History

Famous Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Punishment 

Jacob Shelton
Updated January 13, 2020 121.5k views 13 items

WWII and the gruesome tactics carried out by the Third Reich will forever have a grasp on the world’s consciousness - both because the brutality exhibited by those German fascists was previously unimaginable, and because we have to remind ourselves that atrocities like the Holocaust could always happen again.

Directly after WWII, Europe fell into chaos as German officers were detained and people from internment camps tried to flee the countries where they were held. In that confusion, many Third Reich officials 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 German war criminals who were never caught. Some of those escaped Germans lived successful post-WWII lives, while others stayed on the run until the day they perished.

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 German sympathizers and happy to help Third Reich officials live their lives in relative obscurity. But not all of those who were never apprehended lived in South America. 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. 

Nazi Labor Camp Guard Jakiw Palij Lived In New York Until He Was 95

 

Jakiw Palij lived in the United States for decades after WWII. He immigrated to the US in 1949 and became a citizen eight years later. When asked what he did for a living in Europe during WWII, Palij told officials he worked in a factory and on a farm. 

But Palij didn't work on a farm or a factory - he was a guard at the Trawniki Labor Camp, where over 6,000 Jewish inmates were slain in "one of the single largest massacres of the Holocaust," according to a White House press release. Palij repeatedly denied any responsibility, saying he and other Polish citizens were forced to work for the Third Reich. 

Palij's US citizenship was revoked back in 2003, but no European country would have him. For years after the confession, Palij existed quietly in a duplex in Jackson Heights, a neighborhood in Queens. On August 21, 2018, he was finally deported to Germany. Even though Palij was technically caught, he lived a relatively normal life up until the age of 95. Immigration authorities sent him to Düsseldorf. Officials then took him to a nursing home near Münster to live out the rest of his days. 

Josef Mengele is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Famous Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Punishment
Photo: Karl-Friedrich Höcker/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Josef Mengele, known as the "Angel of Death," spent most of his life committing vicious acts in the name of fake science and the eradication of people he believed to be a subspecies. After WWII, 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. 

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#1,047 of 2,828 The Most Influential People of All Time Chilling Facts About Nazi Doctor Josef Mengele

Horst Wagner Gets A Little Help From The Catholic Church
Horst Wagner is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Famous Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Punishment
Photo: US Army Photographers/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

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 demise of 350,000 Jewish people ran like clockwork.

After WWII, 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 German fugitives, before fleeing to Argentina to join his pals Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. 

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It's hard to quantify which member of the Third Reich is the worst, but Paul Schäfer makes a very good case for the title.

After WWII, Schäfer fled child mistreatment allegations in Europe and ended up in Chile and Argentina. By the late '90s, Schäfer had a litany of abuse claims surrounding him, and he disappeared for almost a decade until he was discovered by Argentinean authorities. In 2006, Schäfer was sentenced to 20 years behind bars for inappropriate relations with 25 children and was ordered to pay 770 million pesos (approximately $1.5 million) to some of his victims. In 2010, he perished while in custody.