Why Did So Many Nazis Choose Argentina to Flee To After WWII
As the Allied armies advanced through France, Italy and Eastern Europe, high ranking officials and officers in the German National Socialist Party, the SS and the Wehrmacht seem to have finally realised that taking on most of the largest industrialised countries in the World all at the same time had not been the wisest idea, and at this point there was a slight chance that their supposedly Aryan behinds could get a little spanking for being such naughty little nazis. And while by virtue of being human, no doubt a percentage of them might have enjoyed the odd flogging session, let’s just say not all of them were keen to assume the position and answer for their crimes. Especially if the position in question included getting choked out by a rope… Ok, listen, maybe this isn’t the best analogy. The point is, while for some people that’s all just a fun Saturday night, for these individuals, their crimes were such that they’d not get to continue breathing afterwards, which is key so as to be able to wonder what’s wrong with you as you look in the mirror the next morning.
Silliness aside, even the most rabid extremist was fully aware that their Axis enemies knew of their rather extreme crimes against humanity, see our video What Did the German Public Know About the Holocaust During WWII? As such, as the war was winding down and with the writing on the wall, many of the leaders among the Nazis – especially within the SS – started to draft plans for their escape to neutral and friendly nations in order to secure their livelihoods and lives after the war.
One of the top destinations recommended by ‘Nazi Holiday Deals, Inc.’ was Argentina. But this all brings up the question of, of all the places in the world they could potentially go, “Why Argentina?”
The massively over simplified answer is because they found a friendly political regime, helmed by Colonel turned President Juan Perón. A regime that, much like pretty much every other nation in the world including the U.S. and Britain, was extremely eager to take in former Nazis in exchange for exploiting their military and technological expertise.
That said, while that answer is not necessarily wrong, as ever, the universe resists such simplicity, and the process which led Argentina to becoming a top destination for retired institutional mass murderers was long and complex, involving decades of German-Argentinian relationships and secret deals, most of which were uncovered only relatively recently by a relentless investigative journalist, Uki Goñi. So let’s dive into it, shall we?
To begin with, Argentina’s population increased from roughly 1.7 million inhabitants in 1869 to almost 8 million by 1914. The primary drivers behind this demographic leap forward was immigration, mainly from Italy and Spain, but a sizable number of those migrants – about 100,000 – were German speakers, either hailing from the motherland itself, or belonging to the Volga German community.
A short aside here: the Volga Germans were the descendants of German-speaking settlers imported by Catherine the Great into Russia. For various reasons, many of them relocated to North and South America, in particular re-settling in Kansas, the Dakotas, and Nebraska in the United States, as well as Buenos Aires and Entre Ríos provinces of Argentina.
By the 1920s in Argentina, the German community was doing rather well. Thousands of German-Argentines made a good living as doctors, civil servants, teachers, farmers, or professional soldiers. They founded German schools, and established strong links with the industrial sector back in the ‘old country’. The Argentine military took notice, and recruited droves of German scientists and technicians to boost the local military-industrial complex.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the German presence in Argentina continued to grow, peaking at 250,000. Over the same period, this community started exerting a mounting influence both over the military and political élites of their host country.
Following chief naughty boy Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in early 1933, the III Reich started extending its reach over the organisational structure of German-speaking communities in Argentina. Religious, educational, labour, social, even sporting and musical associations were infiltrated or altogether taken over by representatives of the Nazi Party. Or, more precisely by the local chapter, denominated ‘Argentine Landesgruppe’.
In German schools, children from Jewish or left-leaning families were partially driven off. Further, those deemed of satisfactory Aryan stock were encouraged to move to Germany upon coming of age, so that they could serve in the Wehrmacht or work in the resurgent armaments industry.
As the migrant communities were joined by opponents of the Nazi regime back at home, these late arrivals were intimidated and kept in line through propaganda efforts or straight violence. Other propaganda campaigns were launched to collect funds from German communities, ostensibly for charitable purposes, in reality to feed the Reichsbank with an influx of foreign currency.
Those propaganda honchos at the Landesgruppe also managed to covertly influence local respected publications, such as ‘La Razón’, or funded their own papers, which became a vehicle for open, rabid anti-Semitism.
On this one, we feel compelled to point out as ever, you’ll often hear that news today has gone off the rails, but this has always been the case as long as we have record of the news, with some publications known for being more objective and others pretty unabashedly just propaganda tools for a given ideology. And people on all ends of the spectrum flocking to many of these and generally, if one’s own favourite news source is way out there in terms of aligning with anything anyone else is saying is fact on a given subject, well, it’s your news source that’s the only one telling the truth. Everyone else is wrong and clearly shills of the opponent or some shadowy entity behind them, etc. etc.. What’s slightly unique in modern times is both the extreme reach such very clearly propaganda outlets can have, and also how easy it is in modern times to fact check anything said by any news outlet, regardless of quality. And on this one, nobody gets everything right all the time. That’s impossible. Just some try harder than others. But what remains the same regardless of era is that few humans bother to actually look into it, and most of us would rather hear things that align with some version of what we already think. Someone says something contrary, regardless of backing data presented in some cases, well, we just unsubscribe or stop consuming their content. Humans gonna human, no matter what time period we are from.
But we digress.
Despite all their work and initial influence, the Argentine Landesgruppe was never a huge organisation. The official membership peaked at only 2,110 in late 1936, and declined after that date. It appears that most German-Argentines may have been initially strongly attracted by the nationalist rhetoric espoused by the Landesgruppe, and had drawn some benefits from the labour associations it controlled. However, ultimately, the interest in Nazi ideology amongst ordinary citizens became lukewarm at best, as you might expect from a group living around, working with, marrying, and making friends with those from a completely different culture. When in the late 1930s the general reputation of Hitler and friends started plummeting worldwide, German-Argentines doubled down and, on the whole, preferred not to associate themselves too closely with the regime.
Matters didn’t improve with, in March 1938, the Anschluss, or annexation of Austria, which was strongly negatively perceived by public opinion in the region. One year later, came another blow, known as the ‘Patagonia Affair’.
On this one, in March of 1939, President Roberto Ortíz was made aware of a dossier revealing a secret Nazi plan to annex Patagonia. The dossier was actually a fake, a hoax cooked up by British intelligence with the likely cooperation of local communists and American journalists. Ortíz was sceptical of the evidence, but the uproar caused by the scandal prompted him to impose restrictions on foreign-language associations, including of course the Argentine Landesgruppe and the organisations it controlled. The German-Argentine Nazis wisely decided to act more discreetly from then on, rebranding themselves as the ‘Federation of German Circles of Beneficence and Culture’.
Let’s return to President Roberto Ortiz for a moment. At the onset of WWII, he declared himself to be a pro-Allied leader who strove to make local politics more open and democratic. His tenure, however, was marred by accusations of fraud and some, let’s say, severe ambiguity.
For example, shortly after taking office, in July 1938, his government had issued the secret ‘Directive 11’, which instructed consular offices to not issue visas to Jewish immigrants. This Directive remained in effect throughout the war, effectively preventing thousands of Jewish families from escaping persecution and murder in Nazi occupied Europe. Granted, the vast majority of other nations in the world likewise weren’t too bothered to help by opening their doors, but at least most stopped short of actively banning taking Jews in. Just generally making the process difficult, despite the very well known persecution that was happening in Germany at the time, and that the vast majority of Jews wanted out for obvious reasons, and Germany itself was happy, at least at first, to simply let them go. That actually being part of the original plan, rather than the mass executions that followed- simply make life so miserable for the Jews, they’d all leave. Except, what the Nazi brass didn’t quite count on in their planning was that most had nowhere to go.
For example, the United States, despite its surface level supposed “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” thing, and the extreme success the U.S. once had with more open immigration policies being a boon to the country, at this point they had a hard limit of 153,744 immigrants annually. This, in turn, was divided by country, with an awful lot of entry requirements to qualify on top of that. These requirements were so strict that many quotas during this time weren’t filled at all despite massively more applicants than that number.
Further, again despite well known news of the atrocities being committed against the Jews leading up to the war, the majority of the American public opposed relaxing immigration guidelines or boosting numbers for the Jews to accommodate those desperately wanting out of Germany. This was a rather curious thing in the nation given at the time according to the Pew Research Center 91% of Americans identified as Christian. Why does this matter? When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he responded “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
When then asked who your neighbour is to love, the response was the parable of the Good Samaritan in which a Samaritan comes across a severely injured person, implied to be a Jew, and sees to it that he’s taken care of when others would not. Important to the story at hand, and a context often lost on modern readers, and clearly lost on the 1940s populace of many then Christian nations, is that the Samaritans and Jews at the time were hated enemies. But the Samaritan took him in anyway. In the end, not even needing to get metaphorical with this one on all the interesting implications of what was being implied with the story, if we just want to go literal- it’s a story of a foreign individual taking in a Jew because the Jew was desperately in need of help. And this whole “Love thy neighbour” thing quite literally was, as noted, the second most important commandment according to Jesus himself… Yet the general public, of not just the U.S., but most of the world, mostly opposed the notion.
On this note, other countries more or less mimicked this general stance, with Britain, who by the way at the time had 83% of the populace identifying as Christian, even going further and taking steps to try to actively reduce the number of German Jews who were being allowed to immigrate to Palestine at the time, which was one of the few places that was taking a relatively large number of Jewish immigrants compared to most states. That said, in 1938, Britain did agree to amend policy to take in 10,000 Jewish children, but made no special provisions for taking any Jewish adults outside of the already established normal immigration procedures.
The point being, while Argentina’s stance with regards to taking in Jewish refugees was perhaps a bit more extreme with Directive 11, quite literally almost every nation the world over was likewise at the time collectively saying “Ya, no thanks.” Even knowing what was going on in Germany at the time. Although, perhaps this shouldn’t be much of a surprise given that even today, this collective “not my problem” attitude with regards to accepting persecuted refugees from troubled nations is still very much a relatively common thing the world over. Despite that, you know, we are all humans. And regardless of your religious ideology or even stance on immigration, most would otherwise agree humans helping humans in trouble out is nearly always the right thing to do. That Jesus was on to something on this one.
But going back to Argentina, in all this, Ortiz and his successors, Ramon Castillo, Arturo Rawson and Pedro Pablo Ramirez, never broke off friendly relations with the Axis, despite publicly professing neutrality.
During this time, allied nations, the US chief amongst them, likewise suspected that Argentina and Germany had something of a special relationship. Further, in November of 1942, the US Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles began voicing his concern that German minorities in Argentina might retain political influence even in case of Allied victory. All of this prompted the Special Section of the State Department’s Division of American Republics to initiate an investigation on what they defined ‘the condition of German groups’.
On this, a Special Section report of July 1943 noted the strong economic position retained by Germans in Latin America and Argentina in particular, warning about the probable existence of a Nazi underground and, perhaps exaggerating and overblown, insisted that a Fourth Reich might rise in Buenos Aires after the inevitable defeat of Hitler in Europe.
However, while the American Department of State was worried about German presence in Argentina, their counterparts at the British Foreign Office, curiously, held a different view. In December 1943, British Diplomats held talks with Colonel – and future President – Juan Perón, in which he revealed his intention to import large numbers of German technicians to boost local industry.
Apparently, the Foreign Office liked the idea. Throughout 1944 and 1945 its officials came to the conclusion that, once the Nazi threat was dealt with, thousands of skilled German and Austrian labourers should be transplanted to Argentina. In their view, this would have ensured an orderly development of the local economy, and counterbalance excessive US influence.
At the same time, the U.S. State Department was busy at work to prevent that occurrence. One of their tactics was to launch smear campaigns against German and Austrian tycoons who set up businesses in Argentina, with one of their favourite targets being Austrian arms manufacturer Fritz Mandl, better known as the former husband of Hollywood goddess Hedy Lamarr.
In this, Mandl was accused of ‘preparing refuge and business opportunities for fleeing Nazi hierarchs.’
Mandl had in fact had had dealings with both Hitler and Mussolini in the late 1930s, but by the time he had moved to Argentina, he had fallen out of favour with the Nazi regime, to the point that most of his assets had been expropriated. This was due to a personal enmity with Hermann Goering, as well as another tiny detail – the fact that he was Jewish.
In any event, around late 1944, Gerald Warner, an intelligence agent stationed at the American embassy in Buenos Aires started tracking down rumours concerning the escape of prominent Nazis to Argentina. Finally, in April 1945, Warner was able to pin down the source of those rumours, which might have enabled him to prove the long-standing suspicions of the State Department.
On this, surprisingly, these tales of Nazi escapees originated from a radio transmitter, located near London.
So what was going on here?
Warner enquired with the Foreign Office and the mystery was revealed. It was all part of a clever scheme run by Sefton Delmer, the maestro of so-called British ‘black propaganda’.
Delmer had set up a bogus radio service, the ‘German Soldiers’ Station’ which broadcasted fake news in German to shatter the morale of the Wehrmacht. One of their mock reports involved officers and party officials squirrelling away to Argentina, shedding their lederhosen and deserting the poor Hanses and Ottos still slugging it out in Europe.
Delmer was truly a genius when it came to using propaganda and psychological manipulation against tyranny. Such a genius, in fact, that in concocting this hilarious plot he had unwittingly stumbled upon the truth.
It is now time to bring centre stage the two characters who mostly contributed to Argentina becoming a pleasant alternative to the hangman’s noose for Axis war criminals.
The first, as alluded to- Juan Perón, the Army officer who became President on June 4, 1946, but who had been the puppet master of Argentinian politics well before that date. Perón liked to portray himself as a friend of the poorer echelons of society, a defender of the have-nots against the élites. He was, in fact, a savvy populist leader, who surfed the waves of popular discontent thanks to his own charisma and the popularity of his wife, the legendary Evita.
In reality, Perón was a great supporter of Italian Fascism and German Nazism, regimes he had come to admire while he had trained with Mussolini’s Alpine troops in 1939, and while serving as a military attaché in Rome and Berlin.
Back in Buenos Aires, while affecting himself as a defender of the working class, Perón sought friendship and support among the upper classes. One of his chief supporters was German banker Ludwig Freude, who would channel large contributions from the local German community into Perón’s 1945 and 1946 presidential campaign.
Back in March 1945, following increased pressure from the Allies, the Argentinian government under President Farrell broke their neutrality and declared war on the Axis. Most of the officers who supported that government, however, did not hide their sympathies for Berlin, leading to internecine tensions which erupted into violent clashes between pro- and anti-Nazi factions.
The latter faction called for a purge of suspected Nazi agents- Ludwig Freude being one of them. The banker was arrested on September 6, 1945, but Perón came to the rescue. He first negotiated a house arrest sentence, and then prevented the expulsion of Freude by forging a letter attesting Argentinian citizenship for his friend.
In October, following more anti-Nazi protests, Farrell’s government decided to get rid of Perón to prevent further unrest. This time, Freude came to the rescue. Or rather his son Rodolfo, known as Rudy, who spirited Perón and Evita away from Buenos Aires and into a safe house.
Eventually, Evita exploited Juan’s new aura of martyrdom to rally popular support, leading to a massive demonstration on October 17. Farrell was forced to release Perón, from then on dead-set on becoming the new President.
The events of September and October 1945 cemented the alliance between the Peróns and the Freudes. Dad Ludwig continued to bankroll Perón, while his son Rudy would become first his personal secretary, and later chief of intelligence.
In early 1946, the Ludwig-Rudy-Juan trio began to plot the first so-called Ratlines from Germany to Argentina.
While the full extent of connections and dealings is a vast spiderweb, as for some notable points, during that period, Ludwig made contact with a former Nazi spy master stationed in Argentina, SS Captain Siegfried Becker. Becker was still in contact with former SS intelligence officers hiding in Francoist Spain. Through them, he was able to channel funds from Madrid to Buenos Aires. Using such funds, young Rudy and Perón set about trying to rescue as many Axis escapees as possible.
As early as February 1946, Rudy Freude unleashed his tentacles to Europe, dispatching messages to Madrid, Denmark, Sweden and the Vatican, seeking to recruit ‘travel agents’ and to establish safe escape pathways.
One of the first Ratlines to become active was the ‘Scandinavian route’. According to CIA declassified reports, as early as July 1946, Danish and Swedish Police were already on the trail of this organisation, which enjoyed active support and coordination from Argentinian diplomatic officials.
On this nazi underground railroad, former Nazi officers and officials first convened to the port city of Hamburg. From there, they were smuggled to Denmark. Here, they received help from the Argentinian embassy in Copenhagen, described by the CIA as ‘intimately involved in the illegal immigration. However its interest appeared to have been mainly financial, i.e., the payment to the legation of considerable sums of money upon safe delivery of the bodies to Argentina.’
Two officials in particular, Counsellor Carlos R. Pineyro and First Secretary Ricardo Fernandez Mira, eagerly issued Argentine passports to ‘Suitable Germans.’
The plot was well-known to the Danish government, so much so that the local Foreign Ministry requested the expulsion of these two diplomats.
However, even once Pineyro and Fernandez out of the picture, escapees could count on similar levels of aid in Sweden, as the Argentinian embassy in Stockholm was likewise involved, with official Hector Russo personally implicated in all steps of the smuggling operation.
The Swedish leg of this ratline involved other key cogs, starting with a young Stockholm photographer called Torkel Linderberg, also an employee at the passport division of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Linderberg was arrested by the Swedish police in the summer of 1947, on charges of forging passports to the benefit of Nazi escapees. Upon questioning, he confessed to arranging fake passports for two Norwegian nationals, who had collaborated with the German occupation forces.
Following Linderberg’s arrest, in November 1947 the Swedish detectives busted one Carlos Werner Eduardo Schulz, an Argentine citizen of German birth. Schulz confessed to ‘hiring recruits, preferably Nazis, for the Argentine Army … He further stated that the Argentine Government has been paying most of the expenses of the recruits.’
According to local newspaper ‘Expressen’, Schulz worked alongside one Casper Kreuger, former member of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, composed of volunteers from Scandinavia, Estonia, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands. To the surprise of no one, Kreuger was known to be active in smuggling Nazis via Denmark and Sweden to Argentina.
The CIA reports note how the Swedish police somehow left Schulz off the hook, as in January 1948 he was able to board the ship ‘Falken’ ‘destined for an unknown South American port’
‘Falken’ should be considered a character of this story in her own right. This small and elegant sailing yacht was a training ship of the Swedish Navy, which had somehow been enlisted in the smuggling operations. In a clever ploy, the Falken would leave Stockholm with a regularly registered crew, and then stop at Gothenburg to pick up her illegal passengers. The Yacht would then sail on toward the safe Francoist haven of Corunna, a port city in north-western Spain. That was the last stop before leisurely sailing on towards a life of freedom in Argentina.
On all this, while many at this point might be getting out the pitchforks and torches against Argentina, we feel compelled to point out that many of the customers of the Scandinavian ratlines were German jet-plane designers and other such skilled individuals. And such importation of former Nazi engineers was something pretty much every prominent nation in the world was trying to do just as vigorously, such as the United States and Operation Paperclip, which saw the U.S. import about 1,600 such individuals. And, indeed, after defeating Japan, the U.S. made similar deals with the heads of the infamous Unit 731, which made the Nazis look like amateurs in systematic brutality. Not just full cover up of what they did and let off scot-free, the U.S. even went further and paid them for some of their research.
The U.S. likewise very systematically made sure the Japanese Imperial family got off scot-free both in the courts and also, as best as possible, in public perception in trying to downplay their role, despite the Emperor having led the entire thing and seemingly ordering or very well aware of the extreme atrocities committed by his forces. The United States’ actions here are largely while you’ll still often hear today the line that the Emperor was just a figurehead with no real power at the time. More on this in the Bonus Facts later. But, in a nutshell, the U.S. wanted the data and experts for future use against the Soviets, and didn’t mind looking the other way about what any of these people got up to during the war. And the Imperial family staying in place ensured an easy transition in Japan to a government there that aligned with U.S. interests.
But going back to importing Nazis, in a nutshell, to steal a line from every kid caught doing something they probably shouldn’t have been- “everyone was doing it.”
On that note, going back to Argentina, among all the engineers and scientists and physicians, there were some rather extreme bad apples, such as SS doctor Carl Vaernet, known as the ‘Danish Mengele’. This deranged physician believed he had found a ‘cure’ for homosexuality, which of course he had experimented on unwilling subjects forcibly recruited in concentration camps. During his so-called research, Vaernet did things like insert metal tubes into his victims’ nether regions, releasing testosterone to drive the gay away. Vaernet had actually been arrested by Danish police, but was temporarily released to seek heart treatment in Sweden. Once in Stockholm, he gingerly boarded a regular commercial flight to Geneva, from where he eventually reached Buenos Aires in March 1947.
Also noteworthy, while Varnet may have been the Danish Mengel, the actual Mengel, Josef Mengel, “The Angel of Death” himself, also managed to make it to Argentia. On this one, we’ll spare you the gruesome details, but beyond directing countless thousands to their deaths, including helping to decide who was assigned to work detail, who to human experimentation, and who to the gas chambers, as well as one of the doctors overseeing the mass murders in the gas chambers, Mengel also was one of the ones doing human experimentation in rather gruesome and horrific ways- and noted, unlike many others doing similar work, as doing it all quite cheerily, even occasionally reportedly literally whistling while he worked. As for how he managed to get off scot-free for it all, unlike his Japanese counterparts in Unit 731, rather than make a deal with the U.S. for his research, he simply fled shortly before the Soviet Armed Forces captured Auschitz on January 27, 1945. After, he first travelled around occupied German territories, evading Soviet and American forces while carrying with him several boxes of medical records. During this time, he seems to have primarily worked as a farmhand, until he went to Genoa in 1949 and, then, a few months later, he took sanctuary in Argentina. His wife Irene refused to go with him and they divorced. Argentina is where Mengele lived the next five years of his life, mostly under a false name, working as a small pharmaceutical business owner and farmer. After an incident where a girl he tried to perform an abortion on died, he fled for Paraguay. In May 1960, the Mossad (the Israeli Intelligence Agency whose job was to track down Nazi war criminals and bring them to Israel for trial) captured Adolf Eichmann. They then turned their attentions to Mengele.
During the Nuremberg Trials in 1945/1946, Mengele’s name was mentioned several times, but Allied forces thought he was dead. The Mossad knew otherwise. Much later, it is almost universally thought that the Mossad had found Mengele living in São Paulo, Brazil in 1962. But, due to budgetary concerns and the ongoing dispute with Egypt, the Mossad could not pursue.
Mengele went on to live another 17 years in relative seclusion and deteriorating health, with recently published journal entries indicating he never changed his political ideologies nor showed any remorse for his actions. Mengele ultimately had a stroke in 1976 and died in 1979. He was buried under the false name “Wolfgang Gerhard” in Brazil. It wasn’t until 1992 that authorities exhumed the body and DNA proved that this Wolfgang was, in fact, Josef Mangele, Auschwitz’s Angel of Death.
In any event, going back to the ratlines that helped get Mengele and his buddies to Argentina, following the arrests of Schulz and Linderberg, the Nordic ratline effectively ceased to exist, contributing to the rise in popularity of the southern routes.
Some of the most active escape lines went through Spain. Dictator Francisco Franco had remained neutral during WWII, and the leader himself was open to getting cosier with Washington, but it is undeniable that his regime was ideologically aligned, and sympathetic to the former Nazi regime.
CIA declassified reports describe two organisations active in Spain in the smuggling of Nazi criminals of war and collaborators. The first was a Franco-Spanish religious order, the ‘Congregation of Christ the King’.
The Congregation would disguise escapees as priests, and hide them in various French monasteries before smuggling them into Spain. According to the report, these escape lines were organised by two doctors, identified simply as Mounic and Vidal. Further, it appears that if the Nazis on the run were arrested on the Franco-Spanish frontier, they would be set free simply by using a password.
Once in Spain, Mounic and Vidal would hand their human contraband to a priest of the Congregation, one Father Valette. The Father took care of ‘Helping them if possible to get to the Argentine.’
For this endeavour, he could count on the help of three individuals working at the French embassy in Madrid: two priests, Boyer-Mas and Petit, and François Pietri, former Vichy ambassador to Spain. For context, the ‘French State’ or ‘Vichy France’ was the collaborationist rump state set up by Nazi Germany following their defeat of the French Republic.
The second escape organisation was entirely manned by German citizens, and was headquartered in Barcelona. This outfit included another priest, identified as ‘Padre Boos’, two bookshops and one photographer. The author of the report, however, admits that, ‘We know nothing of the workings of the organisation,’ except that one of the bookshops provided clothing vouchers which could be redeemed at a local department store.
Madrid in late 1946 and early 1947 was a hotbed for Ratline-runners. Some of them had been dispatched to the Spanish capital as early as April 1945 by the SD, the intelligence and security services of the SS. Even before Freude and Perón had launched their own initiative, Nazi chiefs such as Heinrich Himmler and Walter Schellenberg had explored the idea of using Francoist Spain as a launch pad to flee to warmer, friendlier climates.
Among the first operatives to land in Madrid was Carlos Fuldner, an SS Captain with dual German and Argentinian citizenship – which shows that Nazi leadership were already considering Buenos Aires as a possible safe haven.
This prescient move proved fruitful, as Fuldner became one of the first and most active agents within the Freude-Perón network. Fuldner was instrumental in recruiting ‘technical advisors’ for the Argentinian air force, but is best remembered for securing the escape of refined gentlemen such as Erich Priebke – wanted by Italian authorities for the massacre of 335 political prisoners and civilians in Rome.
And the architect of the Final Solution himself, Adolf Eichmann.
Another ‘Ratliner’ present in Madrid since April 1945 was the Italo-Croatian Count of Valsassina, Gino Monti, responsible for the escape of wanted Luftwaffe General Eckart Krahmer and arms dealer Reinhard Spitzy. Monti was just one of the many non-German operatives within the network, recruited amongst other Axis powers or collaborators within German-occupied countries, especially France and Belgium.
Another hub of the Perón Ratlines was established in that smallest of countries, Vatican City. The cooperation between catholic institutions and Buenos Aires was first initiated by Argentinian Cardinal Antonio Caggiano.
At the end of March 1946, the clergyman was ostensibly admitted at a clinic in Rome, but this was just a cover for him to conduct talks with the Pontifical Commission of Assistance, or PCA, a body in charge of providing assistance and identity papers to legitimate refugees in need of relocation.
As a result of Caggiano’s intervention, the PCA began providing their services also to German, Italian, French and Croatian war criminals. Caggiano was not shy about stating his intentions, when dealing with French Cardinal, Tisserant:
‘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.’
The Argentinian Cardinal was clearly referring to Vichy collaborators, but the same sentiment could be applied to any other Nazi and Nazi-adjacent escapee.
In parallel to Caggiano’s agreement with the PCA, Argentine diplomacy was tackling the same issue with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Montini, future Pope Paul VI. In June 1946, Montini met with the Argentinian ambassador, stating that the current Pope Pius XII was interested in arranging the emigration to Argentina of individuals held at POW camps in Italy.
According to the aforementioned author and journalist Uki Goni, this was a subtle reference to Nazi officers in Allied custody.
The extent of Pius XII’s involvement in supporting Nazism and Fascism during and after the war is still the subject of debate. What is undeniable, however, is the great lengths to which the Catholic Church helped Axis war criminals escape via the infamous ‘Monastery Route’. This was a network of religious institutions, snaking through Southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, which offered shelter, food, clothing and funds to German escapees.
The last leg of the journey through this route was normally the port city of Genoa, in northern Italy. There, with the help of ex-Fascists and the local bishop, escapees were able to board a ship towards Buenos Aires.
We will not go into the details of every single Ratline, every single escapee, nor every single smuggler who helped them to safety, as an entire YouTube channel would not be sufficient.
And we realise we have barely scratched the surface of this complex, fascinating and ultimately sinister topic. If you want to learn more, we recommend the fantastic book ‘The Real Odessa: How Nazi War Criminals Escaped Europe’, written by Argentinian journalist Uki Goñi, first published in 2002. It was thanks to Goñi’s archival and investigative work that the true extent of Perón’s involvement in creating the Ratlines first came to light.
But to sum up, while many things went into it, Argentina was picked by many Nazis thanks to a strong German community in Argentina that had laid the groundwork for establishing close ties within the military, industrial and banking sectors of the two countries. In the 1930s, Nazi ideology had extended its reach over the Latin American country, planting the seeds of anti-semitism and a fascination with totalitarianism. While these seeds may have ultimately been mostly rejected by public opinion and the civilian elements within the government, they continued to fester amongst the real power base behind the scenes, high-ranking officers and officials.
As WWII progressed, the Argentinian government was pressured into declaring war on the Axis, but, again, the real sympathies of chief-puppet master Juan Perón lay with Berlin. As he achieved the top position, he forged an alliance with a powerful family of German bankers with ties to Nazi intelligence. And they all shared the same goal as many nations had at the time: saving Axis ‘talent’ from trial and execution, talent which may have proven useful to advance the Argentinian military-industrial complex.
Luckily for them, in the last weeks of the war, Nazi leadership had already identified the Madrid-Buenos Aires route as a viable lifeline to avoid capture and execution, which greatly facilitated the establishing of the most successful ratlines.
Before we bow out, let us introduce one final element. In his taped memoirs, Perón would later admit that the event that finally triggered him to sponsor the Ratlines operations was the Nuremberg trials. To him, the notion of high ranking German officers and officials being tried as ordinary criminals was plain unthinkable – hence the decision to try and save as many of them as possible from incarceration and execution.
A fascinating aside to point out on this one is while there was the Nuremberg trials obviously, and an equivalent Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, there was no equivalent Italian Nuremberg, despite many of the individuals in charge there being guilty of similar war crimes, and crimes against humanity. As to why not, well, that’s a fascinating story for another day.
Speaking of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal and countries of the world seemingly far more interested in things they wanted after the war, rather than justice being done, let’s just say the U.S. was perhaps the poster child of this following WWII, not just with Operation Paperclip, importing countless Nazis for their expertise, but most egregiously in Japan where the literal Hitler or Mussolini of Japan, Emperor Showa, or Hirohito if you prefer, was protected at all costs by the U.S. military brass in the aftermath, despite that before this, he was painted with the same brush as Hitler by that same brass. In the end, after the war, they did everything in their power to have the general public abroad perceive Emperor Showa as having been nothing but a figurehead during the war- a still common notion in popular history in the United States, rather than the reality, that he was one of the chief directors of it, and very definitively well aware what was going on and the atrocities his armies were committing in places like China, as well as giving some of the orders which guided such policy of conduct.
You can watch our 2 hour documentary Swept Under the Rug: The Truth About the Japanese Holocaust for more. But, briefly, while one member of the Imperial family, Prince Yasuhiko Asaka, who the U.S. also made sure got off scot-free, oversaw and was co-commanding the absolutely brutal Rape of Nanjing directly, another, Prince Mikasa, brother to Emperor Showa, went the other way and entreated the Emperor to put a stop to it all.
Prince Mikasa even gave a scathing public speech to Nanjing soldiers condeming the mass rape and massacres that were seemingly commonplace from what he saw in China. Unfortunately, this speech was covered up, with most of the copies of it destroyed by the army, and his appeals to the commanders to put a stop to it ignored.
While anyone else who gave such a speech to the Japanese army at the time would likely have been executed for treason, as such criticism of the army during the war was considered such, Prince Mikasa states, “I could make such bold statements because of my status as a member of the imperial family.”
Prince Mikasa, who lived to 100 years old, dying in 2016 would later state in an interview, “I was really shocked when an officer told me that the best way to train new soldiers was to use living prisoners of war for bayonet practice because it gave them will power.”
The prince also toured Unit 731 and saw what they were doing there, including being shown films of Chinese prisoners who, to quote him, were “made to march on the plains of Manchuria for poison gas experiments on humans.”
After this, the prince showed Emperor Showa a video of various atrocities being committed in China by Japanese soldiers to appeal him to once again to put a stop to it, but this, too, was ignored.
So why did the U.S. spare the Emperor and do everything in their power to change public perception of him? Well, as alluded to, they needed him to help make a smooth transition into a new U.S. interests aligned government in Japan and, on the flip side, prosecuting him for his extreme crimes against humanity would have also likely caused some trouble in Japan given the Emperor was still beloved by the people. Thus, they decided to spare him and his entire family if he was willing to play along which, he seemingly was.
And so it was that during the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal systematic efforts were made to ensure the Emperor remained blameless, including making agreements for who would take the blame for some of the Emperor’s decisions, and coaching the individuals beforehand towards this end- something the individuals involved seemed happy to do. Again, loyalty to the Emperor was a huge thing at the time. There were, however, a few hiccups. For example, Prime Minister Gen. Tōjō Hideki, who was very happy to accept this primary blame game role to protect the Emperor, at one point during testimony briefly slipped up and stated that the Emperor had ultimate authority. This slip saw the prosecution, led by the U.S., see to it that Tojo was further coached by one General Ryūkichi Tanaka to change his testimony on that point, which he did.
Again, on all of this, and much more detail about how everyone at Unit 731 and similar facilities got off scot-free thanks to the U.S. officials wanting their research to potentially use against the Soviets, see our 2 hour long documentary, Swept Under the Rug, The Truth About the Japanese Holocaust.
Expand for References https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2022/09/13/how-u-s-religious-composition-has-changed-in-recent-decades/ http://deila.dickinson.edu/patagonia/newsite/mosaic01pat/projectsGermansKorell.html https://read.dukeupress.edu/hahr/article/64/1/81/148566/The-United-States-the-German-Argentines-and-the https://wienerholocaustlibrary.org/exhibition/the-perfect-hideout-jewish-and-nazi-havens-in-latin-america/ https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/argentina/ https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51751272.amp https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/NAZI%20ESCAPE%20ROUTES%20TO%20ARGENTINA_0001.pdf https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/NAZI%20ESCAPE%20ROUTES%20TO%20ARGENTINA_0005.pdf https://www.scribd.com/book/604522664
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