Escape cases of war criminals like Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele attracted great attention in the media as well as in historical research worldwide. But what about those fugitive Nazis after 1945 who, at first glance, had a “less important” role in the regime and perhaps acted not as war criminals but as perpetrators and sympathizers? The workshop highlighted this specific group who supported Nazi ideology and managed to flee to South America in the post-war period.
In her welcome notes, the initiator of the workshop LINDA ERKER (Vienna) outlined the main points to be addressed during the following two days. These included the discussion of places and players, the presentation of biographical case studies of several Nazis focusing mainly on Austrians, and lastly the goal to challenge existing narratives. With a focus on South America, questions about support networks and continuities within the German-speaking community in the new homeland became a central element of the workshop. Most of the contributions focused on the conditions for flight, the possibilities for integration in both social and professional environments, and relations with locals and cooperation partners. In this context, Simon Wiesenthal's work, his efforts in tracking down Nazis, his documentation work and his legacy were also discussed and acknowledged.
Before addressing specific groups and biographies of fugitive Nazis and their allies, RAANAN REIN (Tel Aviv) discussed in the keynote the general perception of Argentina as a “safe haven” for Nazis and war criminals under Juan Perón. He succeeded in deconstructing this myth, created mainly by the U.S. government and the anti-Peronist opposition since 1946, by emphasizing that Argentina was far from being the only destination for war criminals and sympathizers (but without reducing the responsibility or trivializing Argentinian assistance to National Socialists). According to him, the strong focus on Argentina diminishes the responsibility of other countries in this regard. Rein made a compelling plea for even more critical examination of other South American governments and regimes as well.
The workshop continued with an introduction to the Simon Wiesenthal Archive, which offered another valuable point of departure regarding the subject of Nazi flight and tracing. KINGA FROJIMOVICS and MARIANNE WINDSPERGER (both Vienna) presented archival holdings based on Wiesenthal’s correspondences with members of the Jewish communities in South America especially from the 1970s. They showcased that people who contacted Wiesenthal with suspicions about Nazis in their South American surroundings and offered to provide information came from very diverse backgrounds. These letters not only attest to the contemporary and prevalent notions of Nazi perpetrator held by his correspondence partners in South America, but also indicate influences by the media as well as by personal experiences and individual motives.
Panel I was dedicated to the support of Nazis by the Catholic clergy, with a focus on Rome and the Vatican. In this context, many fugitives escaped overseas via the so-called notorious “ratlines”. KLAUS TASCHWER (Vienna) emphasized the role of Austrian Bishop Alois Hudal, a key figure in helping Nazis and Nazi sympathizers to flee collaborating with other helpers such as the Croatian Krunoslav Draganovic. Both their cooperation with the U.S. Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) and information about Hudal's correspondences with fugitives in his records at the Archive of the Santa Maria dell'Anima, were covered in Taschwer's presentation. SUZANNE BROWN-FLEMING (Washington D.C.) highlighted the importance of newly opened archives. She outlined the impressive project of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) on the extensive clemency campaign in favour of convicted war criminals of the Nazi regime carried out by Pope Pius XII and his closest collaborators after 1945. The focus of her ongoing study will be the Vatican archives, which were partially opened in March 2020 and now provide more than 16 million new pages of archival material. In her concluding commentary, KERSTIN VON LINGEN (Vienna) referred again in more detail to CIC recruitment of Nazis and former SS-agents for its own military and strategic purposes at the beginning of the Cold War, whilst also underlining the importance of clerical support for Nazis on the run.
Panel II, “Propagandists, Secret Service and the German Embassies” shifted the focus from Europe to South America, examining cross-continental networks that operated with the goal of protecting escaped Nazis. German embassies in Latin America played a crucial role, described by DANIEL STAHL (Jena) as institutional “centers of power”. He demonstrated their importance for Nazis seeking protection from prosecution and building networks in South America. HOLGER M. MEDING (Cologne) discussed the structures of West German intelligence work in Latin America and presented several cases to illustrate the activities and influence of fugitive Nazis in the area. Meding concentrated his presentation on the activities of the Gehlen Organization, or what later became the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND), and its conscious reactivation and recruitment of individuals who had already done intelligence work for the “Third Reich”. One of them was Wilfred von Oven, editor of the “Freie Presse” and former press spokesman of Joseph Goebbels, whose biography MARTIN FINKENBERG (Bonn) explored in more detail. He compared it in terms of overlaps and differences with that of former Nazi publicist and antisemitic propagandist Johann von Leers. In her closing comments, DOROTHEE SCHLÜTER (Weimar) contrasted the differences between these two ardent supporters of National Socialism in Argentina on the one hand and highlighted the lack of commitment to war crime research in post-war Germany on the other.
The first day of the workshop ended with a podium discussion on the legacies of Simon Wiesenthal in the Bookshop Singer. BRIGITTE BAILER (Vienna), SHIMON SAMUELS (Paris), and EFRAIM ZUROFF (Jerusalem) reported on their respective institutes and their work – namely the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. All three have made it their goal to convey the history of the Holocaust and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion whilst working towards continued rememberance. Zuroff and Samuels are still looking for witnesses of the Shoah and their descendants so that they can testify in trials. Wiesenthal serves as a great inspiration and motivation for them to continue their work, which Zuroff captured by stating: “slight justice is better than no justice”.
ANDREAS SCHRABAUER (Vienna) opened day two and panel III on the topic of “Austrian National Socialists in Argentina” (his colleague JUTTA FUCHSHUBER (Vienna) and co-presenter was not able to attend the conference). In their joint contribution, they discussed the biography and work of Hans Fischböck during the Nazi regime, his escape to Argentina in 1950 as well as his later life back in the FRG from 1961 onwards, based on his personal estate at the USHMM. Among others, they provided historical evidence that the Austrian authorities knew about Fischböck's whereabouts already in the 1950s and did nothing until the 1960s. ROBERT OBERMAIR (Salzburg) continued with the biography of Fischböck’s colleague Oswald Menghin. He outlined Menghin's crucial role as Minister of Education in the “Anschlusskabinett” in 1938 and explained how his Catholic faith enabled him to be supported by the Church after 1945. Shortly after his arrival in Argentina, he managed to start his second career as a university professor at the Anthropological Institute of the University of Buenos Aires, thus influencing Argentine prehistorians. In this sense, Obermair cited Menghin as an excellent example of the many interconnections between religion, science, and politics regarding Nazi escape.
Marianne Windsperger read out the commentary by MARGIT REITER (Salzburg), in which she pointed out fundamental differences between the two (Fischböck and Menghin). However, she also emphasized the crucial parallels in these cases: both escaped justice due to the failures of the Austrian authorities. Reiter's subsequent question about the involvement of wives and families of these and other Nazis was explored in greater depth in the ensuing discussion, with the participants concluding that in most cases they played a crucial role in the escape and cooperated with other actors within the networks to help their husbands. The question of Argentine citizens' perceptions of the former Nazis shaped the discussion in this panel. Erker also stressed out (1) that it would be essential to address this question, otherwise one would only talk about Austrian history in Argentina and disregard other important perspectives and (2) she emphasized the research gap regarding social networks carried out by women in the new home country.
Panel IV, titled “Export/Import. Chemists in Military Research in Argentina under Perón” addressed two other key figures. Erker's contribution dealt with the transnational biography of chemist, former SS-Oberführer and Gauhauptmann, Armin Dadieu and the circumstances of his escape and working life in Argentina. Dadieu's private estate formed the source basis of her lecture. Erker succeeded in showing the importance of personal relationships for the escape of Nazi perpetrators, since Dadieu did not belong to any specific network, but rather relied on relationships with his family, like-minded friends/colleagues, and (former) lovers. JASON LEMBERG (Frankfurt am Main) continued with another chemist named Hans-Joachim Schumacher who, like Dadieu, worked for Julius Henrici’s group on the development of rocket fuel in Argentina. Lemberg included the aspect of long-term developments made possible by the emigration of German scientists to South America. SANDRA CARRERAS (Berlin) picked up on this topic by noting that Argentina had already started recruiting scientists from Europe as early as the mid-19th century in order to enhance the country economically as well as scientifically resulting in an already established tradition of (scientific) migration and an active German-speaking community during the post-war years.
“New Perspectives on Familiar Faces. Writing History in a Different Way” was the title of the last panel of this two-day workshop. KARIN HARRASSER (Linz) gave insights into her new book about the former frontline photographer Hans Ertl, while highlighting the life of his daughter and left-wing radical activist Monika Ertl. In the context of Bolivian history, Harrasser discussed transatlantic entanglements in contemporary history as well as the possibilities and limits of a “family history” as central subjects in her work. URSULA PRUTSCH (Munich) gave the final presentation on Fritz Mandl and the central question of how “a Jewish refugee was turned into a Nazi”. In her lecture, Prutsch provided clarity regarding Mandl's biography and the numerous myths and rumors surrounding his person, originating primarily on the U.S. side, which perceived the well-known “ammunition king” and his armament production for the Argentine military from 1943 onwards as a threat.
ERHARD STACKL’s (Vienna) commentary raised the crucial question how the manifold entanglements between Nazis on the run and European institutions and/or enterprises went unnoticed by the general public. He added that Wiesenthal once said that German companies in Argentina, such as Siemens, were “nests” for Nazis, and served as good “hiding places”. In the discussion that followed, the need to shed more light on continuities of German-speaking communities in Bolivia and South America in general (re-)emerged as the workshop’s consensus. Allegedly, there are still families of German and Austrian origin in today’s Bolivia exerting great social as well as economic influence on the country, forming a kind of German elite especially with regard to German companies or schools in South America.
In the closing session, Linda Erker summarized the discussions of the workshop, stating that one important conclusion was the much-needed shift of future research towards South American history, South American elites as allies of the fugitives, and their motives. What was the perception of large segments of the Argentine and/or South American population about Nazi immigrants and their sympathizers? Is a reconceptualization of the term “war criminals” as a category of research needed by asking questions pertaining to perpetrators, sympathizers, and supporters like the title of the workshop suggests? What role do German-speaking elites play in South America today? These are important questions that, according to Erker’s summary, should be addressed in greater detail to provide essential perspectives on the history of fugitive Nazis. In addition, she also emphasized aspects of family and gender as being crucial for Nazi escape via networks and hence deserving of more attention. Further research into private estates and documents would facilitate more insights in this regard.
Éva Kovács (Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies), Linda Erker (Vienna University), Susanne Heim (VWI-International Academic Advisory Board)
Raanan Rein (Tel Aviv University): From the Blue Book to the CEANA Report and Back. Narratives of Argentina’s Complicity with the Third Reich and Nazi Fugitives
VIRTUAL TOUR THROUGH THE ARCHIVE
Kinga Frojimovics/Marianne Windsperger (Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies): “via área”/“por correo aéreo”. Correspondence with Jewish Communities in South America in the Simon Wiesenthal Archive
PANEL 1 Rome as a Hub for Nazis on the Run: Migration Management and Support for War Criminals After 1945
Klaus Taschwer (Vienna): Alois Hudal and the Ratline Revisited. New Findings on the Bishop’s Help for War Criminals and other National-Socialists on Their Way to South America
Suzanne Brown-Fleming (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington D.C.): “Il Papa Tedesco” (The German Pope). Pius XII and German War Criminals
Commented by Kerstin von Lingen (Vienna University)
PANEL 2 Propagandists, Secret Service and the German Embassies: Networks in Nazi Exile in South America
Daniel Stahl (Friedrich Schiller University Jena): German Embassies and the Nazi Exile in South America
Holger M. Meding (University of Cologne): A Menacing Past. Spies with a National Socialist Background on Mission for the West German Secret Service in South America
Martin Finkenberger (Bonn): “But it was a long and difficult road until we had become established”. The Networks of NS-Propagandists Johann von Leers and Wilfred von Oven on the Rio de la Plata
Commented by Dorothee Schlüter (Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation)
Legacies of Simon Wiesenthal: The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Vienna
Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies – Looking Back, Moving Forward
Participants: Brigitte Bailer (DÖW), Shimon Samuels (SWC Paris), Efraim Zuroff (SWC Jerusalem), Moderated by Alexia Weiss (WINA)
PANEL 3 Austrian National Socialists in Argentina: Old Comrades from Vienna
Robert Obermair (University of Salzburg): The Broad Support for a National Socialist on the Run. Oswald Menghin’s Safety Net Created by Religious, Political and Scientific Networks
Jutta Fuchshuber/Andreas Schrabauer (Vienna University): Hans Fischböck. An Economic Careerist and his Antisemitic Networks
Commented by Margit Reiter (University of Salzburg)
PANEL 4 Export/Import. Chemists In Military Research in Argentina Under Perón
Jason Lemberg (Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main): Warfare Research and the two Careers of Hans-Joachim Schumacher
Linda Erker (Vienna University): Armin Dadieu. A Chemist as SS-Oberführer, Gauhauptmann, Rocket Scientist for Perón and Re-integrated Returnee
Commented by Sandra Carreras (Ibero-American Institute Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation)
PANEL 5 New Perspectives on Familiar Faces. Writing History in A Different Way
Karin Harrasser (University of Art and Design Linz): Monika und Hans Ertl. Family as a Matrix from which to Write Transatlantic Contemporary History
Ursula Prutsch (Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich): The Ammunition-King Fritz Mandl. How an Emigrant of Jewish Origin was Turned into a Nazi
Commented by Erhard Stackl (Vienna)