978, and starred no less than Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, who were presumably behind on the rent.
But as the recent declaration of the death of the former SS officer and Eichmann henchman Alois Brunner reveals, the boys didn’t just go to Brazil. For Brunner, like so many other Nazis, found the Middle East an equally hospitable location, and far less out-on-a-limb than a chalet in Patagonia, no matter how "gemütlich".
Brunner, who sent an estimated 130,000 Jews to their deaths, made his home in Damascus, Syria, where he found the conditions much to his liking. Although there has been much guff peddled about Brunner’s postwar activities over the past few days—some of which may be true—there is no doubt that he worked in cahoots with the Assad regime, or at least certainly enjoyed its protection.
However, Brunner was not the only perpetrator of the Holocaust mooching around the streets of the Syrian capital. In terms of gruesome numbers, Franz Stangl, the former commandant of Treblinka extermination camp, had some 800,000 murders on what remained of his conscience, and he arrived in Damascus in September 1948 with the assistance of a Roman Catholic bishop.
Although Brunner is said to have variously worked as an intelligence agent, an arms dealer, and a security advisor, Stangl took more menial positions in textile firms. Life was somewhat frugal, but manageable. Unfortunately for Stangl, the local chief of police took a fancy to his 14-year-old daughter and wanted to add the child to his harem. Stangl didn’t tarry, and packed his bags and shepherded his entire family to—you guessed it—Brazil.
Stangl seems to have been one of the few Nazis who didn’t find the air pleasing in Syria. Most, such as Major-General Otto-Ernst Remer, prospered on Arab Street. Remer was, frankly, a real piece of work, and having founded the swiftly-banned Socialist Reich Party in West Germany in the early 1950s, decided that working as an arms dealer with the likes of Brunner more rewarding.
Unlike Brunner, Remer was itinerant, and spent much time in that other nest of postwar Nazis—Cairo. If anything, the Egyptian capital was even more appealing than Damascus, and had been playing host to Nazis immediately after the war, when King Farouk opened his arms to scores of former SS and Gestapo officers.
That hospitality continued even after Farouk was deposed by the Free Officers Movement in 1952, as Gamal Abdal Nasser regarded German scientific and intelligence expertise as being an essential component of his regime. No less a figure than Joachim Daumling, the former head of the Gestapo in Düsseldorf, was tasked with establishing Nasser’s secret service.
In fact, the list of some habitués of Cairo in the 1950s and the 1960s reads like a who’s who of Nazi Germany, featuring as it did the rescuer of Mussolini, Otto Skorzeny; the ace Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel; the leader of a notorious SS penal unit, Oskar Dirlewanger; and the particularly odious and violently anti-Semitic stooge of Göbbels, Johannes von Leers.
What made the relationship between these former Nazis and the Egyptians and Syrians so successful was that it was a genuinely two-way deal. The Arabs offered the Nazis a haven, as well as a market for all their nefarious dealings in arms and black market currency. The Nazis, meanwhile, were able to provide technical and military experts, as well as the knowhow of establishing the instruments of repression.
However, below the back scratching lay a deep and dark underpinning to the relationship between the Crescent and the Swastika. That was, of course, a hatred of the Jews, and in particular, a desire to see the eradication of Israel.
That shared exterminationist desire had been born during the war itself, when the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husayni, had made his home in the luxurious Hotel Adlon in Berlin in 1941, and had impressed Hitler with his hatred of the Jews. The Mufti lobbied the Nazis hard to kick the British out of the Middle East, and he was instrumental in raising recruits for a largely Muslim unit of the SS called the 13th Armed Mountain Division of the SS Handschar.
In addition, throughout the war in North Africa, German intelligence had worked closely with the Egyptians, and the Mufti is thought to have been a key intermediary between King Farouk and Hitler himself. If further evidence were needed that the roots of the Nazi-Arab affair were required, then it is worth considering the fact that both Nasser and his successor, Anwar Sadat, had been wartime agents for the Germans.
Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, many old Nazis managed discreetly to trickle back to what they regarded as the Fatherland. However, others such as the former SS "doctor" in Mauthausen, Aribert Heim—and indeed Alois Brunner—would end their days in the Middle East, dying lonely deaths in obscure dusty back streets of Cairo and Damascus.
It is hard to feel sorry for such lonely demises, but in the end, those Nazis who escaped to the Middle East found permanent sanctuary. Remembering that may seem inflammatory when the West struggles with its relationship with that part of the planet, but it is nonetheless the awkward truth.
The author could also have furnished more context on what was known about the fugitives at the time. The main efflux was under way before the completion of the Nuremberg Trials, with all they revealed. Until the trial of Einsatzgruppen commanders in 1947, few Allied officials had much idea which SS officers were responsible for the mass shooting of Jews in Russia or ghetto clearances. The list of escapees, including Franz Stangl, Eduard Roschmann, Josef Schwammberger and Otto Wächter, is stunning - but how many of them were as notorious then as they became?
Steinacher is undoubtedly correct to see the cold war as critical to American behaviour, but he fails to note that fugitive Nazis in Italy had little to fear from British intelligence, either, though for different reasons. Whitehall was so concerned with stopping European Jews getting to Palestine and Palestinian Jews getting to Europe (to attack British targets) that it had little energy or resources to spare for the likes of Erich Priebke. However, these are minor omissions from a well-written book that is packed with startling information and grubby stories about the moral cost of political exigency.
-- David Cesarani is a professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London