Why Did Nazi Officers Flee to Argentina after World War 2?

Sal 6-7 minutes 5/12/2021

South America — The Nazi Safe Haven.


Photo Credits: Twitter

After the end of World War 2, one thing was very apparent: the Nazis had to pay for the war crimes that they had committed. The crackdown on the Axis powers and their war crimes through mass trials would eventually come to be known as the Nuremberg Trials. Germans who had committed mass human rights violations and subjected millions of Jews and other minorities to the worst form of oppression were now being held accountable. Most of them were given the death sentence or life imprisonment. Hence, being caught after the war meant that you would either be hanged or would spend the rest of your life in captivity.

With the Allied armies closing in on Germany, the remnants of the Nazi party, including a lot of prominent members, looked for a safe haven. In Europe, they saw no safety for themselves; in the East, the Japanese conflict was raging; in the West, the USA had a stronghold. The only place that geographically made sense was South America. However, there are many other reasons apart from geography that the Axis power fled to South America, especially Argentina. Let’s take a look at them.

Support For Germany Was There Even After The War

It is essential to understand that the war did not end in just one day. It was not like after the Axis powers surrendered, everything was sunshine and rainbows. In fact, countries all around the world still supported the Axis cause. Spain, for example, even though it was neutral, was also sympathetic to the German and Nazi cause. Its leadership was impartial in World War II due to the Spanish civil war.

However, after the war, they allowed many fugitives to hide and stay in Spain. Apart from individual countries, some high-ranking members of the Catholic Church were also aiding these criminals. The Nazis did everything in their power to utilize all of their support networks to escape the hand of justice. Sadly, a lot of them were successful.

Argentina — The Fugitives Struck Gold

Juan Peron | Photo Credits: The Guardian

Argentina at the time was under the leadership of President Juan Peron, who had served time in the war during the late 30s himself. He welcomed the former axis members with open arms and provided them with the safe haven they were looking for. There were multiple reasons why Argentina was helping these fugitives. For one, Peron himself admired the Nazi ideology and wanted these values to stay afloat. He even militarized the country and tried to steer Argentina the way these totalitarian regimes did.

Secondly, Argentina strongly supported the Axis powers all throughout World War II. This extended beyond just the ideological compatibility of the President and Nazi Germany. Argentina had had close ties with Germany, Italy, and Spain due to its population being of German, Italian and Spanish descent. Hence the bond was not only politically strong but culturally as well. This further pushed the leadership in Argentina to help these war criminals using their intelligence services spread throughout Europe. As an added bonus, they also were happy with the large sums of money the Germans were willing to pay Argentina for their services.

Argentina’s Attempt At Staying Relevant

With World War II over, the Argentinian leadership saw the conflict between the communist USSR and the capitalist USA. They knew that this might blow into a global clash and wanted to be an important factor in international politics as much as they could. And what better way to have an anti-communist agenda than to house the war criminals that have had an anti-communist plan for the longest time.

Hence, Peron envisioned these fugitives coming in handy in the future and wanted to use their utility so Argentina can gain the upper hand in world politics. Little did Peron know that the Cold War would become a much bigger phenomenon than he anticipated and drag on for decades.

Not Just Argentina!

After realizing that their support is fizzling out (partly due to the Cold War), most of the Axis criminals looked for other countries. Hundreds and thousands of them made their way into Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, etc. By that time, it became increasingly difficult to track down who they were due to the second life they had already lived in Argentina. They had new identities and an entirely new way of life, making them unrecognizable despite their evil past.

Argentina Becomes Hostile Towards The Fugitives

After Peron’s government fell in 1955, hostility grew towards these war criminals. The new government opposed any laws and decisions that Peron’s administration had taken. This made the acceptance of the Axis forces and their fugitives extremely unpopular under the new government.

The war criminals hiding in Argentina feared that they were going to be shipped back to Europe, where they might face the death sentence. Anxiety also grew for these Germans because international pressure on Argentina for housing these criminals meant defamation for Argentina in the international community. Hence, there was a greater fear of crackdown on them.

However, as time went by, these criminals slowly assimilated into the large German population that was already living in Argentina. They tried their best to hide their identities and never speak of their past. While some were eventually caught and sent to trial back in Europe, most remained in the shadows. It is sad to think that just because the Argentinian government was sympathetic towards the totalitarian Axis regimes, true justice was never served. Because of this blanket of protection, real monsters that subjected millions to the worst form of abuse never got their share of punishment.