Nazi war criminals fled from Europe and changed their names. They were hunted down, exposed and tried even after half a century. Here are 7 high-profile stories of fugitive Nazis (yes, itʼs a hint)

Serhii Pyvovarov
Yevhen Spirin
Nazi war criminals fled from Europe and changed their names. They were hunted down, exposed and tried even after half a century. Here are 7 high-profile stories of fugitive Nazis (yes, itʼs a hint)

The most wanted Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem, 1961.

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Since the beginning of the aggression against Ukraine in 2014, the Russians have committed many war crimes. Sooner or later they will face responsibility for this. It was the same with Nazi criminals. After the defeat in the Second World War, they fled to other countries and changed their surnames and names in the hope of avoiding punishment. However, they continued to be searched for by various special services and Nazi hunters. Some of them were exposed and tried even after decades — the "architect of the Holocaust" Adolf Eichmann, the "butcher of Lyons" Klaus Barbie and others. Still, there were also those who were never caught, such as the doctor Josef Mengele, known by the  nickname "Angel of Death from Auschwitz", who experimented on prisoners. For now, Brazilian medical students practice on his skeleton. "Babel" recalls seven high-profile stories of fugitive Nazi criminals: some of them were exposed and tried, and some of them managed to escape punishment.

Adolf Eichmann

What crimes did he commit: Eichmann was known as one of the "architects of the Holocaust." At the end of 1939, he headed the Gestapo department responsible for the "final solution of the Jewish question". That is, the extermination of the Jews in Europe. From 1940, Eichmann organized "evacuations" of Jews who were actually taken to ghettos or death camps. Then he rode around these concentration camps, reporting to the leadership on the effective implementation of the plan to exterminate the Jews. Eichmann was involved in the murder of about six million people. And after the death of Hitler and the trial of his henchmen, he became "the most wanted Nazi in the world."

How he managed to escape: At the end of World War II, Eichmann destroyed all the archives of the Gestapo department he headed, along with his wartime photographs. When he was captured by the Americans, he introduced himself as a junior SS officer, Otto Ekmann. During almost a year of his stay in the camp for prisoners of war, no one recognized him as the "architect of the Holocaust."

Probably the only survived photo of Adolf Eichmann from the Second World War. It was taken between 1941 and 1943.

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At the beginning of 1946, Eichmann managed to escape from the camp. In the following years, he hid in the countryside, changing his name several times and working on farms. Then Eichmann reached Italy by one of the “ratlines” ― hidden trails often used by Nazi criminals. There, with the help of Catholic priests, he received a passport from the International Committee of the Red Cross in the name of Ricardo Klement. With this passport, Eichmann left for Argentina in 1950, where he got a job at a branch of the Mercedes-Benz factory. In a few years he dared to return to Germany. Here Eichmann married his wife for the second time, already with the surname Klement, and took her to Argentina with their three sons. They settled down peacefully in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.

Passport issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross under a fictitious name to Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. With this document, he fled to Argentina in 1950

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How he was caught: Eichmann was hunted by the West German and American special services, especially by the Israeli Mossad. A former concentration camp prisoner, German Jew Lothar Hermann (who also emigrated to Argentina after the war) helped to hunt down the Nazi criminal. He heard from his daughter about a neighbor boy, Nicholas Klement, who boasted about "fatherʼs heroic services to the Reich and personally to the Führer." Herman reported this to Israeli іntelligence. Its agents came to Argentina and made sure that under the name of Ricardo Klement was really hiding "the most wanted Nazi in the world".

Eichmannʼs abduction scene from the 1979 film “The House on Garibaldi Street”

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Mossad planned an operation of abduction of Eichmann. 30 agents participated in it. They tracked the movement routes for a long time. Then, on May 11, 1960, they abducted Eichmann at a bus stop near his home in just a few seconds. He was pumped up with tranquilizers and flown to Israel under the guise of a “sick crew member”. In April 1961, Eichmann stood trial in Jerusalem. The trial lasted more than six months. Eichmann was found guilty of crimes against the Jewish people, against humanity and sentenced to death. He was hanged on May 31, 1962. The body was burned, and his remains were scattered over the sea outside the territory of Israel.

Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in a protective glass booth surrounded by Israeli police, during his trial in Jerusalem, June 22, 1961

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Josef Mengele

What crimes did he commit: the German doctor Mengele was known as "the angel of death from Auschwitz." It was this concentration camp, where he conducted experiments on prisoners: dissected live babies, castrated boys and men without anesthesia, electrocuted women to test their endurance, tried to change the color of peopleʼs eyes by injecting chemicals. His experiments on twins were especially cruel. Mengele personally selected prisoners for his experiments, and sent the rest to hard labor or immediately to the gas chambers. He is believed to be involved in the murder of about 400 000 people.

On picture, from left to right: Auschwitz Commandant Richard Behr, Dr. Josef Mengele and former Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hess. Photo was taken near Auschwitz in 1944

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How he managed to escape: in April 1945, Mengele was arrested in civilian clothes near Nuremberg. He was saved by the fact that, joining the Nazi party, he refused to get a distinctive blood type tattoo. He was not recognized as a Nazi criminal and was eventually released as a German civilian. He hid in the villages for several years. Later, his name began to appear in newspapers much more often, after the crimes in Auschwitz were exposed. Like Eichmann, used "ratlines" and forged documents from Catholic priests to escape to Argentina in 1949. At the same time, he pretended to be a German Jew. Mengele also settled in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, where he engaged in underground abortions. Later, he opened his own pharmacy.

Passport issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the name of Gregor Helmuth to Nazi criminal Josef Mengele. With this document, he escaped to Argentina in 1949

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How he escaped justice: The head of Mossad Isser Harel who planned the operation of Eichmann's abruction, mentioned in his memoirs that at that time his agents also exposed Mengele. Harel thought for a long time about taking out both of Nazi criminals. But in the end, he decided to focus on Eichmann. After Mengele knew about Eichmannʼs abduction, he fled from Argentina. Firstly, he stayed in Paraguay, and then in Brazil, where he lived under the name Wolfgang Gerhard. In February 1979, Mengele suffered a stroke while swimming in the ocean and drowned. His grave was found and excavated in 1985. However, it was possible to confirm that the remains belong to Mengele only in 1992 after a DNA test. Mengeleʼs skeleton is currently being used as teaching material by medical students at the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

Examination of Mengeleʼs remains after his body was exhumed in 1985

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Franz Stangl

What crimes did he commit: Austrian Nazi Stangl was known as the "White Death" because he liked to wear a white military uniform. Stangl was the commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka death camps. Only during his command of Treblinka (1942-1945) from 700 to 900 thousand people died there. He was also one of the leaders of the Aktion T-4 euthanasia program. As part of this program, the Nazis exterminated people with mental and terminal illnesses.

How he managed to escape: in 1945, Stangl was arrested by the Americans in Austria and sent to a PoW camp. In 1948, he escaped from the camp and reached Italy using "ratlines". From there he fled first to Syria and then to Brazil. There he worked at a branch of the Volkswagen factory.

Arrest of Franz Stangl (right) in Brazil, 1967

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How he was caught: In the 1960s, Stangl was tracked down by one of the most famous hunters for Nazi criminals Simon Wiesenthal. Simon was a native of Buchach, Ternopil region, and a survivor of the Holocaust. In 1967, Brazilian police arrested Stangl. Later, he was extradited to West Germany, where he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1971, Stangl died in a Dusseldorf prison from heart disease.

Former commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps, Franz Stangl, in the dock at the Dusseldorf jury trial, December 22, 1970

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Walter Rauff

What crimes did he commit: Firstly, Rauff served in the navy. Then he resigned and in 1941 headed the security service department. There he participated in the development of new models of mobile gas chambers — Gaswagen. The most important feature was that they could accommodate up to 60 people. Then Rauff headed a special SS unit that was engaged in the mass extermination of Jews in North Africa. He was believed to be involved in the deaths of at least 100 000 people.

How he managed to escape: At the end of the war, Rauff surrendered to the American military in Italy. In December 1946, he escaped from the camp and hid in Italian monasteries for some time. Then he left first to Syria, and later — to Ecuador. In 1958, he moved to Chile, where he managed a crab cannery.

Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal holds a photo of Rauff in one hand and a photo of a Gaswagen, disguised as an ambulance, in the other, 1983

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How he escaped justice: after settling in Chile, Rauff got so bold that he sent a letter to Germany, asking for his military pension to be sent to his Chilean address. In 1962, he was arrested at the request of the German authorities. However, the Supreme Court of Chile refused to extradite Rauff and released him from custody. After that, Germany sent several more requests for the extradition of the Nazi criminal. However, they were refused every time. Moreover, both during the time of the socialist president Salvador Allende and during the time of the right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet. The Mossad tried to abduct or kill Rauff, but their plans failed. Rauff eventually died of cancer in 1984. He was buried with great fanfare in the Chilean capital, Santiago, with shouts of "Heil Hitler, Heil Rauff."

Walter Rauff in a car with a Chilean policeman after his arrest on December 15, 1962

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Josef Schwammberger

What crimes did he commit: the Austrian Nazi Schwammberger was the commandant of three concentration camps in occupied Poland. He personally engaged in the torture and execution of prisoners. Only in the Przemyśl concentration camp he organized the mass execution of thousands of Jews. He was especially fond of whipping prisoners to death or setting dogs on them.

How he managed to escape: In 1945, Schwammberger was arrested in Austria and was about to be tried for war crimes. However, he managed to escape from prison. And then everything followed the classic way — through "ratlines" to Italy, and then with a forged passport from the Red Cross to Argentina. Schwammberger lived openly there under his surname and even received Argentine citizenship.

Josef Schwammberger (right) and his lawyer at a court in Stuttgart on April 29, 1992

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How he was caught: in 1973, Germany finally obtained permission from the Argentine authorities to extradite this Nazi criminal. However, Schwammberger lied low by changing his last name. He successfully hid until 1987, when an anonymous informant turned him in for a $300 000 reward. Schwammberger was arrested and finally sent to Germany. At the trial, he denied all the charges. However, he received a life imprisonment. Schwammberger died in prison in 2004 at the age of 92.

Klaus Barbie

What crimes did he commit: the head of the Gestapo in occupied French Lyon was known as the "Butcher of Lyon." According to witnesses, his first words upon being appointed to this position were: "I came to kill." He personally executed Jews and members of the French Resistance. He tortured even small children. Moreover, he often raped women himself or used specially trained dogs for this.

How he managed to escape: after the war, Barbie escaped to Bolivia through the "ratlines" using forged documents in the name of Klaus Altman. There he was a military adviser to several Bolivian dictators, participated in military coups and fought with the partisans of the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

Klaus Barbie is accompanied to the courthouse in Lyon on May 13, 1987

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How he was caught: while Barbie was hiding in Bolivia (during the 1940s and 1950s), he was sentenced to death three times in absentia in France. Only in the early 1980s, Nazi hunters, journalists Serge and Beata Klarsfeld managed to expose Barbie. In 1983, the new Bolivian government extradited him to France. In 1987, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, and in 1991, Barbie died of cancer in a French prison.

Erich Priebke

What crimes did he commit: Priebke is known as the organizer and participant of the mass murder in the Ardeatine Caves in Rome on March 24, 1944. The day before, Italian partisans attacked an SS column and killed 33 soldiers. The German command decided to shoot ten Italians for every German killed. Captured partisans, Jews and civilians of the village, near which the attack on German soldiers took place, were on the firing list. Priebke was so fond of executions that he executed five more people than were on the list.

A memorial at the place of the Ardeatine Caves massacre in Rome, 2015

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How he managed to escape: at the end of the war, Priebke was arrested by the British and was going to be tried for mass execution. But in 1946, he escaped from the chamber. Then he obtained a fake Red Cross passport with the help of Catholic priests and left to Argentina. There he lived openly under his surname, received Argentine citizenship. Later he renewed his German citizenship at the local German embassy.

How he was caught: Priebke would have quietly lived out his old age if he had not given an interview to the American ABC journalist Sam Donaldson in 1994. 50 years after the crime, Priebke decided that he could tell frankly how everything happened. At the same time, he called all the executed “terrorists”. The interview caused quite a resonance. Priebke was extradited to Italy and put on trial. However, the court initially acquitted him. After mass protests and demonstrations, Pribke was again taken into custody and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment.

Erich Priebke surrounded by police during his trial in Rome in May 1997

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Due to his senior age and poor health, Priebke was allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest. He died in Rome on October 11, 2013, at the age of one hundred and one. However, the Italian authorities stated that they would not allow a Nazi criminal to be buried on their land. Both Argentina and Germany refused to accept his body. Italian neo-Nazis demanded that Priebke be buried with honor. Local anti-fascists opposed it. Clashes began, the police had to intervene. Priebke was eventually buried in a secret location in Italy known only to his closest relatives.

Clashes between Italian neo-Nazis and anti-fascists after the death of Erich Priebke, 2013

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Translated from Ukrainian by Ruslana Stolz.

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