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A lunatic Chaplin imitator
and his greatest fans

Icon nazi.svg
First as tragedy
Then as farce

Ratlines is the term used to describe the various escape routes used by Nazis at the end of the Second World War. These escape routes would often lead to South American countries, which would often refuse extradition requests. There were two famous routes: the first one went from Germany to Spain, then a fascist regime, and stopped in Argentina, while the second one went to the same destination, but through Italy instead, and relied on the co-operation of certain Catholic clergy-members. Some of them could count on assistance from the CIA, who wanted to make use of certain talents, particularly scientific ones.

Several high-ranking Nazis were able to evade capture by using these ‘ratlines’. Since the end of the war, conspiracy theories have suggested that Hitler himself faked his death and managed to escape via a ratline.

Notable examples[edit]

Adolf Eichmann[edit]

For more information, see: Adolf Eichmann

Adolf Eichmann is probably the most prominent Nazi who managed to escape via a ratline. Eichmann was considered an ‘administrator’ of the Holocaust, responsible for sending literally millions to death camps.

Eichmann was able to obtain an Argentinian passport from the Red Cross. Eichmann got help from a Catholic Bishop who was sympathetic to the Nazis and the Red Cross would often neglect to do background checks on applicants is a high-ranking clergy member gave a good reference. He made it to Argentina in 1950.

In 1960, after 10 years in Argentina, Eichmann was snatched by Mossad agents. He was smuggled out of the country, due to Argentina’s reluctance to extradite, and was later hanged in Israel for crimes against humanity.[1]

Josef Mengele[edit]

Josef Mengele had gained the nickname 'Angel of Death' in his role as physician at Auschwitz. He was notorious for performing experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz,[2] a majority of which were conducted on twins.

Mengele fled Auschwitz in January 1945 as Soviet forces were closing in. He remained in Germany undetected until 1949, when he set his sights on Argentina.[3] Like other high-ranking escaped Nazis, efforts were being made to capture Mengele. In fact, in 1960 Mossad agents had identified Mengele and had even made visual contact. No attempt was made to arrest him though, as at the time they were attempting to capture Adolf Eichmann instead.[4] Spooked by Eichmann's capture, Mengele left Argentina and fled to Paraguay. He managed to hide for the rest of his life and died of drowning in a beautiful Brazilian beach in 1979.[5]

Ante Pavelić[edit]

The infamous Ustaše leader and Croatian dictator fled to Argentina, where he would be subject to a assassination attempt in 1957. Spending the rest of his life going back and forth between sympathetic countries like Francoist Spain, he would succumb to the wounds inflicted two years later. Josip Broz Tito accused the Catholic Church of facilitating his escape, again bringing up the spectre of clerical complicity with fascism.

Alois Brunner[edit]

In a stroke of pure luck, the allies had mistook him for a certain Anton Brunner (it helped that he refused to take the blood-type tattoos most intelligence groups used to find SS agents), and he got to flee with a fake Red Cross passport. He then found a new home in Syria, advising the Ba'athist regime. They considered extraditing him in the 80s, but they would only deal with East Germany so the fall of communism ended that. He would live out the rest of his days in Syria, last being sighted in 2001.

Klaus Barbie[edit]

An infamous SS agent called "the Butcher of Lyon" by the French resistance, he escaped to Bolivia with the help of the American Counterintelligence Corps.[6]

Conspiracy theories[edit]

Adolf Hitler[edit]

For more information, see: Adolf Hitler

It is overwhelmingly accepted by historians that Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945. Despite this, there have been many conspiracies about Hitler somehow managing to escape Germany and survive, usually to Argentina or somewhere else in Latin America but some of the crazier ones allege that he escaped to Antarctica. However, the teeth found in the bunker were confirmed to be Hitler's, proving that he did indeed die in 1945,[7] and why the Allies would allow the leader of the Axis to survive all those years is never addressed.

Martin Bormann[edit]

According to most reputable sources now, Bormann committed suicide while attempting to flee from the Führerbunker at the end of the war. A combination of Soviet secret-keeping and, well, the lack of other reliable sources as you would expect in such a circumstance meant this was not known for decades. Sightings of him were reported into the sixties, and the West German government only gave up looking for him in 1971.