This is why so many Nazis fled to Argentina

Joe GampContributor, Yahoo News UK
Yahoo News UK
(SIMON WEISENTHAL CENTRE)
(SIMON WEISENTHAL CENTRE)

A new document containing the details of 12,000 Nazis who fled to Argentina has been published after it was discovered in an old storage space in Buenos Aires.

The US-based Simon Weisenthal Institute, which has been instrumental in tracking down Nazis, published a few pages of the document on Monday.

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The NYC based centre says that many of the people listed had Swiss bank accounts - shining new light on the finances of war criminals who are said to have stolen from persecuted jews.

In a statement, the centre said: “We believe that these long-dormant accounts hold monies looted from Jewish victims.”

Soldiers from the US Army hold items of looted art treasures hidden by the Nazis. (Getty Images)
Soldiers from the US Army hold items of looted art treasures hidden by the Nazis. (Getty Images)

Following the collapse of the dictatorship, known Nazis fled mainland Europe to avoid being brought to justice for their crimes - with many heading to Argentina.

What were the “Ratlines”?

The "Ratlines" were a system of escape routes for Nazis and other fascists fleeing Europe in the aftermath of World War II. 

In 1930-1932 Argentina had a pro-Nazi military regime led by President José Félix Uriburu - nicknamed "Von Pepe" - and his successor Agustín Pedro Justo from 1932-1938.

Read more: The fearless, forgotten hero who humiliated the Nazis on horseback

Argentine army general Juan Peron, who later became President for three terms, secretly ordered diplomats and intelligence officers to establish escape routes - which later became nicknamed “ratlines”.

The routes were designed to go through ports in Spain and Italy, in order to smuggle thousands of former SS officers and Nazi party members out of Europe to South America.

The Simon Weisenthal Center claims the newly unearthed documents show Credit Suisse could have held the accounts of thousands of Nazi sympathisers and SS members. (PA)
The Simon Weisenthal Center claims the newly unearthed documents show Credit Suisse could have held the accounts of thousands of Nazi sympathisers and SS members. (PA)

Argentina: The Nazis' "Cape of Last Hope" 

Argentina had an affiliation with the Axis of dictators in Europe, because of the country’s close cultural ties with Germany, Spain, and Italy, with many of the country’s citizens of European descent.

Reports and archives states claim wealthy Germans and Argentine businessmen of German heritage were willing to pay the way for escaping Nazis. 

Read more: The Hanau shooting shows how Germany is returning to its Nazi past

The Weisenthal Centre, which published the documents, it alleges that Argentine banks with ties to Germany took the money stolen from the regime's victims and transferred them to what was then called Schweizerische Kreditanstalt - now known as Credit Suisse.

In response to a request from AFP, Credit Suisse said that “between 1997 and 1999, an independent commission of experts, chaired by Paul A. Volcker, investigated Credit Suisse and sixty other Swiss banks with the aim of identifying accounts that may or may have belonged to victims of Nazi persecution.”

Josef Mengele fled to Argentina after the collapse of the Third Reich. (Getty Images)
Josef Mengele fled to Argentina after the collapse of the Third Reich. (Getty Images)

A host of top ranking figures in the Nazi regime sought to escape South America.

Josef Mengele, the doctor nicknamed the “Angel of Death”, who conducted experiments among the prisoners at the Auschwitz death camp, fled to the country.

Read more: Jewish-German pensioner 'lived next door to Hitler' during rise of Nazi Party

Josef Schwammberger, a leading SS commander in charge of three labor camps in the Jewish ghettoes of Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII, also escaped to Argentina.

Walther Rauff, who invented the infamous gas chambers used to kills millions of Jews, fled using the ratline to Quito, Ecuador, before arriving in Chile.

Adolf Eichmann Who Is One Of The Founders Of Gas Chambers And Other Extermination Equipment In Oswiecim (Auschwitz) After Arrest In Israel. World War Ii. (Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Adolf Eichmann Who Is One Of The Founders Of Gas Chambers And Other Extermination Equipment In Oswiecim (Auschwitz) After Arrest In Israel. World War Ii. (Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Were they brought to justice?

Most of the Nazis who went to Argentina looked to remain low key, fearing repercussions if they were too vocal or visible from hunters. dedicated to tracking down war criminals.

Many high profile figures in Hitler’s regime were among those who entered Argentina.

Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects behind the Holocaust, was snatched off a street in Buenos Aires by a team of Mossad agents and whisked off to Israel where he was tried and executed.

Read more: Former neo-Nazi leader arrested in ‘swatting’ scheme

Other wanted war criminals remained cautious: Josef Mengele drowned in Brazil in 1979 after having been the object of a widespread manhunt for decades.

But unfortunately, some escaped their crimes altogether.

West Germany requested the extradition of Walter Rauff in 1963 but the request was expired under Chile's statute of limitations. Rauff became a wealthy food producer and died of a heart attack on May 14, 1984.

POPE PIUS XII - UNDATED - (AP-PHOTO)
POPE PIUS XII - UNDATED - (AP-PHOTO)

What's happening today?

There is speculation that the Catholic Church turned a blind eye to the Nazi regime, with some claiming the church helped to facilitate the escape of Nazi war criminals to South America.

Critics say Pope Pius XII - labelled "Hitler's Pope" during his tenure at the time of WWII - knew Nazi Germany was murdering Jews but failed to act.

But on Monday, church historian Hubert Wolf together with a team of historians said they planned to spend the next four months combing through archived Vatican documents from the papacy of Pius XII.

An employee opens the Vatican Secret Archives area on the pontificate of Pope Pius XII in Vatican City, Vatican. (Getty Images)
An employee opens the Vatican Secret Archives area on the pontificate of Pope Pius XII in Vatican City, Vatican. (Getty Images)

It is the first time the Holy See has published the archives from Pius' tenure - with some hoping it will offer a chance to investigate the role of the church in the escape of Nazi’s from Europe when the Third Reich collapse.

The University of Münster professor told DW."It's an incredible opportunity to answer several pending questions from the era, and a huge challenge. We're talking about 300,000 - 400,000 documents of 1,000 pages each."

"It may transpire that the pope knew nothing of any concrete help and that some people ruthlessly exploited that. Or Pius knew all about it, and turned a blind eye.”

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