As the Allied forces invaded Germany and it became clear that Germany had lost the Second World War, the ruler of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler and his fiancée took their lives in a bunker in Berlin. Other members of the Nazi party and army, however, fled Germany, scattering across the globe. Catching these people and bringing them to trial became a priority after the war.
Most of the top officials were captured and tried. In November 1945, at the famous Nuremberg Trials, 22 men were tried -- one in absentia. In October 1946, the verdicts were handed down: Three were acquitted, the other 18 present were found guilty. Eleven of those 18 were sentenced to hang; the rest were sentenced to prison.
While the prosecutors at Nuremberg were largely successful, the Allied leaders remained acutely aware that a great many war criminals remained at large. After all, it took many more than 22 men to run the death camps, conduct ghastly experiments and exterminate millions of people.
Argentina was one of the main locales where Nazis who escaped Nuremberg fled. Thanks to lax immigration procedures and an administration led by Juan Perón, believed to have actually aided Nazis' escape to South America, hundreds -- if not thousands -- of war criminals are thought to have settled there. But Perón isn't the only leader to ignore the crimes of fleeing Nazis. As authors Rory Carroll and Uki Goni said in an article in The Guardian, "With the Cold War breaking out, America, Britain and the Soviet Union poached Nazi scientists, so this is a subject without moral high ground, but Perón's welcome extended to men with few talents beyond mass murder," [source: Carroll, Goni]. Indeed, documents declassified in 1999 reveal that the CIA actively engaged in covering up the whereabouts of former Nazi war criminals, opting instead to use them as agents and informants in West Germany following World War II [source: AP].
But despite the Allied complicity in covering for some war criminals, the hunt for fleeing Nazis continued. And it continues to this day. But more than 60 years after the war, are there any Nazis still at large? At least one group believes so. Read about real-life Nazi hunters on the next page.
The Nazi Hunters
A few of the big fish who escaped Nuremberg were captured later. One of the top leaders of the Nazi party, Adolf Eichmann, was kidnapped from his home in Argentina in 1960 by agents of the Mossad, the secretive Israeli intelligence service. He was tried and sentenced in 1961 and hanged in 1962 [source: The History Place]. Klaus Barbie, "The Butcher of Lyon," who is said to have enjoyed physically torturing prisoners, including children, was captured in Bolivia in 1983. Barbie, who had worked as an agent for the British and then the Americans following World War II, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 1991 [source: Jewish Virtual Library].
Now in the 21st century, it's assumed that most of the top officials who evaded justice have died one way or another. After all, a man who was 35 in 1940 would be 103 years old by 2008.
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, believes that some war criminals are still alive. The Wiesenthal Center is dedicated to tracking down escaped war criminals and persuading local officials to prosecute or extradite them. Zuroff says he believes that there are "at least dozens" of Nazis still evading capture today [source: Spiegel]. Since time is running out -- many of these lower-level Nazi war criminals have entered their 90s by now -- the Simon Wiesenthal Center has launched Operation Last Chance, a final effort to bring as many Nazis to trial as can be found before they die of old age.
With many of the rank-and-file members of the Nazi army reaching the last years of their lives, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has launched Operation Last Chance as a final effort at bringing these people to justice. The Center increased its standard $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of war criminals to $25,000, and Central and South American governments that have resisted efforts to capture war criminals in the past are now cooperating [source: Carroll, Goni].
The Center is hoping the push will uncover one Nazi in particular, and Zuroff says that if he can be caught, the last-ditch operation will have been a success [source: Carroll, Goni]. Find out about this war criminal and his atrocities, as well as why he may still be alive, on the next page.
If caught, the low-level Nazis believed to still be alive won't face individual charges as their superiors did. Still, they would be eligible to face charges for crimes against humanity for their role as guards or officials at the concentration camps the Nazis maintained during World War II. At least one person alive will face a list of specific charges if he can be found, however. This man is the most prized of all those the Simon Wiesenthal Center seeks.
Aribert Heim, an Austrian-born medic who served as a doctor at concentration camps during the war, has a bounty of $448,000 on his head. Heim, who's now 93 (if he's still alive), earned the grim nickname "Doctor Death" for experiments he carried out at the camps at Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Mauthausen. It was here that he performed unnecessary surgery, such as amputations, on prisoners without anesthesia. Camp survivors say Heim was fond of watching inmates into whose hearts he injected gasoline, water or poison to see how long it would take them to die. The flesh of the head of one man who endured such an injection was later boiled off and his skull used a paperweight. As a gift for a camp commandant, Heim is reported to have fashioned seat coverings out of the skin of inmates. In all, Heim is believed to have personally murdered around 300 people.
Heim was arrested once, shortly after World War II. He was released, however, and actually practiced medicine in Germany for a time. When his name came up again and again in interviews with Holocaust survivors, though, a warrant was filled out for his arrest. He escaped the day before police showed up at his door in 1962 [source: Reuters]. Aribert Heim once again came close to capture in 2005. Police scoured Spain for him after a report from an Israeli man who said he'd met a person who looked like Heim in Ibiza, off the coast of Spain. Authorities have now focused their sights on San Carlos de Bariloche, a ski resort town in Argentina.
A 2007 memoir by Israeli commando Danny Baz recounts a story of his own participation in the capture and murder of Heim in 1982. But in 2009, the New York Times reported the discovery of a briefcase in Cairo that contained documents suggesting that Heim had lived in Egypt under the name Tarek Hussein Farid and died there in 1992. However, the Wiesenthal Center still believes that Aribert Heim is alive today. It dismisses a report by his family that he died in 1993 of cancer. The investigators have good reason to continue searching for Heim.
A bank account in his name containing more than $1 million could be claimed by his family if he is, in fact, dead. His heirs have made no such claim on the money. His son set up a phone line in Heim's name in Denmark in 2005, where the doctor is believed to have fled after his near capture in Spain [source: Fuchs]. In 2001, a family lawyer filed a request for a tax refund in Germany for Heim, claiming the man was living abroad at the time [source: Carroll, Goni]. And his daughter from his first marriage lives just across the border from San Carlos de Bariloche, in Chile.
All of the evidence of Heim's continued existence is circumstantial, yet it's enough for those at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. They will continue to hunt Heim and other Nazis during Operation Last Chance, without pity and regardless of what age these men may now be. "The passage of time in no way diminishes the crimes committed," Zuroff says [source: Wiesenthal Center].
For more information on World War II and other related topics, visit the next page.
More Great Links
- Crossland, David. "Nazi hunters more than double reward to $25,000." Spiegel Online. January 14, 2008. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,528540,00.html
- Fuchs, Dale. "Nazi war criminal escapes Costa Brava police search." The Guardian Unlimited. October 17, 2005.
- Goni, Uki ad Carroll, Rory. "The hunt for Doctor Death." The Guardian Unlimited. January 8, 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/secondworldwar/story/0,,2237056,00.html
- O'Donnell, John. "Nazi prosecutors still hunt death head doctor." Reuters. November 7, 2007. http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSL0258109920071107
- Santanam, Ramesh. "Ex-Nazi guard's defense may hinge on defining 'persecution'." Associated Press. Januray 11, 2008. http://www.pennlive.com/newsflash/pa/index.ssf?/base/news-58/1200096268170640.xml&storylist=penn
- 'Adolf Eichmann." The History Place. 1997. http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/biographies/eichmann.htm
- "Documents show CIA covered up Nazi war criminals during Cold War." Associated Press. June 6, 2006. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-06-06-cia-nazis_x.htm
- "Klaus Barbie." The Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Barbie.html
- "'Last Chance' to prosecute Nazi war criminals." The Washington Post. December 16, 2007. http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/ny-wonazi105503360dec16,0,6493893.story
- "Mossad." Global Security.org. April 26, 2004. http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/world/israel/mossad.htm
- "Simon Wiesenthal." Jewish Virtual Library. 1995. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Wiesenthal.html
- "Wiesenthal Center welcomes Austrian government 50,000 euro reward for capture of two most wanted Nazi war criminals." The Simon Wiesenthal Center. July 13, 2007. http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/s/content.asp?c=fwLYKnN8LzH&b=253162&ct=4109101