Fugitive Fascists: 5 Nazis Who Got Away

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May 1945. As the Allies march through Germany and begin to encircle Berlin, the loyalty of the highest echelons of the Nazi regime begins to falter. Self-preservation starts to trump fidelity to the Fuhrer, with more and more of the top brass beginning to leave the sinking ship. With Hitler slowly losing his mind in his central Berlin bunker, the escape paths of thousands of Nazis begin to spread across Europe, spiriting leading figures away from the fatherland. These became known as the ratlines, the clandestine methods by which some of the Second World War’s biggest villains attempted to flee from justice. They went to South America and to Switzerland, using fake names and passports, friendly fascist regimes and duplicitous double agents from the Allied Forces.

Just months after the war officially ended, the Nuremberg Trials began in Germany, but some of the most wanted men in the world were not there. Some – Himmler, Goebbels, and Hitler himself – committed suicide rather than face the courts, but far more had simply vanished into the chaos that engulfed a continent ravaged by total war. In the months and years that followed, legions of Nazi hunters would scour the world in an attempt to bring the perpetrators of Nazism to justice. Here we discuss some of the most infamous figures that got away from the wreckage of Germany – the Nazis that got away.

Adolf Eichmann on trial in Israel, 1961. Israel Government Press Office

1 – Adolf Eichmann

Arguably the best known Nazi to escape was Adolf Eichmann. His notoriety stemmed from both his long career as a high level functionary in the Nazi regime and from his flight, which lasted all the way until 1960. Eichmann was one of the principal administrators of the Holocaust, a man who skilled in organized death that he was the genesis of the now famed phrase “the banality of evil”, coined by philosopher Hannah Arendt at his trial.

Eichmann had long marked himself out within the Nazi Party as an “expert” on Jewish matters, going as far as to learn bits of Yiddish and Hebrew, as well as traveling to Mandatory Palestine with the intention of creating somewhere for the Jews of Germany to immigrate to. He was one of the leading Nazis in charge of “encouraging” Jews to leave the country, whether it be through economic sanctions or outright anti semitic violence and thus when war began, he was the man tasked with the forced deportation of millions of Germany’s Jews.

When the Wannsee Conference was convened on the outskirts of Berlin in 1941, Eichmann was one of the attendees and wrote the briefing from which the total Jewish population of Europe was estimated. When the conference called for the “Final Solution”, that Jews be exterminated, it was Eichmann who was tasked with organizing the deportations and executions, of creating in the ghettos and the logistical methods for the greatest genocide in human history. He was never a maker of decisions, rather an efficient and skilled administrator who put policy into practice. It was not for no reason that the “banality of evil” became associated with him.

As the war turned, Eichmann was posted to Budapest to oversee the deportation of the Jews of Hungary. More than 400,000 Jews would be deported and murdered in the short time that he was in charge, which lasted from early May until early July 1944, with sometimes more than 10,000 people per day sent on trains to the concentration camps. As Soviet troops encircled the Hungarian capital, Eichmann made the remaining Jews of the city engage in a death march to Vienna.

The second act of Eichmann’s life began in captivity. He was taken by the Americans, but he escaped and lived in relative peace in Austria, avoiding the Nuremberg Trials completely. As the court heard evidence of his deeds from other captured Nazis, he plotted a move to South America. Obtaining a humanitarian Red Cross passport through a Nazi-sympathizing bishop in Italy, he travelled through a network of safe houses run by other clergy and eventually caught a ship bound for Buenos Aires in 1950.

He lived peacefully in Argentina, working for the government and later for Mercedes Benz. Nazi hunters, however, were on his tail. As with many fugitive Nazis, South America was widely suspected to be his location and an address was finalized when a chance meeting between the daughter of a Jewish emigre in Argentina and a man boasting of his father’s exploits in Hitler’s regime lead to the woman coming face to face with Eichmann at his home in San Fernando, just outside Buenos Aires.

The Israeli secret service, Mossad, were soon on the case. They surveilled Eichmann for several days, worked out his routine and then struck, taking him captive on May 11, 1960. When he was unveiled in Tel Aviv a few days later, it made worldwide news. After around 11 months in an Israeli jail, Eichmann finally stood trial. He used the same defence that countless other Nazis had: that he was a functionary, carrying out orders that he did not have the power to influence. The defence famously cited a quote from Eichmann in 1945, saying that: I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction”.

He was eventually convicted and hanged in 1962. His trial, death and the subsequent raft of publications that emerged brought the legacy of the Holocaust to a new generation, both in Israel and beyond.

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  • William The Warlord

    The body found in Berlin was never conclusively confirmed to be Bormann.The DNA profile was never released to the public,the German government had a vested interest in sweeping him under the rug and the top Nazi’s planned to escape and left behind many false leads.

    I believe Bormann escaped Berlin in 1945 and lived on until the 1970’s!

    • cargosquid

      The show “Hunting Hitler” brought up interesting information about him.

      Eyewitness accounts and his burial site in South America. When Bormann’s body was “found” in Germany, it had red dirt……which is the same dirt found where he was said to be buried in S. Am.

      • William The Warlord

        I have no doubt that Bormann and Hitler escaped to Argentina following the defeat in Berlin. My Argentine relatives were adamant that it was common knowledge through out the German Colonies that Hitler and Eva Braun survived and escaped to Bariloche Argentina.Bormann,Hans Kammler,Fegelien and Gestapo Mueller are all believed to have survived and escaped as well.Try reading the “Grey Wolf” or the Corso book.I also found the “Hitler Book” put together for Stalin to be very informative.All have quite accurate information.I have no doubt that the US knew and allowed it to happen in exchange for the Paperclip scientists and the German Atomic bombs.

        As usual,we the people have been lied to and deceived again.

        • cargosquid

          The Hunting Hitler show was interesting, even if the show’s people did some stupid things only for TV.

        • osimendoza

          The Russians, already confirmed, the found the body, buried aoutside the Bunker, they send it back to Russia.

          • William The Warlord

            Sorry but the body that the Russians brought back was NOT Hitler’s! The Russians allowed a DNA analysis on the piece of skull from “Hitler’s body” and it was proved beyond a doubt to be from a female who was NOT Eva Braun!

            Even Stalin believed that Hitler had “escaped and fled to Spain or Argentina”!The allies had to make believe Hitler killed himself because that was what their deal withe Nazi’s(through Bormann and Dulles)required them to do so.Plus it was considered to be socially and politically unacceptable to reveal that Hitler and many top Nazi’s escaped with all the gold and money from Europe.

          • osimendoza

            Didn’t knew that part, The one I remenbr=er was at the end of the 80’s, when the Russians release a report. about it. Your’s must be a new version. Please send me a Link about it. I love the history and that theme

          • William The Warlord

            I believe the DNA tests took place at a University in Connecticut or Maine.It was around ten years ago.I do not have a link as I read that in a newspaper article.You should read the book,The Grey Wolf,it was written by two scholars who sought to “debunk” the Hitler Escapes story and only found out through research that Hitler,Bormann and others did escape to Argentina.There are a number of books in Argentina that document Hitler and Eva living post war in Argentina.Those books where written in Spanish so did not get much attention in the “West”but I believe are very accurate!

          • osimendoza

            Tks, for the info, looking for the book already

          • jon mihans

            Hold on a second William, I wanted to hear your reply to Jess Me. I was following the back and forth between you. Granted, I haven’t the knowledge of either of you, but I enjoyed reading the article and the comments. I am just interested in what you think of his rebuttal. Thanks Jon

          • William The Warlord

            My reply to Jess Me is that is he is not looking at the big picture and the two details that he cherry picked were portrayed as speculation not proven fact.
            I have had a personal interest in this since childhood when my relatives were adamant that he survived and lived in Bariloche among other places.I did not believe it at the time but I do so now!Which submarine he came on is not important,the fact that he made it out is.He might have flown on the missing Junkers-390. Quisling admitted there was an escape convoy of submarines but Quisling decided not to flee.

            Much details of WW2 are classified and records have been falsified or stolen from the American National Archives.Example the manifest from U-234 that secretly offloaded material in Portland Maine Harbor before the U-Boat was brought to Portsmouth NSY for final surrender was falsified from the National Archives but the Navy kept copies of the original which had the barrels of “nuclear” material listed on the German and American manifest.I know way too much and there is no small danger talking about these matters but I think it is time for the truth to come out!

          • jon mihans

            Very interesting, like I said I don’t have the knowledge you guys do. But the escape theory seems plausible and knowing US intelligence behavior, possible. I may have to read the Grey Wolf. Thanks for your time, and one more question. What if anything has Mossad reported regarding Hitlers escape?

          • William The Warlord

            My reply to you is now pending because I used theN@z@ word!

          • William The Warlord

            I just posted my reply to Jess Me above.Let us know what you think!

        • Jess Mee

          “Grey Wolf” is a load of BS, with multiple errors of documented historical fact.

          • William The Warlord

            Right! Since you read Grey Wolf why do you not tell us all about it!

          • Jess Mee

            I thought you’d never ask! First, the book claims that Hitler flew from Berlin and made a stopover in Magdeburg. But by that time Magdeburg and all of Lower Saxony were in Allied hands. There was no safe place anywhere near there for a plane carrying Adolf Hitler to land.

            Second, it claims that Hitler left Europe for South America aboard the U-518. The author acknowledges that the U-boat was attacked, but claims it was never positively ID’d and that while it was depth-charged, no wreckage was recovered. US Navy archives report an engagement between U-518 and the destroyer escorts USS Carter and USS Neal A. Scott. The U-boat was positively identified when her captain radioed a weather report to Berlin. The escorts attacked U-518 not with depth charges, but with hedgehogs. I don’t know if you’re familiar with WW II antisubmarine munitions, but a hedgehog is a very different weapon than a depth charge. It uses a contact detonator instead of a depth activated detonator. It doesn’t explode unless it hits something. The report of the engagement states that there were several smaller underwater explosions followed by one very big one. This did bring wreckage to the surface which also aided in identifying the vessel.

            Last, the book alleges that Hitler was cared for until his death by a Heinrich Bethe, who was a former crewman of the Admiral Graf Spee interned in Argentina after it was scuttled. German Kriegsmarine archives indicate that Bethe actually escaped from internment and managed to return to Germany. He was subsequently assigned to the battleship Bismarck and was one of the casualties when it sank. Bethe couldn’t care for Hitler or anyone after the war because he was dead. At best, it is a poorly researched book, if not an outright fabrication.

          • William The Warlord

            Jess Me,I just reread the book Grey Wolf to make sure of my facts and you are simply wrong about your conclusions.

            1.) The authors NEVER made the claim the First airplane stopped in Magedeburg.The authors claim the aircraft “detoured to Magdeburg” to avoid a Bomber stream(which all had fighter escorts at that time).See page 162 for map of the flight.The map shows no landing in Magdeburg, but shows the plane merely flying to within visual range and then turning North following the Elbe river.From there the flight flew to Tonder Denmark were the Germans still held the airfield.

            2.)The authors only speculated that U-Boat U-518 carried Hitler and Braun only because that was one of the U-boats that was confirmed beyond any doubt to have arrived in Argentina! I personally believe that Hitler traveled on another U-Boat or on the missing Junkers 390 which was destroyed after a safe landing,cut up and thrown in a river at a possible known location in South America..It would be very instructive to try and raise parts of that plane to confirm the story further.You have no proof that the authors were wrong and their U-Boat speculation fits with the known provable facts!

            3.) The “story” of Heinrich Bethe raises more questions than it answers.The story originated with an interview in 1977 and was based almost all on Bethe’s claims that were unable to be confirmed as the other man(Dr.Lehmann) had disappeared and was presumed dead.Without any facts to dispute Bethe’s account it was taken at face value and may be accurate.
            The allegation that Bethe died on the Bismark may be accurate or may not be. Since Bethe was known to use other aliases it is quite possible that”Bethe” was his German identity and he was unaware the real Bethe died on the Bismark.It is also possible that the Germans falsified the death as a cover for the real Bethe. My personal opinion is that Bethe was fabricating his account by substituting himself for Hitler’s real companion.Bethe was more likely a simple guard for Hitler,who later expanded his role with Hitler when no one else could contradict him.That is why he knew so much about Hitlers final end.

            None of your complaints take away from the primary thesis that Hitler escaped to Argentina.Remember the Germans started the evacuation operations in July 1943 after the failure of the Kursk offensive.It is very possible that Bormann planned an escape route even earlier when he began the smuggling of Europe’s treasures and gold by U-boat earlier in 1943.

            None of your conclusions point to any outright fabrications or any proof of poor research.In fact it seems the Authors uncovered more facts than any prior authors.I know this is very emotional for many people but available facts indicate that the “Death of Hitler” in the bunker was a staged event,to make it look like he died, to prevent the world wide search that would have ensued if Trevor Roper had not been called in to create an acceptable story of Hitler’s death.

            There is no evidence that would hold up in a Court of Law that Hitler died in Berlin or that his body or Eva Braun’s body was ever found.Both bodies recovered from the garden of the bunker by the Russians tested negative for cyanide poisoning.The female body had died of massive shrapnel wounds to the upper body and the so called Hitler body skull fragment was determined to be from a female who was not Eva Braun.(Stalin’s Hitler Book). Hitler’s staff was unable to find any ejected shells from Hitler’s pistols when they cleaned up the room and removed the rug.(Ibd.)Many facts do not ad up to the Bunker suicide story!The truth is still out there!
            There are way too many details that do not add up to Hitler’s suicide!

  • cargosquid

    The FBI was looking for Hitler for YEARS.

  • Joe Dalva

    No Heinrich Müller, head of of the Gestapo on this list??

    • William The Warlord

      He should be,when they opened his grave it contained the remains of three individuals none of whom was Muller.He is another that escaped and was likely the one who helped Bormann and Hitler escape!

  • Eric van Tassell

    eichmann got away? not.

  • Navy Vet

    I believe Hitler, as sick and frail as he was, disquised himself as a jew. He died in Hamburg Germany 1in 1955. Eva died in the bunker.