10 Nazis who Survived World War II

10 Nazis who Survived World War II

Michelle Powell-Smith - May 22, 2018

A surprisingly large number of Nazis, including relatively high-ranking officials, escaped prosecution or justice at the end of World War II. Some of these men were later tried; however, many lived out their lives in a way that they denied to so many. These are the stories of their escapes, and when justice was served, their captures and trials. Many of these escapes relied upon the so-called ratlines, or escape routes supported by the Catholic Church following the war.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II
Adolf Eichmann on trial in Israel.Image from Time Magazine.

Adolf Eichmann

The story of Adolf Eichmann’s escape and later arrest, conviction and execution is probably the most well-known of the Nazi escapes. During his career with the Nazi party, Eichmann was responsible for the mass deportations of Jews to ghettos and later to extermination camps. He took an active part in planning the so-called “Final Solution” or extermination of European Jews. Adolf Eichmann may have never operated a gas chamber or shot masses of Jews as part of the Einsatzgruppen, but he bore clear responsibility in their deaths.

Adolf Eichmann began his adult life as a totally unremarkable individual; he did not complete his education and worked as a day laborer when he joined the Austrian Nazi Party and SS in 1932, with the support of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who would later be his superior officer. Through the 1930s, he worked in Nazi administrative offices, particularly those concerned with encouraging Jewish immigration to Palestine, even visiting Palestine himself in 1937. This work prepared him for his future with the Nazi party. Eichmann’s role became more important following the annexation or Anschluss of Austria in 1938.

With the start of World War II came the first of the deportations, and the founding of the RSHA or the Reich Main Security Office. By March 1941, Eichmann was the head of RSHA IV B4; the division of Jewish Affairs. It was in this role that Eichmann would organize the mass deportations that took Jews from across Europe to their deaths in the ghettos and extermination camps of Poland.

By the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann was in U.S. custody; he escaped U.S. forces in 1946. Using the ratlines established by the Catholic Church, Eichmann fled and was able to reach Argentina. He lived in Argentina as a free man until 1960. In 1960, a group of trained operatives of Israel’s Mossad flew to Argentina, captured Eichmann, and returned him to Israel for trial. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Eichmann was the only civil execution in Israel’s history; the death penalty is only applicable in Israel for war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and treason.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II

Josef Mengele

Josef Mengele is a familiar name to many; he is associated with the atrocities committed at the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Mengele, like many others, escaped Europe in the aftermath of World War II, likely using the ratlines.

Prior to 1937, Mengele’s career path looked relatively typical for a doctor and researcher; he had successfully completed his education. Born to a well-off family, Mengele was a successful student, finishing both a doctoral degree in genetics and a PhD in physical anthropology by his mid-twenties.

In 1937, Mengele went to work for the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene, under the supervision of Dr. Otmar von Verschuer. Verschuer was particularly known for an interest in research on twins. This same year, Mengele joined the Nazi party; he would complete his medical degree. In June 1940, he was drafted into the German army and entered the medical service of the Waffen-SS. Little is known of his activities between 1940 and 1943.

Mengele was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau on May 30, 1943. He is the best-known physician stationed at the extermination camp, but not the highest ranking. He was initially responsible for the Roma at the camp, but when the Roma camp was eliminated, he took on a larger role as Chief Camp Physician of Auschwitz II (Birkenau). While Auschwitz was an extermination camp, Auschwitz II was a labor camp. In this role, he chose who would live and who would die, but also had wide access to experimental subjects for his personal research. He was, of course, interested in proving Nazi theories of racial superiority.

Mengele fled Auschwitz avoiding Soviet troops, but was captured by U.S. forces. Unaware that he was wanted as a war criminal, U.S. forces soon released him. Between 1945 and 1949, he worked quietly as a farmhand; with help from his family, he fled to Argentina in 1949. He initially settled in Argentina, but moved to first Paraguay and later Brazil, following the capture of Eichmann in 1960. Mengele died a free man in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1979, while visiting a vacation resort and taking a swim. The identify of his remains was confirmed using DNA testing in 1992.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II
Walther Rauff in U.S. custody. Image from Alchetron.

Walther Rauff

Walther Rauff was responsible for outfitting and supplying the gas vans that preceded the extermination camps of the Holocaust. These gas vans were mobile gas chambers, relying upon carbon monoxide to produce death. They were widely used in Eastern Europe to kill large numbers of Jews and Roma, and were also used to kill the disabled in the T4 program . Rauff, like many other Nazis, lived out his life in South America after the end of World War II.

Born in 1906, Rauff spent a number of years in the navy; he was, by 1939, part of the Reich Security Main Office, under the command of Heinrich Himmler. The vans were developed, with Rauff’s assistance, in 1939. Rauff went on to persecute Jews in North Africa and Egypt later in the war. By the end of the war, he was stationed in Italy, working as an SS officer and in a police role. Rauff surrendered in Northern Italy at the end of World War II and was placed into a U.S. internment camp.

In 1946, Rauff escaped the internment camp in which he was being held. He was sheltered by a Catholic bishop for some time following his escape. In 1948, he travelled to Syria to serve in the Syrian intelligence service. While he only remained in Syria for a year, he is said to have continued his persecution of Jews there. Sometime thereafter, he moved, with his family, first to Ecuador and later to Chile.

West German authorities located Rauff, and attempted to have him extradited to Germany to stand trial, with the support of noted Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal. While he was briefly arrested in 1962, extradition efforts failed. Rauff was interviewed in a U.S. documentary in 1979, but went on to live out his life, dying in 1984 in Chile.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II
Franz Stangl during an interview after his capture. Image from Facing History.

Franz Stangl

Franz Stangl was an Austrian-born Nazi, active in the T4 euthanasia program, and commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps in Poland during Operation Reinhard. In each of these roles, he was responsible for massive numbers of deaths. Stangl’s escape from justice was successful for a time; however, he was eventually tried and convicted for his war crimes.

Born in 1908, Stangl became a police officer in the Austrian federal police in 1930. In 1931, he joined the Austrian Nazi Party; this was illegal for federal police at the time. He denied his early entrance into the party following the war. Following the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, he joined the SS.

Stangl began his work for the Public Service Foundation for Institutional Care, at his own request, in 1940. This organization served as a front for the T4 Euthanasia program. The T4 Euthanasia program sought to eliminate large numbers of disabled individuals, including both adults and children. The program began with disabled children; later, it was expanded to include institutionalized disabled adults. In total, around 200,000 disabled individuals died at the hands of the Nazi Party, through the T4 program and other initiatives.

Following is role in Aktion T4, Stangl was stationed at Sobibor, with the goal of speeding up the completion of the extermination camp. While Stangl only served as commandant of Sobibor briefly, approximately 100,000 individuals were killed during those few months. Following his time at Sobibor, Stangl moved on to work at Treblinka. Between the summer of 1942 and summer of 1943, Stangl supervised improvements to the camp at Treblinka. In speaking of this experience, Stangl referred to those being killed as “cargo”.

Stangl was initially detained at the end of the war, but like many others, escaped. He first reached Italy, and with the assistance of the ratlines, fled to Syria. In 1951, accompanied by his family, he moved to Brazil and found work. The Austrian government issued a warrant for his arrest in 1961; however, it took several years for hunter Simon Wiesenthal to locate Stangl.. Stangl was arrested in 1967, using his own name. He was extradited and tried for the murders of 900,000 individuals. Sentenced to life in prison in 1970, Stangl died of natural causes six months later.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II
Schwammberger as an old man. Image from Deutschlandfunk.

Josef Schwammberger

Josef Schwammberger, closely associated with several forced labor camps, escaped justice for significantly longer than the many of the other men discussed here. Schwammberger was captured, then tried for his crimes in 1992; he was 75 years old. Schwammberger joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and entered the SS between 1941 and 1943.

During World War II, Schwammberger served as an SS officer in Poland, working in Krakow and Przemyśl. He was, during this time, commandant of several different forced labor camps in the region. Not all camps were like Treblinka or Auschwitz I. Treblinka and Auschwitz were extermination camps; many other camps throughout Nazi-controlled areas were forced labor camps. At extermination camps, the vast, vast majority of those who arrived would be put to death within only hours. At forced labor camps, inmates were worked to death, treated harshly, and expected to be quite short-lived, but they were not killed upon arrival.

Schwammberger, during his time as commandant of these various camps, was particularly sadistic. He frequently shot and killed inmates, set his dog on them, and threw people into fires. He is believed to have killed as many as 5,000 people while serving in camps.

He was captured not long after the end of the war in French-controlled Innsbruck, Austria. At the time, he admitted to a relatively small number of deaths–35. When captured, he had sacks of gold and jewels taken from Jews during the war. In 1948, during transport to American authorities, Schwammberger escaped.

He fled to Argentina, using the ratlines. West Germany issued a warrant for his arrest in 1973, but it was not until 1987 that he was found and arrested. Following extradition in 1990, he was tried for 34 counts of murder by his own hand, and of ordering the deaths of 275. He was found guilty on seven counts of murder and 32 counts of accessory to murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, and died in prison in December 2004.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II
Erich Priebke following his capture. Image from the Telegraph.

Erich Priebke

Erich Priebke was a German-born SS Captain during World War II. Unlike the other Nazi officers discussed, Priebke was not the commandant of a camp, or a particularly high-ranking member of the party; however, he did share in their brutality. Priebke was part of the SS police force (SiPo). Priebke was fluent in Italian, and was stationed in Italy from 1941 onward.

The primary action that led to Priebke’s eventual conviction as a war criminal took place in 1944. In March 1944, an Italian resistance group, called Patriotic Action Groups, attacked an SS police regiment in Rome. The attack was successful, and 33 Nazis were killed. Reportedly, Hitler ordered 10 Italians killed for every Nazi lost in the massacre.A group of 335 prisoners was assembled, including 70 Jews, members of a communist resistance group, and members of another resistance group, the Red Flag.

This group of prisoners was gathered in the Ardeatine caves in Rome. They were gathered into groups of 10, shot and killed. In total 335 individuals died in the massacre of Fosse Ardeatine. If, as is reported, Hitler ordered 10 dead for every Nazi lost, the total should have been 330 dead, not 335. This difference is significant with regard to Priebke’s eventual trial.

Priebke was captured at the end of the war, and was in the custody of British forces in a camp in northeast Italy. He escaped the camp in 1946, sheltering with an sympathetic family for a time. He was eventually re-baptized by a Catholic priest under a new name, and was therefore able to get new papers. He was able to travel to Argentina, where he lived for the next 50 years.

After many years, ABC News became aware of Priebke’s location, and he was interviewed. This interview led to his eventual extradition to Italy. Following several trials in Italy, he was finally sentenced to life in prison, but was placed on house arrest with some privileges due to his age. He died in Rome at 100 years of age.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II
Bohne’s signature on a document from the Aktion T4 program. Image from SJS Militaria.

Gerhard Bohne

Gerhard Bohne was a lawyer, having entered the Berlin District Court in 1930. He was, educationally, relatively unremarkable; however, his participation in right-wing activity began quite early, in the 1920s. His education was complete by the time he joined the court, and he had a doctorate in law. He joined the Nazi party around the same time, in 1930. Between 1930 and 1933, Bohne defended other party members.

Following the takeover of the German government by the Nazi party in 1933, Bohne was appointed to serve as Head of Division I. Division I handled civil rights issues. Bohne experienced some legal difficulties in 1933, related to financial matters; on appeal, his jail sentence was eliminated, and there were no repercussions related to his career. He entered the SS in 1937.

From September 1939 onward, Bohne served as head of a shell corporation formed to hide Aktion T4. Aktion T4 was the German, Nazi-run, euthanasia program that targeted disabled children and later adults. Bohne worked extensively to create the administrative and bureaucratic network to support these killings, including the development of killing centers and transport of victims to killing facilities. Later, Bohne was found to be sharing information deemed sensitive, and was expelled from the Nazi party in 1943. Following his expulsion, he was drafted into the army, and captured by U.S. forces. He was released in 1946.

As there were no active warrants for his arrest, Bohne resumed work in Germany until 1949, when he fled to Argentina. He voluntarily returned to Germany in the 1950s, and was readmitted to the practice of law. He was arrested in Germany in 1959, but later escaped, returning to Argentina. In 1964, the German government filed for Bohne’s extradition to Germany for trial; he was charged with the responsibility for the deaths of 200,000 individuals in Aktion T4. His trial did not proceed as he was not found fit for trial.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II
Kurt Franz and Treblinka. Image from Pinterest.

Kurt Franz

Kurt Franz is most often remembered for his photo scrapbook of his time as commandant of Treblinka; this album is titled “Beautiful Years”. Like the other Nazis profiled here, Franz initially escaped justice for his crimes. In many ways, Franz is an entirely unremarkable figure, only distinguishing himself as a Nazi.

Raised by a right-wing stepfather, Franz, born in 1914, joined the Nazi party in 1932 and the army in 1935. He was discharged from the army in 1937. He joined the SS-Totenkopfverbände or SS-Death’s Head Regiment following his military discharge. He first served in Aktion T4 before being transferred to the extermination camp at Belzec in 1942. Following a reorganization of Operation Reinhard, the name given to the first death camps in Poland, Franz was reassigned to serve at Treblinka. He eventually became commandant of the camp

Franz was particularly known for his cruelty during his time at Treblinka. He routinely patrolled the camp on horseback with his St. Bernard dog. The dog was frequently commanded to maul prisoners, often attacking the buttocks or genitals. The few Jewish laborers kept alive to dispose of remains and sort possessions were, at Franz’s command, ordered to learn and sing a song, “Looking squarely ahead, brave and joyous, at the world. The squads march to work. All that matters to us now is Treblinka. It is our destiny. That’s why we’ve become one with Treblinka in no time at all. We know only the word of our Commander. We know only obedience and duty. We want to serve, to go on serving until a little luck smiles on us again. Hurray!” He frequently whipped prisoners, shot them, or kicked babies from the transports to death.

Kurt Franz did not flee Germany at the end of the war. He simply remained and worked as a cook for a number of years. He was finally arrested, and the evidence of his work in Treblinka became clear. The Treblinka trials took place in 1965. Franz was tried for the deaths of 300,000, but denied nearly all charges. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Kurt Franz was released from prison in 1993 due to his health, and died in Germany in 1998.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II
Koch and others in Kiev. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Erich Koch

Born in 1896, Erich Koch’s life was, before 1922, relatively ordinary. His service in World War I was unremarkable; he joined the Nazi party quite early, in 1922 and became a very active member. He was dismissed from his job due to his party membership in 1926. Koch spent his time in the Nazi party before World War II in East Prussia, or modern-day Poland. He was both a harsh and effective administrator for the party

During World War II, Koch served in the Ukraine from 1941 to 1944. He was, during his time there, responsible for huge numbers of deaths and massive suffering. He had villages burned to the ground, closed Ukrainian schools, and deported many men, women and children to death camps and extermination centers. It was said that Koch’s name alone was enough to inspire the Soviets to fight the Nazis.

Erich Koch’s escape was fundamentally less effective than many of the others discussed here. Koch left the Ukraine when the Germans lost control of the territory, and at the end of the war, essentially disappeared into Germany. He remained free until 1949. At that time, British authorities found and arrested him. He was extradited to Poland; the Soviets, who bore much greater rights to his extradition, did not request it. This was likely the result of political conditions in the Soviet Union; Ukrainian interests were of little importance to the Russians.

The British delivered Koch to Polish authorities in 1950, but his trial did not begin until 1958. His crimes in the Ukraine were not dealt with at the trial, but he was charged with the deaths of 400,000 Polish citizens. Koch was originally sentenced to death, but was in relatively poor health; Polish law does not allow for people in poor health to be put to death so the sentence was commuted to life in prison. Koch died in prison in 1986.

10 Nazis who Survived World War II
Kurt Blome after his capture. Image from Huffington Post.

Kurt Blome

Kurt Blome’s story is a bit different than the other Nazis discussed–he was tried and acquitted for his crimes initially, then later re-tried and found guilty. The reason for this distinction will soon become clear. Blome was a high-ranking Nazi scientist. During World War II, he served as the directed of Nazi biological weapons development. His research relied upon concentration camp prisoners as subjects, and sought to create or find epidemic illnesses to use as weapons.

In addition to his work as a virologist, Blome collaborated closely with Japan’s biological weapons group, Unit 731, throughout the war. As the Soviet army advanced, Blome fled the research facility at Posen, and was unable to have the facility destroyed. The Germans had already prepared a secondary bioweapons facility. That facility was captured in April of 1945 by U.S. forces. Throughout this time, the Nazis had attempted to conceal the nature of the work being done; these were both officially cancer research facilities.

Blome was arrested by American military intelligence at the end of the war, carrying little identification. After his identity was established, intelligence services transmitted a secret message to the United States. While some details remain unclear, the United States actively worked to recruit former Nazi scientists for their own weapons programs. He was tried at the 1947 Doctors’ Trial in Nuremberg and acquitted, perhaps due to the influence of the United States. Given that he had directly confessed to his actions during the war, there are few other possible explanations for his acquittal at the Doctors’ Trial. Following the trial, he almost immediately began to engage with American scientific authorities. He moved to the United States after some time, where he worked on top-secret U.S. scientific projects for several years.

Blome was later arrested by the French and sentenced to 20 years in prison for war crimes. He died in 1969.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

The 7 Most Notorious Nazis Who Escaped to South America. CHRISTOPHER KLEIN. December 27, 2017. History Channel.

14 Ruthless Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice. Phil Gibbons. Ranker.

Adolf Eichmann. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Holocaust Encyclopedia.

Josef Mengele. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Holocaust Encyclopedia.

Walter Rauff (1916 – 1984). Jewish Virtual Library.

Evading Justice. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Holocaust Encyclopedia.

Argetina Holds Fugitive Ex-Nazi, Bonn Calls For Extradition Of Alleged Mass Killer. New York Times. March 3, 1964.

When the Former Commander Treblinka, Kurt Franz, Was Arrested In 1959, A Search Of His Home Yielded A Scrapbook With Horrific Photos Of The Massacre Titled “Beautiful Years”. Jack Beckett. War History Online. Aug 14, 2015

Adolf Eichmann in Israel: Portraits of a Nazi War Criminal. Life Magazine.