history 12 Famous Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Punishment  

Jacob Shelton
33.7k views 12 items Embed

World War II and the gruesome tactics carried out by the Nazis will forever have a grasp on the world’s consciousness - both because the brutality exhibited by those German fascists was up until then unimaginable, and because we have to remind ourselves that atrocities like the Holocaust could always happen again.

Directly after the war, Europe fell into chaos as Nazis were arrested and people from interment camps tried to flee the countries where they were massacred. In that confusion, many Nazis managed to get out of Europe through underground safety systems set up by the Catholic Church (called "ratlines"). Because of this escape system, there were a handful of Nazi war criminals who were never caught. Some of those escaped Nazis lived successful post-war lives, while others stayed on the run until the day they died.

Most students of history know about all of the Nazis in South America. While it sounds like a conspiracy theory, the truth is that many Argentinian politicians at the time were Nazi sympathizers and happy to help anyone down with the cause live their lives in relative obscurity. But not all of the Nazi war criminals who were never arrested lived south of the border. Some of them were given jobs with British and American intelligence agencies, and others simply faded into history where they became the stuff of rumor and legend. 


Josef Mengele is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 12 Famous Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Punishment
Photo: RV1864/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Josef Mengele, the Nazi Angel of Death, spent most of his life committing brutal acts of violence in the name of fake science and the eradication of people he believed to be a sub-species. After the war, he fled Germany through a series of ratlines, and made his way to South America, where he became a suspiciously humble country doctor. Mengele was almost apprehended in the '60s by the Mossad (the Israeli National Intelligence Agency), but they had to call off their hunt for Mengele in order to detain Adolf Eichmann. 

see more on Josef Mengele

Horst Wagner Gets a Little Help from the Catholic Church


Horst Wagner is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 12 Famous Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Punishment
Photo: US Army Photographers/via Wikimedia

Horst Wagner was one of the worst Nazis to walk the face of the earth - not because he was performing medical experiments, or operating a gas chamber, but because he made sure the bureaucracy that kept track of the deaths of 350,000 Jewish people ran like clockwork. After the war, Wagner escaped from a Nuremberg jail in 1948 and made his way to Rome through the Kloster Line, a ratline made up of convents and churches that housed Nazi war criminals, before fleeing to Argentina to join his pals Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. 


Paul Schäfer is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 12 Famous Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Punishment
Photo: YouTube

It's hard to quantify which member of the Nazi party is worse than the other, but Schäfer's life makes a very good case for considering him "the worst." At a young age he joined Hitler Youth and became a medic in the Wehrmacht during World War II. After the war, he set up the Private Social Mission, a charitable organization that served as a front for Schäfer's desire to sexually abuse children. 

In 1961, he turned up in Chile, where conservative President Jorge Alessandri gave him permission to establish his own farming society, Colonia Dignidad. By the late '90s, Schäfer had a litany of child sexual abuse claims surrounding him, and he disappeared for almost a decade, until he was discovered by Argentinean authorities. In 2006, Schäfer was sentenced to 33 years in jail for sexually abusing 25 children and was ordered to pay 770 million pesos (approximately $1.5 million) to 11 minors. Schäfer was found guilty of 20 counts of dishonest abuses and five counts of child rape, all committed between 1993 and 1997. In 2010, he died of a heart attack

see more on Paul Schäfer

Klaus Barbie is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 12 Famous Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Punishment
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

During the war, Barbie was a terror of a Nazi who personally tortured French prisoners while he was stationed in Lyon, France. After the war, the United States military caught Barbie and gave him a job. He helped the US further their anti-Marxist and anti-communism efforts in Europe, and when France found out that Barbie was living it up, they applied to have him extradited to their country so they could put him trial for war crimes. Instead of doing the right thing, the US military helped Barbie escape to Bolivia, where he lived under the alias Klaus Altmann and became a Lt. Colonel with the Bolivian Armed Forces. 

Things were going great for Barbie Altmann until Nazi hunters from France identified him and brought him back to their country to stand trial for his crimes against the state. After a lengthy trial, he received life in prison and died of leukemia while serving time at a prison in Lyon. 

see more on Klaus Barbie