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14 Ruthless Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice

Updated April 3, 2020 133.3k views14 items

Following WWII, numerous high-profile Nazi war criminals were apprehended and some were executed. However, thousands of other notorious Nazis not only escaped justice, but also never faced charges. Others received punishments seemingly incongruent with their ruthless acts against countless Jewish prisoners.
Only a very small percentage of the estimated 150,000 Nazis who committed war crimes were ever legally charged. Some managed to escape to South America or the Middle East, while others lived in plain sight in Germany. Some of the most notorious Nazis were even able to exploit Cold War politics and avoid responsibility by finding a safe haven within the US government or CIA. This list features some of the deadliest Nazi war criminals who escaped justice entirely or with minimal consequence.

  • Photo: Kurt Alber / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    Joachim Peiper

    Colonel Joachim Peiper was an officer in the Waffen-SS during WWII. He fought on both the Eastern and Western Fronts and was awarded the Knight's Cross to recognize extreme battlefield bravery. However, following Germany's surrender, Peiper was prosecuted for the massacre of captured American soldiers at Malmedy, Belgium. He and 42 other defendants were convicted and sentenced to death. But the controversy over the prosecution and numerous death sentences caused an uproar in Germany and within the American government, which launched an investigation into possible torture.

    Ultimately, all of the death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment and then time served. Peiper was released after serving almost 12 years in prison. Despite allegations of similar behavior on the Eastern Front and Italy, Peiper escaped further official justice. On Bastille Day 1976, his attempt to live quietly in rural France came to an end when he was shot to death and his home was firebombed by outraged neighbors who discovered his true identity.

    • Age: Dec. at 61 (1915-1976)
    • Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
  • Photo: Fburgevin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Heinz Lammerding

    Heinz Lammerding was a Waffen-SS brigadier general and commander of the SS "Das Reich" division, which was stationed in central France on D-Day, June 6, 1944. In conjunction with the Allied invasion, French resistance began attacking German troops throughout the French countryside.

    After a German officer was captured by the French, Lammerding ordered that reprisals be carried out in response. Over 200 civilian residents of Tulle were either hanged or deported to their deaths in Germany as slave laborers. At Oradour, SS troops brutally wiped out over 600 more civilians. The town was then partially destroyed.

    Following WWII, Charles de Gaulle ordered that the ruins of Oradour be permanently preserved as a symbol of Nazi barbarism. Lammerding was convicted in absentia by a French court and sentenced to death in 1953, but first the British, and then the Germans, refused to extradite him. He built a successful engineering business and prospered openly in Dusseldorf until his demise from cancer in 1971 at age 66.

    • Age: Dec. at 65 (1905-1971)
    • Birthplace: Dortmund, Germany
  • Photo: Heinscher / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    Roland Freisler was the Nazi State Secretary of the Reich Ministry of Justice and president of the notorious Volksgerichtshof (people's court). Between 1942 and 1945, he sentenced thousands of people to death.

    His bombastic courtroom screams and sarcastic ripostes were so chilling that films intended for the German people were never shown publicly by the regime. Among his victims were Sophie Scholl, American Mildred Harnack, and numerous July 20th defendants. Freisler escaped justice but not karma when, on February 3, 1945, his courtroom was bombed with an Allied direct hit that crushed him to death.

    • Age: Dec. at 51 (1893-1945)
    • Birthplace: Celle, Germany
    • Profession: Judge
  • Photo: Bauer, Friedrich Franz / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    Karl Wolff was a general in the Waffen-SS and Heinrich Himmler's chief of staff until 1943. With Himmler, Wolff personally witnessed the execution of Jews in Russia and orchestrated many of the logistical aspects of the Holocaust.

    Ultimately, he was assigned to Italy, and by the end of WWII, he had become that country's head of the SS and the German military. Despite his involvement in the deportation of Italian Jews, he escaped serious prosecution by testifying against some of his SS associates.

    He is also rumored to have ultimately received a mere four-year sentence based on his recruitment by the CIA. In 1964, Wolff was again arrested and tried by Germany for mass deportations, but his 15-year sentence was commuted to five, allegedly for health reasons. He would live for another 15 years.

    • Age: Dec. at 84 (1900-1984)
    • Birthplace: Darmstadt, Germany