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.
Karl Josef Silberbauer was an SS staff sergeant known for his activities in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam during WWII. He reported directly to Adolf Eichmann, the head of Department IVB4, the office coordinating the extermination of the Jews.
In 1963, Silberbauer - by then an inspector with the Vienna police - was exposed as the commander of the 1944 Gestapo raid and arrests of Anne Frank and her fellow fugitives. After arresting the inhabitants of the Secret Annex, Silberbauer removed the contents of Otto Frank's briefcase and tossed them onto the floor, intent on using the case for any discarded valuables. The discarded material included Anne Frank's handwritten diary, which a friend retrieved and returned to Otto Frank, the only Frank family survivor.
According to the Austrian government, Silberbauer's arrest of the Franks did not rise to the level of a war crime. He did face a disciplinary hearing at the hands of the Vienna police, but retained his position following a hearing.
Nazi war criminal and Austrian doctor Aribert Heim was known as "Dr. Death" because of his horrific medical experiments on Jews at the Mauthausen concentration camp during WWII. He was captured by US soldiers in 1945, but was later released.
One day in 1962, after learning the police were waiting for him at his home, he vanished. Many believe Heim lived in Egypt under an assumed name (Tarek Farid Hussein). The New York Times reported that he perished of cancer in Cairo in 1992.
Walter Rauff was an SS colonel most famous for heading the group that constructed "gas vans" (mini gas chambers on wheels). The vans were commanded by Rauff and used throughout Eastern Europe to suffocate victims with exhaust pumped into the sealed rear compartment through a large hose. Rauff was captured in Italy but managed to escape from an American POW camp and was sheltered by the Vatican until he could flee to Syria; he would eventually wind up in Chile.
Incredibly, while there, he was recruited and paid by the West German intelligence services from 1958 to 1962, when West Germany requested that he be extradited for war crimes. His indictment cited his responsibility for the deaths of 90,000 victims from North Africa to the Baltic.
Chile refused to extradite Rauff based on the statute of limitations, and the former SS colonel lived openly in Chile until his passing in 1984 at age 77. His funeral was attended by thousands of former Nazis who openly celebrated the life of their former comrade.
Hermann Stieve was a German physician and anatomist who became interested in studying the effects of extreme stress and terror on the female reproductive system. Like many German doctors, Stieve worked closely with the Nazi regime to obtain the cadavers of executed victims of the Reich. Based in Berlin, he got his "material," as he referred to it, from Plötzensee Prison, the local execution chamber for convicted political criminals and dissidents.
Following dissection, Stieve typically had the bodies cremated and the ashes discarded, despite the frantic attempt by relatives to locate the remains for proper burial. When officials began executing victims at night, Stieve successfully convinced prison authorities to perform executions during the day so he could complete his dissection process more efficiently.
Only one of his subjects was ever returned to relatives, the ashes of Mildred Harnack, an American related to one of Stieve's students and the only victim of Stieve's to receive any semblance of a proper burial. Stieve was never sanctioned for his behavior; in fact, like many other Nazi physicians, he was honored for work completed in his field before he perished of a stroke in 1952.
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.
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.